Apart from the fact that Ricky Nelson couldn't act to save his life (he plays the fast gun Colorado), the big revelation in Howard Hawks' High Noon rerun is Dean Martin who is just superb as the drink-obsessed Dutch - sidekick to sheriff John Wayne and his trusty buddy Walter Brennan.
The Blu Ray version is disappointing print wise for the opening credits - there's blocking, speckles on the print etc, but thankfully it doesn't stay that way for long. Although there are other weak points in the transfer later on in the movie, for about 90 % of the time I'd say it looks really good - not great - but certainly better than any other version of it that I've ever seen.
There's a night time sequence where one of the bad guys hiding out in a barn near the prison tries to shoot John Wayne - it cuts to Dutch outside worried about his friend inside - the clarity of sweat and dirt on Dean Martin is wonderful to see - and startling. When John Wayne stops Angie Dickenson at her bedroom door suspected of card shark tricks in the saloon she's just left below, her face and clothing look sensational too (what a beautiful woman she was). But then in other places there's a disappointing feeling of the focus being slightly off or the print's vibrancy being washed out.
It might just be that in 1959 the colour process was not quite there yet, but you can't help but feel that if this negative had been given real care and effort - the print would have been a genuine joy to look at - rather than being something that just elicits the word 'good' out of you every now and then.
"Rio Bravo" is a very good transfer to Blu Ray, but like so many oldies that aren't treated to proper restoration, you can't help but feel that an opportunity was missed here - because it's a Western that's stood the test of time.
on 17 July 2007
Hawks' great film finally gets a special edition DVD release. RIO BRAVO is one of the finest American Westerns from one of the greatest American filmmakers, although sadly the cult of Hawks seems to be waning amongst younger film fans. Nevertheless, this 'special edition' DVD release of RIO BRAVO is exemplary, a dream come true for the film's fans. The documentaries are brilliant, offering great insight into Hawks' craft and themes, and the commentary track with Richard Shickel and John Carpenter is excellent: Carpenter clearly knows this important and influential movie inside out, and on the commentary track he laments the way in which society has turned against the professionalism of Hawks and now venerates the amateur. Nowhere is this more apparent than in modern popular cinema, where the professionalism, honesty and narrative economy of a filmmaker like Hawks seems to have been almost completely neglected in favour of spectacle and narrative 'flab'.
If you're a fan of the movie, no doubt you've already made up your mind and ordered this disc; if you've never seen RIO BRAVO before and are considering ordering the DVD, please do so--you won't regret it, and you'll see how one of the best examples of how movies used to be made, and perhaps more importantly how more modern movies should be made.
on 3 August 2010
Classic Hawks western so much so he was to revisit it again as El Dorado and Rio Lobo.This however remains his
finest version.Wayne plays the sheriff holding out against the odds with only Dean Martin as the alcoholic Dude Ricky Nelson
as Colorado and ever loyal Stumpy played by Walter Brennan.The action is lean but what drives the story is the indominatable spirit of the four friends against the odds.The interplay between the four is excellent especially Brennan playing off Wayne
and Martin.The picture transfer is ok at times a little grainy but mostly fine for a movie of it's age.Warners have a decent record releasing old movies on blu -ray North by Northwest The Searchers Bonnie and Clyde etc I suspect this may have been the best available print of this movie.The rest of the package consists of two docs on Hawks and a featurette on the location
Old Tuscon the commentary is informative and always keeps the listeners intrest Well done Warner for trying to provide the complete movie experience with these old classics time and time again
"Rio Bravo"(59) is the perfect film to show on a team building course. It shows how a small band of disparate professionals can come together to make a formidable adversary. It is also the director Howard Hawks response to "High Noon"(52) where he perceived the town sheriff in the film played by Gary Cooper to be "Running around like a headless chicken looking for help". The sheriff in this film John T Chance played by John Wayne needs to do no such thing. He is calmness personified.
In the film Wayne arrests Claude Akins for the cold blooded murder of a man. This puts him up against Akins wealthy rancher brother who has a small army at his disposal. The odds are stacked heavily against Chance and his team. He has Dude a drunken deputy, played by Dean Martin in his finest screen role, and the geriatric Stumpy played by Walter Brennan. Later Colorado played by Ricky Nelson joins them after the murder of his boss Ward Bond. It does not look promising, but the team begin to gel and they are all good at what they do. The scene is set for an explosive finale.
