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When Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) murders a man on a whim, Sheriff John
T. Chance (John Wayne) arrests him and puts him in small Texas town's
jail. The problem is that the U.S. Marshall is a week away from taking
Burdette off his hands, and Burdette's brother, Nathan (John Russell),
won't see his brother put away. Complicating the situation even
further, Burdette is rich enough to hire a score of thugs, and the only
support that Chance has is from a drunk, Dude (Dean Martin), and an
elderly crippled man, Stumpy (Walter Brennan).
Rio Bravo is a sprawling pressure cooker. For anyone not used to the pacing of older films, this is not the best place to begin. Uninitiated audiences are likely to find it boring--the plot is relatively simple, and they would likely have a difficult time remaining with Rio Bravo for its 2 hour and 21 minute running time. It's best to wait until one is acclimated to this kind of pacing, so as not to spoil the experience. The film is well worth it.
John Wayne was an enthralling paradox, and maybe no film better demonstrates why than Rio Bravo. He had almost delicate "pretty boy" looks and a graceful gait that were an odd contrast to his hulking height and status as the "action hero" of his day. He speaks little, and doesn't need to, although he is the star and thus the center of attention. He tends to have an odd smirk on his face. Wayne's performance here interestingly parallels the pacing and tenor of the film--that's not something that one sees very often, or at least it's not something that's very easy to make conspicuous.
And he's not the only charismatic cast member. Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson are equally captivating. Even when the full blow-out action sequence begins (and that's not until about two hours into the film, although there are a few great shorter action scenes before that), the focus here is still on the interrelationships between these characters, with Brennan the continually funny comic foil, Nelson the suave, skilled youngster, Martin the complex and troubled but likable complement to Wayne, and Dickinson as the sexy, forward and clever love interest.
Director Howard Hawks seems to do everything right. He guides cinematographer Russell Harlan in capturing subtly beautiful scenery--like the mountains in the distance over the tops of some buildings, and a great sunrise shot--and asks for an atmospheric score (such as the repeated playing of Malaguena by a band in the background) that shows that plot points weren't the only element of the film that influenced John Carpenter (who partially based his Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) on this film). But most intriguing is probably Hawks' staging/blocking. You could easily make a study of just that aspect of the film. The characters are always placed in interesting places in the frame, and they're constantly moving in interesting ways throughout the small collection of buildings and streets that make up the town. There is almost a kind of performance art aspect to it. Wayne, for instance, repeatedly touches base at the jail, then picks up his rifle, circles around to the hotel and back, almost as if he's doing some kind of western Tai Chi.
Rio Bravo is nothing if not understated, and as such, it may take some adjustments from modern, especially younger, viewers. But it's a gem of a film, and worth watching and studying.
Disregarded at the time of its release, and still underrated by many critics, Rio Bavo is finally coming into its own as a masterpiece. One reason that it has been underrated is that,it does not seem a typical western for the fifties. Most of the great westerns of the period were darker and moodier. Witness for example, the great films of Boetticher and Anthony Mann, or-the supreme example-The Searchers.Others were 'revisionist' and often sought to convey a socially conscious "teaching'- High Noon is the paradigm here. In contrast, Rio Bravo is unashamedly reactionary. Hawks actually claimed to have made the film as a reply to High Noon..In addition, there are very few pyschological or moral ambiguities here. Instead, we get a classic Hawksian scenario, also found in Only Angels Have Wings and To Have and Have Not. . in which a groups of misfits and outsiders bands together to defeat evil. Here we have John Wayne- offering a performance of considerable subtlety and self knowledge- as the valiant, yet limited, patriarchal hero, John T. Chance. To save the day, he calls on a cast of standard Western characters:The old-timer( Brennan), the reformed drunk( Martin), The "kid'( Nelson), and the "hooker with a heart of gold( Dickinson).Thanks to Hawks' assured, efficient, direction,All of these actors transcend the stereotypes usually associated with such characters to deliver fine performances which are simultaneously "realistic' and archtypal. Particularly worthy of notice is Dean Martin. John Carpenter once claimed that the scene of Martin's "redemption" was the greatest moment in all of cinema. That may be an exaggeration, but Carpenter has a point. It is both moving and unforgettable.In short, Rio Bravo is a triumph for Howard Hawks and his seemingly artless art.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For many, Hawks' 'Rio Bravo' is the perfect Western... For me it is the
antithesis of 'High Noon,' and the clearest exposition of Hawks'
philosophy of professionalism... His tough lawman solves his own
problem without going out looking for help... So he welcomes volunteers
and in fact depends on them... What is more, he wins by displaying
superior skills and quicker wits...
