Release Year: 1959
Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: Jules Furthman (screenplay), Leigh Brackett (screenplay), B.H. McCampbell (short story “Rio Bravo”)
Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, Estelita Rodriguez, Claude Akins
Rating: Won 1 Golden Globe: Most Promising Newcomer – Female 8Angie Dickinson). Nominated for 1 Golden Globe: Most Promising Newcomer – Male (Ricky Nelson).
Moviegeek Sunday Classic # 146, week 14 2017
Small-town sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) enlists the help of a drunk (Dean Martin), a cripple (Walter Brennan), and a young gunfighter (Ricky Nelson) in order to keep the brother of a powerful local bad guy in jail long enough for the marshal to arrive.
Howard Hawks really ought to be more of a household name than he is. While never collecting lots of awards, his filmography contains many great classics such as Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), and The Big Sleep (1946) and his work has inspired the likes of John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. Hawks was a master in several genres, including screwball comedy, science fiction, film noir, and the Western, making 8 films with Western legend John Wayne. Of those 8 Rio Bravo is one of the most highly regarded and well loved and that is with good reason. The film opens with a fabulously evocative long and dialogue free scene. The story itself is simple, a vehicle to push the classic Hawks/Wayne hero type to the forefront; Wayne’s small time sheriff is just the sort of character he did so well. He projects a strong calm, goes about his duty without thinking twice, and surrounds himself only with those capable of seeing the job done. He is helped by the crippled but fiercely loyal Stumpy, played by revered character actor Walter Brennan (To Have and Have Not, 1944), who functions as the film’s comic relief while brilliantly carving a lovable character out of an old western caricature. Dean Martin (Ocean’s Eleven, 1960) plays the drunken but excellent gunfighter and friend of the sheriff and shows sides of himself that those only familiar with his Rat Pack work will find surprising, whereas the young Ricky Nelson shows great promise as the confident you gunfighter Colorado Ryan, a potential which was never realized, at least not on the big screen. The plot might move towards a foreseeable end, but does so with great charm and high entertainment value despite its slow-moving pace. Hawks is equally great at big shootouts and quiet character scenes and provides his audience with an accessible and highly rewatchable Western flick. A significant part of the film’s worth lies in its characters and while not all work equally well (the love story, for instance, is somewhat weak), these are only small ripples that do not disturb the overall positive impression left when the end credits role.
This was the last Western in which John Wayne wore the hat he had worn in film since Stagecoach (1939).
Howard Hawks and John Wayne made Rio Bravo as a counter-response to the underlying theme and point-of-view og High Noon (1952), which was taken to symbolise a criticism of McCarthyism. Wayne was a high-profile conservative figure in Hollywood and a strong supporter of senator McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt.
Howard Hawks wanted someone that teenagers of the day could connect to. Initially, he wanted Elvis Presley for the part and Presley was enthused about the project. However, Presley’s manager demanded too much money and top-billing, which neither Hawks not Wayne would here of. The part eventually went to the young Ricky Nelson who turned 18 while filming. Presley began his service in the U.S. Army two months before filming and would not have been able to do the film anyway.
Picture Copyright: Warner Home Video