John Wayne made four Westerns with Howard Hawks. The magnificent epic "Red River"(48),"Rio Bravo", "El Dorado"(67) and "Rio Lobo"(70). Whilst the first two are magnificent films, the last two show a decline in Hawks powers. "Rio Lobo" is particularly disappointing. "El Dorado" is simply a remake of "Rio Bravo" with Mitchum in the Dean Martin role and Arthur Hunnicut in the Brennan role. "Rio Bravo" features three songs to accommodate Rick Nelson and Dean Martin, the best of these being "My Rifle, my pony and me". The songs are good fun and assist in the team bonding process. Angie Dickenson also turns up as the very alluring saloon girl Feathers, who is a distraction for John T. And quite a distraction she would be for any red blooded male!
The film provides The Duke with one of his finest screen roles and is up there with Thomas Dunson from "Red River", "Ethan Edwards" from "The Searchers" and Nathan Brittles from "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon". The calm self possessed nature of the role suited the big man. It is interesting to note that a clip of this character appeared in the opening credits of "The Shootist" which was a homage to Waynes long career. The film is notorious for its lack of close ups, although there are a couple if you watch carefully. Also watch the virtuoso opening scene which moves seamlessly and with no dialogue to the arrest of the Akins character. It is a wonderful scene and reminds me of Orson Welles fine opening sequence in "Touch of Evil"(57).
This is still a very fine film that has aged extremely well. Howard Hawks had an illustrious Hollywood career and was a man of rare talent. Sadly they really don't make em like this any more. Highly recommended viewing.
on 29 June 2015
RIO BRAVO  [Blu-ray] [US Import] Arguably Howard Hawks’ Greatest Film! Beautifully Acted, Wonderfully Observed and Scripted with Enormous Wit and Generosity!
On one side is an army of gunmen dead-set on springing a murderous cohort from jail. On the other are Sheriff John T. Chance [John Wayne] and two deputies: a recovering drunkard and a crippled codger. Also in their ragtag ranks are a trigger-happy youth and a woman with a past and her eye on Sheriff John T. Chance. Director Howard Hawks lifted the Western to new heights with ‘Red River.’ Capturing the legendary West with a stellar cast in peak form, he does it again here.
Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, Estelita Rodriguez, Claude Akins and Malcolm Atterbury
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett. Based on the novel "Rio Bravo" by B. H. McCampbell
Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo, French: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono, German: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono, Italian: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono and Spanish [Castilian]: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish [Castilian], Dutch, Korean, Spanish [Latin], Portuguese, Danish, Finish, Norwegian and Swedish
Running Time: 141 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: In traditional Western storytelling, lone sheriffs have faced off against rowdy outlaws and emerged victorious countless times, but never with as much exhilarating craftsmanship, narrative and stylistic economy, or sheer escapist delight as in Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. The picture is a celebration of several cinematic traditions at once. At the forefront resides a prescribed Western yarn in Hollywood terms, a familiar set-up about a singular lawman taming the Old West, complete with shootouts, treacherous villains, and even twangy songs. Going further, the exceptional treatment represents a culmination of both Howard Hawks themes and techniques, as well as the indomitable screen presence of John Wayne's heroic, yet understatedly complex stature. At the same time, Howard Hawks and John Wayne provide an antidote to the traditional Western archetype by creating an impossible, exceptionally tense situation wherein the lone hero must reluctantly accept help from others, a support system in the form of a mismatched posse, to overcome an impossibly grim opposition. From start to finish, rich, intricate characters populate a fast-paced and flawlessly constructed motion picture, perhaps the most enjoyable and satisfyingly of its genre.
‘Rio Bravo’  is a Western directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. Howard Hawks was the king of banter and his films crackle with it and ‘Rio Bravo’ is the best of them all. It's nominally a western, but it's really about a group of friends who call each other names, put each other down, and generally delight in their relationships. They all have nicknames. John Wayne's risk-taking Sheriff is called Sheriff John T. Chance. Then there's his lame pal Stumpy [Walter Brennan] and drunken deputy Dude [Dean Martin], also known as Borachón (Spanish for "drunk").
They get holed up in a confrontation with an evil rancher, who has endless heavies at his command. "A lame-legged old man and a drunk – that's all you got?" someone asks Wayne. "That's what I got," he corrects them laconically. In Howard Hawks’s world, all a man needs is his gang of mates, however dysfunctional they may be.