The survivors in Hawks' philosophy are the ones who conduct themselves with the greatest degree of coolness and discipline... It is not difficult to appreciate why Hawks has used substantially the 'Rio Bravo' plot, with only minor variations in both his subsequent Westerns, 'El Dorado' and 'Rio Lobo.'
In Fred Zinneman's 'High Noon,' Gary Cooper struggles to round up a posse that might help him deal with four desperadoes arriving on a noon train to kill him... In "Rio Bravo," John Wayne is faced with a similar situation but takes on the forces of evil in the shape of a gang of local tyrants...
Wayne always makes us feel that somehow he'll cope... So when the wagon master Ward Bond asks him if he wants to use any of his men as deputies in fighting Burdette's men, he turns down the offer... Wayne, holding a brutish prisoner Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) on a murder charge, waits for the U.S. marshal to take charge of him... But the prisoner's powerful brother Nathan (John Russell) wants him free and is determined to release him by any method possible...
The obvious method is the traditional onehired gunmenand, in effect, the sheriff becomes a prisoner himself, in his own town But in this instance the lawman is not absolutely without help... The two deputies are a semi-crippled veteran (Walter Brennan) and a pretty hopeless drunk with a past 'fast' reputation (Dean Martin).
But the whole point about this cleverly conceived movie is that this unlikely trio do in fact have something to offer when the cards are dealt... Like the sheriff, they're professional people, and what Hawks seems to be saying is that whatever the odds, such people will always have the courage, and the deeds... This is demonstrated in one inspired sequence which has become a classic: Dean Martin drying out and eager to win back his self-respect tells Chance that he wants to be the one who chase the killer into a saloon, and that Chance should assume the less dangerous role of backing him up from the back door...
'Rio Bravo' is a beautifully controlled film... John Wayne, who re-created and heightened the mythology of the West, is at his best...
John Ford imitates Howard Hawks' tendency for having his male characters never back down from a fight even when it means they are initiating the fight themselves... In Rio Bravo's famous wordless opening, villain Claude Akins throws a silver dollar into a spittoon, daring Dude, so desperate for a drink, to humiliate himself, and get the coin... Hawks' clever camera emphasizes how far beneath the standards Dude has fallen... Now Wayne is ready to confront Akins...
The same scene in Ford's 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.' Lee Marvin trips unarmed James Stewart as he carries a steak dinner to Wayne in the restaurant where he works... He stumbles and the steak falls to the ground... Stewart has been obviously humiliated... Suddenly Wayne enters the frame, and orders Valance to peak up 'his' steak, revealing his gun belt as he faces him... He is ready for the showdown...
In 'Rio Bravo,' Hawks' men win out primarily because they fight together... But Hawks helps them by having the outlaws mistakenly play a Mexican tune called 'cutthroat,' a song which Santa Anna tried to intimidate the Texans under siege in the Alamo... As the music plays, we see Dude putting down his glass untouched... He observes that his hands no longer shake...
In Hawks' 'Rio Bravo' there is tenderness, and humor... In Hawks' film, a man is defined by how well he relates to women, how well he handles pressure and how he reacts to danger... Angie Dickinson playing the gambling gal, enriches the mixture with a nicely judged performance...
'Rio Bravo' is an action Western, which captures a legendary West that fits the legendary talents of Wayne and Hawks... But what makes the film so special is the relationship between the individual characters... It is a traditional, straightforward Western, good-humored and exciting, rich in original touches...
The best moment of the film when Martin and Nelson join each other for some singing and guitar picking, and Walter Brennan joins in with his harmonica and his scratchy voice... The film has a terrific score by one of the great film composers Dimitri Tiomkin...
