Rio Bravo (1959)
A town sheriff (John Wayne) enlists the help of a recovering drunk (Dean Martin) and a young gunslinger (Ricky Nelson) to prevent a local criminal springing his brother from jail.
Howard Hawks’s answer to “High Noon” (1952).
Lovingly crafted and unashamedly old-fashioned, “Rio Bravo” is ill at ease in the company of many of the westerns made in the late 50s and early 60s.It’s stylishly shot but there are only a few stand-out pieces of what you may call “cinematic brilliance” – one being the scene in which Martin locates an injured rifleman above him in the balcony of the saloon by noticing drips of blood land in the beer glass he is lusting after (see picture below); and another being the beautiful ‘sun-set’ sequence.
It’s really the characters which make this film – and for that, full-credit must go to the cast and an intelligent, amusing script. Dean Martin and John Wayne effortlessly shine throughout the picture and the scene with a broken Martin’s “redemption” is fantastic to watch – the dynamic between these two is genuine and heartfelt. The gentle story is told almost perfectly – the audience is not distracted by any over the top auteur-like shenanigans – in the hugely claustrophobic settings of the hotel, saloon and town-jail.
Walter Brennan’s part as old-timer “Deputy Stumpy” is so etched with humour and one-liners that it’s difficult to know sometimes whether you are watching a western or a comedy piece. We also have the brilliant Dean Martin in a role which was ideally tailored for him. It’s also the last movie in which John Wayne and Ward Bond played together. Bond plays a friend of Sheriff Chance, who wants to help out but isn’t particularly capable of doing so – and it doesn’t end well for him.
Now on to some of the drawbacks of this film. It’s very slow-moving and the “musical” scenes are from a bygone age. The finale is somewhat weak – yet indulgent – and doesn’t sit well with the rest of the movie for me.
But does this mean the film is worth skipping>? NO. this a movie which manages to hold your attention and ignite your emotions, despite any inclusion 0r celebration of artistic devices – and that’s, friends, why we at hotdogcinema love Howard Hawks’s movies.
Overall, a compulsively watch-able and unpretentious classic of the genre.