Fortunately, the gang is rounded out by a sparky girl named Feathers [Angie Dickinson] and sharp youngster Colorado [Ricky Nelson], who conspires to outwit the baddies with a flowerpot. Angie Dickinson also runs romantic rings around John Wayne, making this icon of Hollywood machismo look like a bumbling fool. That was the kind of fun Howard Hawks loved to have with his stars; he made Cary Grant wear drag for most of ‘I Was a Male War Bride.’
Howard Hawks said he liked "three-cushion dialogue," in which no one says what they mean. ‘Rio Bravo’ is full of it, yet some of its most eloquent moments are silent. Dean Martin's recovery from alcoholism is shown not through speeches but through his struggles to roll a cigarette; and we know John Wayne loves him because he's always ready to give him his own. That's the kind of detail that makes this film. It's warm, human and absolutely essential, even 45 years on.
The only thing Dean Martin really had a problem with was a scene in which he had to cry. The idea of pretending to cry totally unnerved him but he eventually got it right. He also got along great with the cast and crew, even if his joke telling sometimes held up production or he was hung over for most of the shoot. Dean Martin and John Wayne also played mischievous older brothers to Ricky Nelson on the set, presenting him with a 300-pound sack of steer manure for his eighteenth birthday and then tossing him into the centre of it.
Over the course of ‘Rio Bravo’ we are treated to an entertainment masterclass, a high watermark of Hollywood cinema in its heyday. I may not go as far as Quentin Tarantino, who declared that he would show the film to any new girlfriend and end the relationship if she did not declare her undying love for Howard Hawks’ classic, but it is the film I return to again and again, to revisit old friends and remind myself what form optimism takes in a work of art.
‘Rio Bravo’ was filmed in Old Tucson Studios, the same Arizona movie set where ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’  was filmed. Cinematographer Russell Harlan modelled the look of the film on the frontier paintings of Charles M. Russell. Filming outdoors was often a chore due to the 120-degree heat and an invasion of grasshoppers that fried on the hot lights and littered the sets.
Blu-ray Video Quality – ‘Rio Bravo’ appears in a respectable aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film comes with a pretty average 1080p transfer. I must admit that the image looked worse than I had come to expect based on current standards. Grain could be a little bit heavy, and I noticed a mix of specks and marks through the film. Sharpness also demonstrated some issues. Definition usually seemed fine, but the shots could turn somewhat soft at times. The colour rendition was fine. Blacks were appropriately dark and dense, while shadows showed nice definition. But despite this, the transfer was acceptable and I enjoyed it immensely.
Blu-ray Video Quality – 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio monaural audio of ‘Rio Bravo’ appeared fine for a more than a 50-year-old film. Speech could be a little thin at times, but the lines showed reasonable warmth and never suffered from any other form of defects. Music lacked great dimensionality as well, but the score showed acceptable clarity and definition. Effects came along the same lines, as they were clean and without distortion but they failed to present much range. Some light background noise cropped up at times, but this was a competent track for again the age of the film.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary by Richard Schickel and John Carpenter: Here we first get introduced to the Howard hawks film by Richard Schickel, who greatly admired the Western ‘Rio Bravo’ and mentions that prior to 1959, Howard Hawks had been absent from America, because he had been living in Europe for about 4 years and also mentions that when Howard Hawks returned to America, he found a great deal of change and the dominance of Television, compared to the Cinema. Now enters John Carpenter, who introduces himself to us viewers and also informs us that ‘Rio Bravo’ is one of his all-time favourite films and that Howard Hawks is also of his all-time favourite directors. They both comment the moment Dean Martin walks into the bar at the start of the film and it is basically a homage to the silent film genre and presentation that Howard Hawks was a great admirer of the silent cinema. They also mention that Howard Hawks was a big fan of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Both of the commentators mention that Dean Martin was curious choice for the film, but at the time of the film is when he parted company with Jerry Lewis, because he wanted to branch out on his own career. They talk about the actor Walter Brennan and what a great character actor he is and has appeared in loads of Cowboy Films, but sadly had a tragic accident and lost all of his teeth and had two moulds done of his teeth, but had an outlook that was either teeth in or teeth out, where ever he was, especially when being respectable and in ‘Rio Bravo’ he asked Howard Hawks whether it was teeth in or out and Howard Hawks said he wanted the old toothless cranky fussy old character, so it was teeth out. We also get to hear how the famous Howard Hawks had a