It says much about current cinema that this vintage slice of Hollywood is
now considered too long and too slow by the modern generation of movie
goers. Howard Hawks labours to create setting, mood and pace introducing
genuine characters are colourful for the flaws they have as their positive
points presenting heroes one can empathise with, people with three
dimensions, not thin caricatures that popular many of today's
No character empathises this more than Dean Martin's broken down drunk Dude. Nicknamed "Borachon" by the Mexicans (Borachon is Spanish for "Drunkard") Dude battles with the demons that drove him to drink as he desperately tried not to let down Sheriff Chance, John Wayne, who believes in him more than he believes in himself. Dude's pouring back of a glass of bourbon into the bottle is one of the most life affirming scenes ever committed to film.
Wayne never really does anything other than play John Wayne and Hawks spins on this playing with the ethos of the man. The same steadfast values that mean Wayne's Sheriff John T. Chance will not release the prisoner Joe Burdette back to his murderous gang leave him stiff and awkward in front of Angie Dickinson's love interest "Feathers" creating perhaps the quintessential John Wayne movie in which the Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett's screenplay explores the depths of the ideals that Wayne stands for. This is a movie about not just about redemption, but about the reasons for a tough redemption in a World in which collapse and lawlessness are easier options.
And when Dude pours his Bourbon back, affirming that even though he cannot be the man he was but he can still be a good man, you will not be wishing it was film in bullettime.
Howard Hawks initially wanted to reunite John Wayne and Montgomery
Clift who had worked so well together in Red River in his second film
with Wayne. Clift however was at the beginning of the slide that would
ultimately destroy him in seven years and said no. It was then that
Dean Martin was cast as John Wayne's alcoholic deputy.
By the way if Clift had done the part it would have reunited him with Walter Brennan also who is playing a very similar part to the one he did in Red River in relation to Wayne.
In the wordless beginning of Rio Bravo, Wayne while going into the town saloon to fetch Dino, witnesses a cold blooded killing perpetrated by Claude Akins. Akins is the no good brother of rich rancher John Russell who keeps trying to spring Akins from Wayne's jail. He also brings in some hired guns who bottle the town up.
Both Howard Hawks and John Wayne absolutely hated High Noon and made Rio Bravo as their answer to it. This sheriff doesn't go around begging for help from the townspeople he's sworn to protect. He's supposed to be good enough to handle the job himself with some help from only a few good men.
Dean Martin said that the Rio Bravo role for him was one of the most difficult. At that time he was playing a drunk on stage and was not yet into the substance abuse problems that beset him later on. But turns in a stellar performance.
This film marked the farewell feature film performance of Ward Bond who took some time from his Wagon Train TV series to play the small role of a Wayne friend who offers to help and gets killed for his trouble. Fitting it should be in the starring film of his best friend John Wayne.
The only bad note in Rio Bravo is that of Ricky Nelson who is too much the nice kid from Ozzie and Harriet to suggest being a young gun. But Rio Bravo marked the first of many films Wayne used a current teenage idol to insure box office. Later on Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Vinton all the way down to Ron Howard in The Shootist brought a younger audience in for the Duke.
James Caan who played the Ricky Nelson part in El Dorado was much superior to Nelson. Then again, Caan is an actor. But I will say that Dean and Ricky sung real pretty.
When you hear Dean singing My Rifle, Pony, and Me in the jailhouse, you might recognize the same melody from Red River as Settle Down. Dimitri Tiomkin wrote it and Dean recorded it as well as the title song for Capitol records. At Capitol Dino did mostly ersatz Italian ballads, it was what he was identified with. When he switched to Reprise, Dino started doing far more country and western and it really starts with the songs he did in Rio Bravo.
Rio Bravo is a leisurely paced western, probably one of the slowest John Wayne ever did. But Howard Hawks created some characters and a story that hold the interest through out.
The story itself is a composite of all the elements needed to make a great
Western: good guys in white hats, bad guys in black hats, townspeople
content to stand aside and to let the battle be fought between the outlaws
and the man with the tin star, a beautiful woman to distract the hero and
finally help him when the chips are down.
The main stars, John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Angie Dickinson all turn in the top-notch performances one would expect from them, and Rick Nelson is a very pleasant surprise as Colorado. It's two others that separate this movie from other Westerns, though.
Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, as Carlos the hotel-keeper, is a breath of fresh air. His interplay with John Wayne's John T. Chance adds a touch of human reality to the movie that sets it apart.
