Rio Bravo (1959)
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Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman
John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, Claude Akins, Bob Steele, John Russell, Harry Carey Jr., Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez
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|Movie Review by Ben |
March 12th, 2008
"Rio Bravo" was directed by Howard Hawks, and it is widely regarded as one of the greatest westerns ever made. It was made by Hawks and Wayne as a right wing response to another great western, "High Noon." In that film, Gary Cooper played a sheriff who urged the townspeople to come join him in getting armed and defend the town they live in. But in "Rio Bravo," John Wayne plays Sheriff John T. Chance, and he has absolutely no time at all for amateurs and will only deal with professionals who know what they are doing. Gives you an idea of how pissed off Wayne was at Gary Cooper.
The plot revolves around Sheriff John T. Chance guarding a prison named Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) who ends up murdering another man at a bar for no really good reason. Working with Chance are an old cripple named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) who is always complaining about something, the town drunk named Dude (Dean Martin) who spends the movie nervously sobering up, and the new kid in town named Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) who is quick on the draw. They are waiting for the marshal to come into town to take Joe away, but Joe's brother Nathan (John Russell) will not rest until Joe is let go. Nothing beats brotherly love when you want to keep your older or younger sibling from being someone's best friend (in a manner of speaking) from being sent to jail.
The movie is essentially a big buildup to a final a violent confrontation between the sheriff and his men, and Nathan and his man as the bullets fly and loudly tear away at the town jail and the men working there. During the movie, we see these characters going along in their normal lives, and we see the Sheriff come into a subtle romance with a woman new to town, Feathers (Angie Dickinson). Most action movies made today would demand that the filmmakers cut out the character developments (inadvertently ridding the movie of strong characters) and have us simply go right to the action. It is rare to see a movie like "Rio Bravo" made today, as filmmaking gets more and faster paced and we keep losing the subtlety of the moment.
I see why John Wayne was such an amazingly strong presence in movies like these. He handles the dialogue well, but he is best in moments where he doesn't say a word. There is a moment where he just glares at someone he doesn't recognize as someone friendly and Wayne keeps staring at him until the nameless man ends up walking away. In many ways, it could be argued that this was the character that Wayne played over and over in so many of his films. You may very well be right, and in the end, it's this type of character that fits him perfectly. Like the characters he plays, Wayne had a face that has a lot of history clearly seen on it. You could tell that like his characters, John had been through quite a lot in his life, and this added immeasurably to his don't mess with me attitude that he exhibited onscreen. John was never some pretty boy actor always trying to get the ladies, but a seemingly down to earth guy doing his part to serve and protect the people of this small town. His character of Sheriff John T. Chance makes mistakes, but he is quick to bounce back, and you can always see that coming.
The other actor who really impressed me in this movie was Dean Martin who played Dude, the once famous gunslinger who has spent way too much time hitting the bottle to ease a broken heart. Maybe it's because I have this view of Dean being a member of that rat pack from so long ago, and thinking that this sort of fame overshadowed him as an actor. I figured he was more of a star than an actual actor, but his performance here proved me wrong. Dean has to take this character from what seems like an eternally drunk state into a world of sobriety that he struggles to keep up with. It's a battle he can never really win, but he tries to stay on the right track throughout, and Martin makes you root for him throughout.
I can kind of see why Ricky Nelson was cast in the movie. A big rock star at the time, he was probably cast in the film to help appeal more to the women who were crazy about him at the time. Ricky may never have been a truly great actor, but he is well cast here as the new kid out to help the Sheriff in times of trouble. Nelson plays it cool here, maybe too cool at times, but you believe that he is quick on the trigger.
But the big scene stealer of this movie is Walter Brennan who plays Stumpy, the old cripple. All that Stumpy can do throughout this movie is guard the jail with his shotgun and from behind closed doors. Stumpy can be seriously trigger happy if you don't let him know that you're right outside the jail doors. Every other line he said throughout the movie had the audience I saw the movie with at the New Beverly Cinema in hysterics. The moment where he does that quick impression of John Wayne's character near the end of the movie had me laughing my ass off. Walter is a wonderful presence in "Rio Bravo" which is surprising in that his character could have been utterly annoying throughout.
This is actually the first movie I have ever seen directed by Howard Hawks, and he shoots with an economy of style. He doesn't try to overburden his movies with too much style and overlong shots that a lot of show-off directors tend to employ. His focus here is mostly on the characters and how they interact with each other. That makes the action more exciting as we come to care about these characters, and we don't want to see them get hurt. Howard is also an old-fashioned director in that there is not a lot of complexity in these characters. This is essentially a good guys vs. the bad guys movie, and it is one of the best examples of its genre.
John Carpenter also pointed out that one of Howard Hawks' strongest attributes as a director is his inclusion of strong women in his movies. The example of that in "Rio Bravo" is in the form of Angie Dickinson's character of Feathers. She proves to be the only person in the entire movie who can somehow tame the elusive John T. Chance. You never ever doubt that Feathers is an independent woman who can get by on her own terms. She's tough, yet Angie manages to bring some vulnerability to this character who does not always appear to be trustworthy. The scenes she has with John Wayne, and she succeeds in bringing out his vulnerabilities as well to the point where Wayne can't help but be a little goofy.
"Rio Bravo" is filled with so many memorable moments that are not easily forgotten. The moment where Dude takes out a shooter in a bar is still a brilliant moment after all these years as you never see it coming. The shootouts are still exciting as hell, especially when good use is made of a flower put being hurled through a window. One of my truly favorite moments is when all the men come in harmony together as they sing and play "My Rifle, My Pony and Me." It reminded me of one of my favorite moments from Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" when Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw were in the boat singing "Show Me The Way To Go Home." I love those moments in films when people find a way to come together despite whatever differences hold them apart.
"Rio Bravo" is an excellent western that is also one of the most influential ever made. John Carpenter made his own version of this film years later with "Assault On Precinct 13" which featured a modern day police station under siege.
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