clever use of overlapping dialogue, which he enjoyed immensely. Another interesting fact we hear about is that Howard Hawks loved the location of Old Tucson Studios and made two more subsequent movies there, with the help of Leigh Brackett, who was his favourite screenwriter, who had written enough screenplay left over to make another Cowboy movie, that sadly was less successful. The first time Leigh Brackett met Howard Hawks, Howard was totally shocked to find out Leigh was a female. Her claim to fame was with her last screenplay that was for George Lucas and ‘The Empire Strike Back’ film and was release posumately around the time Leigh Brackett passed away at the age of 65 years of age in 1980. We find in part the reason Ricky nelson got the part in the film, is because his father Ozzie Nelson was a good friend of Howard Hawks, who was aware of Ricky Nelson being a teeny bopper singing artist. The film ‘Rio Bravo’ by all account was a very extremely amicable shoot, where everyone got along very nicely, despite the age factor and experience of some of the actors and shows why the film turned out a great success. Sometimes Howard Hawks would let the actors adlib their lines on set, often at times they would come in the morning and rehearse the scene and they would do a thing called “going to the table,” where Howard Hawks would tap a big pad of paper and actors would sit around the table and learning their lines and adding nuisances, then Howard Hawks would write everything down and get it typed up over lunch and then they would shoot the scene in the afternoon and Howard hawks felt this was a very humane way of working. As we get near to the end of the climatic finish, which both commentators say is truly glorious, funny and exciting, especially as the main group of actors come together to be reunited and doing what Howard Hawks calls “fun,” and Howard hawks would always choreography these types of ending of his films, especially where the actors are specifically positioned, to the point of great simplicity, which was always overlooked by people, because his visuals do not call attention to themselves. We are told people reported that John Wayne was very uncomfortable doing the love scenes with Angie Dickinson. Richard Schickel and John Carpenter comment that ‘Rio Bravo’ is a movie that is filled with fun, it is filled with humour and characters that are fun and is truly old fashioned filmmaking and it borrows from the 1930s and 1940s, but in colour in the 1950s. It has action; in fact it has got it all, and one of the greatest Western of all time. Again we get more comments that there is something about this film, in the sense it reflects what was best about Hollywood, especially when it makes it a Hollywood movie and was extremely popular when it was released and I is still very popular today. John Carpenter says at the end, “I hope you have enjoyed viewing this film like we have and see you at the movies.” Well I second that as this audio commentary has been really enjoyable experience, especially hearing the comments in this audio commentary from Richard Schickel and John Carpenter and I can tell you it is well worth listen to two people who know about this film and Western genre, who gave the impression they had a blast doing the audio commentary and so did I.
Special Feature Documentary: Commemoration: Howard Hawks ‘Rio Bravo’  [1080p] [1.85:1] 33:22] We find out from this Special Feature Documentary that we find out that this is considered Howard Hawks' "most personal film" and also his "most influential." This brief look at the film's development more than adequately covers why it is of all the great Westerns, this one "has everything." What is interesting to me is that before making this ‘Rio Bravo’ Howard Hawks looked at television and saw that the appeal of TV was the characters and the actors, and not the plot. And this is absolutely true, although television has become more long-form, it used to be a very character-driven with 30 minutes episodes each week. I also like how the film was a response to ‘High Noon,’ which Howard Hawks felt violated an ethical principle by having non-gunfighters be recruited to defend the town. Contributors to this very nice documentary are as follows: Peter Bogdanovich [Director]; Walter Hill [Director]; John Carpenter [Director]; Jonathan Kuntz and Stephen Mamber [UCLA Department and of Film and Television]; Angie Dickinson [Actress/Feathers]; James D’Arc [Curator of Howard hawks Papers at Brigham Young University in Utah].
Special Feature Documentary: Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked  [1080p] [1.85:1] [8:34] With his special documentary we get a personal look at the backstage tour of the Old Tucson Studios in Arizona where the film was shot. This mocked-up frontier town, which was also the setting for other classic westerns like ‘Winchester '73’ and ‘The Gunfight At The OK Corral,’ and today serves as an Old West theme park. Brimming with nostalgia and graced with that rare Howard Hawks interview, this great for you cinephiles out there. Contributors to this very nice documentary are as follows: Jonathan Kuntz [UCLA Department and of Film and Television]; Dan Schneider [Tour Guide for Old Tucson Studios]; Rob Shelton [Former owner of Old Tucson Studios] and Mark Kadow [Entertainment Manger of Old Tucson Studios].