Walter Brennan in his role as Stumpy, however, is the glue that holds the whole thing together and makes it work. His constant griping under his breath, his goading of Wayne, his dialogue with the prisoner and his general comic relief set Rio Bravo apart from any other Western and put it in a class of its own. Keenan Wynn in Eldorado doesn't even come close.
It is my pleasure to make comments on Rio Bravo, considering all the hype that already has been written about it. True, it is not socially redeeming, nor does it make a political statement, it's just darn fun, i.e. entertaining. What's wrong with that? I couldn't care less if it is a redemption by Hawks for "High Noon"! I know one thing is for certain, when you watch John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and the rest of the cast, you can tell that they had a really good time making the film, this, I believe is plain to see. Add a top notch script and very fine acting, good scenery, a love angle, and enough action to satisfy, and it adds up to a classic movie no matter how you judge it. 10 for 10.
What a brilliant western! I was caught in my couch for more than two hours
as John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance), Dean Martin (Dude), Ricky Nelson
(Colorado) and Walter Brennan (Stumpy) try to keep a crook in jail for a
week until the US Marshall arrives in town. The bad guy in question has
contacts (his brother) and they will do what they can to set him
Dean Martin was second to none playing a deputy with drinking problems. He had a lot talent. John Wayne wasn't that bad either. Undoubtly something special about him, although I can't put my finger exactly on what it might be. Personally I don't think he's a great actor, but there is this special cool around him.
Anyway, if you haven't seen this movie I urge you to do. It takes a while for it to sort of take off but it's worth waiting for. Great acting and an interesting plot. It has everything a great western should have. Recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Rio Bravo" is sometimes described as a right-wing riposte to Fred
Zinnemann's "High Noon". I am not sure why "High Noon" needed a
right-wing riposte, because it has never seemed to me to be
particularly left-wing. On a literal level it deals with a subject- the
need for a strong stance on law and order- which has always been dear
to the hearts of conservatives, and on a metaphorical level it would be
just as easy to read a right-wing meaning into it as it would a
left-wing one. (Given that the film was made during the Korean War, it
would be easy to see Sheriff Kane as a symbol of America as the world's
policeman, Frank Miller and his gang as Stalin, Mao and the other
Communist leaders and the cowardly townspeople as the anti-war movement
in the West). The received idea that the film is an allegory for
McCarthyism has always struck me as a strained interpretation.
It would appear, however, that what angered Howard Hawks and John Wayne about "High Noon" was not so much Zinnemann's views on McCarthyism but rather his implication that the citizens of Hadleyville are cowards for refusing to help Kane. This seems to have inspired the most direct reference to the earlier film in "Rio Bravo". When it is suggested to John Wayne's Sheriff John T. Chance that he should round up a posse, he replies that asking amateurs to help him fight hardened professional gunmen would only give the villains more targets to shoot at. The inference is that Gary Cooper's character was wrong to ask the townsfolk to risk their lives on his behalf.
The two films are, in fact, broadly similar in plot. Both concern a courageous and incorruptible Sheriff taking on a gang of dangerous villains who are threatening the peace of a whole community. (This basic plot was used in numerous other Westerns, such as "Dodge City" and "Gunfight at the OK Corral"). In "Rio Bravo" Chance has arrested a local hoodlum named Joe Burdette on suspicion of murder. Burdette's brother Nathan, a wealthy rancher, organises a gang of gunfighters to try and free him from the jail. Chance has to try and hold off the thugs for several days until the US Marshal arrives to take Joe to stand trial.
His chances of doing so, however, seem slim, because his only assistance comes from his deputies, one of whom, Dude, is an alcoholic and the other, Stumpy, is a one-legged old man. (Was Dude the inspiration for Gene Wilder's character in "Blazing Saddles"?) Dude and Stumpy, however, find reserves of courage within themselves, and Chance recruits another volunteer, a young gunman named Colorado who has seen his boss murdered by the villains. "Rio Bravo", in fact, is not simply an action film, but also a character study. One of its themes is the way in which the characters battle to overcome their problems- Stumpy's disability, Dude's alcoholism and, in Colorado's case, his initial moral cowardice and reluctance to assist.