Theatrical Trailer  [480i] [4:3] 2:45] Even though it is the original trailer, it looks like it was specially made to be broadcast on American Television at the time of the release.
Finally, personally I am not a massive fan of Westerns most of the time, but there are certain classic Westerns I like very much, and one of them of course is 'Rio Bravo' and always have an enjoyable ride viewing it, and one that holds up very well almost fifty years on. ‘Rio Bravo’ is a very good film, though it’s stark black-and-white view of the world is slightly dated now. It is the ultimate legitimate classic of its genre, particularly notable for what is considered John Wayne's most tender performance and a strong supporting cast including Dean Martin and a very young Ricky Nelson. John Wayne gives a strong performance as usual, but it is director Howard Hawks that really shines, putting together an exciting film filled with humour that never drags during its 2 hours and 21 minute run time. Warner Home Video has put together a fine retrospective Blu-ray release for this Howard Hawks favourite, with an impressive transfer and excellent supplementary material. This 2015 restoration may not be quite up to the calibre of 'The Searchers,' but it is certainly a more-than-respectable effort befitting a legend of John Wayne's stature. All in all I am so glad it is now in my Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
on 13 March 2015
Rio Bravo (made in 1958 but released in 1959) is the second of two Howard Hawks Westerns to have achieved near universal acclaim. The qualities of Red River (1948) are obvious. It is a hugely successful celebration of American creation mythology blended seamlessly with a complete statement of the universe according to Hawks through a rigorous Freudian rubric which unites the epic with the intimate with effortless ease. Flawlessly acted and brilliantly made, it's clearly a masterpiece. The claims of Rio Bravo are less obvious. A 2½ hour ramblingly discursive chamber piece consisting mainly of interior scenes with lots of chat replacing the usual mute open air dramatic panoramas of horses (or cows) sweeping over landscapes to rousing nation-building music, the film appears on casual inspection to be a mere pot boiler made on the cheap, a TV Western blown up for the big screen. Appearances are deceptive however, a closer look revealing an intimate and highly complex epic thematically not dissimilar at all to Red River.
At base Rio Bravo is another magnificent statement of American creation mythology. Where Red River concerns itself with the cattle drive blazing the trail between covered wagons and the gleaming new railroad carrying migrants from the East in search of their "Manifest Destiny" to make the USA what it is today, Rio Bravo centers on the establishment of law and order, of civilization in frontier settlements at a later stage of the nation-making process where the enemy isn't the Indians, but the unscrupulous outlaw members of fledgling frontier communities. Closely welded to the statement of creation mythology is a precise matching of it with the central rules and themes of Hawks' world. Every frame of every scene reeks of a honest deeply felt celebration of positive civilized "American" values beloved by the director with absolutely no room for saccharine - re `Fordian' - sentimentality or nationalist jingoism. Yes there is affection and a rich vein of warm humor, and yes there is even a deeply right wing political subtext which I will come to, but these are bedded within a rich warm statement of the Hawksian worldview in a completely natural way.
In his book on the director Robin Wood set out the template for the way Hawks' films have come to be considered today. Distinguishing between the man's screwball comedies (Twentieth Century , Bringing Up Baby , His Girl Friday , Monkey Business ) and his action films (Only Angels Have Wings , Hatari! , the Westerns) he said, "In the adventure films, centred on the male group, chaos is out there...the master motif (literal or metaphoric) is the small circle of light amid the surrounding darkness. In the comedies, set inside established society, chaos erupts from within...in the adventure films it is a threat held at bay by the values of the group (self-respect, loyalty, spontaneous affection and sharing); in the comedies what is threatened (the established social order) is not valued, and the eruption of chaos becomes liberating and positive." Further to "self-respect, loyalty, spontaneous affection and sharing" in the adventure films come issues of male camaraderie, bonding, the inclusion of women in the group as `token' men if they earn the right to the privilege, and the earning of the right of all to remain in the group. This in turn underlines issues of leadership, sacrificing individual ego to the group cause, the ever-present possibility of redemption for those who fail to measure up, and the acquirement and appreciation of professional skill and the respect that comes with it. The sacrifice of everything to teamwork so as to get a job done, to see a task through, is the mantra that appears repeatedly throughout Hawks' work. I've said all this before in my piece on Red River, but it applies equally well to Rio Bravo. The guarding of a town jail from ranch hands trying to extricate one of their number from his cell replaces the guarding of cattle from the hostile elements en route to market. Both situations require the application of the above qualities to guard against "the surrounding darkness", the "threat held at bay by the values of the group." As in Red River, the fact that these very qualities amount to exactly what it takes for a nation to be created, for civilization to be hewn out of the wilderness again gives the film a sheer force and sense of purpose that is difficult to resist, Hawks' worldview blending seamlessly with the creation mythology the film is centrally about.
The difference between Red River and Rio Bravo is partly a question of scale and place. One is big and outdoor, the other indoor and claustrophobic, but the different preoccupations of the screenwriters reflecting the decade that separates the two films make for a fascinating contrast. Borden Chase loved writing stories focused on the relationship between two rival men brought together (sometimes by blood relationship) in the accomplishment of a difficult task which brings out neurotic tensions between them. In Vera Cruz (Robert Aldrich, 1954) it was the escort of gold bullion in a wagon, in Bend of the River (Anthony Mann, 1952) it was the escort of a wagon train. In Red River it is the escort of cattle across hostile territory with the over-riding father-son confrontation stamping an intensely Freudian reading on the birth of a nation. In Rio Bravo Freud is replaced by right wing politics in Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman's adaptation of B. H. McCampbell's short story of the same name.
As legend has it Hawks, Brackett and John Wayne were appalled by Fred Zinnemann and Carl Foreman's 1952 film High Noon. They made Rio Bravo as a direct riposte to that film's left wing House Un-American activities. These activities include an allegory on blacklisting, an attack on McCarthyism and a possible allegory on America's reluctant involvement in the Korean War. High Noon is an important film on a number of counts, not the least of which being its negative depiction of America as a divided nation with people running scared. They desert the man (Gary Cooper's Marshall Kane) who made their town (America) a safe place to live. Frank Miller, the man who Kane arrested, has been released by liberals up North and is coming back to get his revenge. The people do not support the man who saved them and their actions are conspicuously unpatriotic in the schema of the film. They'd prefer it if Kane ran away to spare their town being used as a battlefield, even if it means Kane's death and a return to social disorder, a return it is hinted which many secretly want to happen. Kane desperately looks for help, is refused everywhere and is finally forced to see through the job on his own with a little help from his Quaker wife who is forced to violate her own Faith. The final image has Kane throwing his star in the dust and then driving off in disgust having discovered the real nature of the town (of America). This last act especially outraged those on the right wing of the political spectrum. Wayne famously labeled the film "Un-American" and later publically stated his pride at helping to run Foreman out of the country by testifying in front of HUAC. Hawks went public saying, "I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him." In essence the right wing rejected the idea that America is a place where individuals are hung out to dry (witch-hunted) for standing up for their beliefs (a misrepresentation in their eyes of McCarthyism), blacklisted (with outlaws on his tail where could Kane possibly settle down?), or reluctant to support another war (Kane's personal war echoing the then current Korean War and also the Vietnam War of a decade later). As we shall see Rio Bravo offers a corrective version of the same story that paints a very different `patriotic' more positively `American' picture of the state of the nation.
Further to this it should be remembered that High Noon is a key film in the wave of "revisionism" that swept Westerns in the 1950s. Perhaps kick-started by the huge commercial success of Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950) which ironically was written by Borden Chase, the decade was dominated by two cycles of dark revenge Westerns directed by Mann and Budd Boetticher. Like High Noon they were all firmly rooted in contemporary American malaise - anti-communist paranoia, McCarthyist witch-hunting, the fear of nuclear apocalypse, and the first stirrings of civil rights protest-related social unrest. This means that not only is Rio Bravo a denial of anti-McCarthyism and High Noon's picture of a divided nation, it is also a corrective critique of all revisionist Westerns that subsequently came out, including most famously, John Ford's searing depiction of racial hatred in The Searchers (1956). These films all center on what Philip French calls "an underlying drive towards anarchy and disintegration, a feeling that the inhabitants of America have a tenuous grip upon their continent." Released in the same year that the first American soldiers were killed in Vietnam and three years before the problems in Cuba, Rio Bravo amounts to a strongly reactionary statement against the times, an anachronistic return to the old classic style of pre-1950 Westerns which celebrate strong positive American values in the face of all the present day uncertainties that lie behind revisionism.