Colorado is played by Ricky Nelson, a teenage pop star of the period, who was brought in to try and attract a younger audience. He was, however, only seventeen when filming started, and seems far too young and callow for the role. If Chance was so concerned about avoiding innocent casualties, he would no doubt have sent such an inexperienced greenhorn back home to mother before the shooting started. Walter Brennan's Stumpy can seem a bit irritating, but with those exceptions the acting is mostly good. I am of the generation which always thinks of Angie Dickinson as the sexy older woman in "Police Woman", so this film gave me the opportunity to see what she looked like as a sexy younger woman. (Very nice too). Chance is the sort of role which John Wayne excelled in portraying, but the best performance came from Dean Martin as Dude, a man who finds redemption for his past misdeeds. There is also a good cameo from John Wayne's close friend Ward Bond as Pat Wheeler, Colorado's murdered boss.
The main difference between this film and "High Noon" is not one of politics but of style. "High Noon" is shot in real time and conveys an urgent sense of time rushing towards the final showdown; it also observes the Classical unity of action as well as that of time, with no digressions from the main plot. "Rio Bravo is much more leisurely and spacious, running to nearly 2½ hours. Besides the main action there is also a subplot detailing Chance's burgeoning romance with Dickinson's character, a female card-sharp and good-time girl named Feathers, and plenty of comic relief involving Carlos the Mexican barman (who closely resembles Manuel in "Fawlty Towers") and even Stumpy, who for all his bravery is often treated as a comic character. Of the two films, my preference is definitely for "High Noon". "Rio Bravo" never drags, as there is always something going on to hold one's interest, but it lacks the gripping pacing which makes "High Noon" one of the most thrilling films ever made. (In my view it is perhaps the greatest Western ever). Hawks may have disagreed with Zinnemann over politics, but he could perhaps have learned something from him about film-making. 7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is perfection.
I hesitate in calling it the "greatest western of all time", as so many defining elements of the genre are lacking (for one thing, all the action takes place within city limits so much for horse riding across western landscapes). More importantly, it transcends genre barriers and stands in a world of its own. A world of pure and simple correspondence between ends and means of the film-making process, that is, of classic perfection.
As many have noted, the starting point is simple: a sheriff needs to keep an outlaw in custody, other outlaws try to spring him. The ease and grace with which Hawks creates a two-hour long narrative from this, both elaborate and always radiantly clear, at the same time fast-paced and seemingly immobile, would be overwhelming if the result were not of such classic evidence.
This he does by perfectly balancing the characters, whose common point is the need for redemption or fulfillment, whether they are too old (Stumpy), too weak (Dude), too young (Colorado) or even too desirable (Feathers). Sheriff Chance is both unwilling to relate to them and unable to do without them thus conferring a constant ambiguity to his behavior, balancing between pardon and anger, an ambiguity instantly redeemed by the righteousness and the physical grace with which he moves among them "Sorry don't get it done, Dude" must be my favorite quote from any movie.
The same balance can be found between the few action scenes and the more gentle episodes. The action is scarce, but then all the more intense as it comes both inevitably and at unexpected moments. It is climactic and beautifully shot and choreographed. There are few gunshots (excepting the ending), but always to the point (if not always on target). To illustrate this, let us examine the episode in which Dude shoots an outlaw he and Chance are pursuing. He is unsure of whether he has hit him: this uncertainty is at once transmitted to his whole character, and to a characteristically sceptical as well as sympathetic Chance. In this sense, not a shot is wasted, as they define so powerfully the essence of characters and relations between them. The same could be said of young Colorado's ascension, materialized through his gun fighting ability. This is a classic feature of westerns, brought to unseen heights by Hawks.
These action scenes contrast beautifully with three other kind of scenes: the romantic seduction scenes in which Angie Dickinson shines; the comedy scenes taking place in the hotel, and the alternately anguishing and joyful scenes in the prison culminating, as a reviewer has noted, in the songs shared by Dude, Stumpy, Colorado and an appreciative and silent Chance, a blissful moment in which time, the plot, the suspense are cast aside and all is left is an exceptional complicity between the characters, the director and the spectator.
Many defects can be found here and there, yet as a whole, the movie is perfect, as it creates with seemingly effortless grace a world complete with strong and weak characters, a sense of time and space, right and wrong, necessity and chance (not a meaningless name for Wayne's character) we at once recognize and love as our own.
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