In essence both High Noon and Rio Bravo offer pictures of a civilized America threatened by the return of chaos. High Noon's returning revenge-fuelled Frank Miller is replaced in Rio Bravo by Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) who, drunken and unprovoked, guns down an innocent by-stander in a bar. He is arrested by Rio Bravo's sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) and with a little help from his drunken deputy Dude (Dean Martin) slams him in jail. In the 8 day wait for the County Marshall to come and take Burdette off their hands, they have to guard the jail as Burdette's ranch hands organized by his brother Nathan (John Russell) circle and wait their chance to rescue him. Chance, Dude and their in-house jailer Stumpy (Walter Brennen) become in effect the prisoners. The way the lawmen of both films (Kane and Chance) deal with the problem illustrates very clearly the different views of America we are offered. Far from Kane's "headless chicken" running around begging for help, Chance makes a point of denying all help that he is offered. On one level this states Hawks' central belief in professionalism. Only one who has acquired the necessary skills should try his hand at any given trade. Help from an amateur is no help at all, in fact it is a hindrance. This is shown when Chance's friend Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) offers to help and tries to round up some deputies. Chance knows Wheeler doesn't have what it takes to do the job and he is gunned down in the street for his efforts. On another level Chance's denial of help highlights the fact that at the film's outset all the characters are at their lowest point and are in no position to do anything for him. Indeed, even those closest to him are not up to the task. Dude is a quivering nervous drunken mess (beautifully played by Martin) on the rebound from failed love, Stumpy is an old cripple, Feathers (Angie Dickinson) is a disgraced card cheat/saloon girl/whore wanted by the authorities for aiding and abetting her ex-husband's crimes at the gaming tables, while Colorado (Ricky Nelson) is too young and too smart to think about getting mixed up in Chance's problems. The way they all gradually negotiate their rites of passage to achieve redemption is the real narrative of Rio Bravo as they symbolize the various members of the town community (of American society) pulling together as a group to overcome their problems, in other words we have here nation creation from a wholly Hawksian perspective.
Contrast this with the nation de-creation of High Noon. All the characters start off at their highest point but when crisis approaches they turn and run leaving Kane marooned and a nation imperilled. Crisis brings out the best in the characters of Rio Bravo. In High Noon it brings out the worst. Rio Bravo answers High Noon virtually character for character. The first we see in Rio Bravo is Dude, at his drunken lowest ebb bending down to pick up a penny thrown in a spittoon to buy his whisky. Life can't get lower than this and the expression of disgust on Chance's face as he kicks him away says it all. Gradually however he pulls himself together, recovers his skill at the gun and in an important redemptive scene he leads the way into a bar to flush out Wheeler's killer. Chance's patience and respect shown through friendship for Dude is in some ways the most important thread in the film's narrative, his redemption from drunk dead beat back to honorable lawman, his re-entry into the Hawksian group, suggests the revival of a community and the revival of a nation. Contrast this to Deputy Marshall Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges) in High Noon. Bitter because Kane refused to recommend him for his own job, Pell never at any moment suggests he is willing to sacrifice his ego to help Kane (to help America). He offers his help only on condition that he can get something in return and when Kane refuses, they fight. Pell is knocked out and is nowhere to be seen throughout the climactic confrontation while Kane is left even weaker than before. In effect Pell does his level best to ensure Kane (America) loses the fight. Redemption? Never, at least not in the America depicted in this film.
The third member of the law enforcement team Stumpy continues the duo combo of Red River between Wayne and Brennen, but his casting as the crippled old jailer is also an ironic take on Jimmy the Gimp (William Newell) in High Noon who is one of the very few who offer to help Kane. The Marshall rejects him out of pity, but Chance includes Stumpy as a paid up member of the group from beginning to end. Jimmy is headed for drunken oblivion in a divided America while Stumpy may yet win back his ranch which had been stolen by none other than the Burdettes. He too wins his redemption as shown by the very last scene where he takes a walk with Dude down the street for the first time after being stuck in jail guarding Burdette for the entire film.
As Rio Bravo pans out, the character of Feathers comes to equate with Kane's wife Amy (Grace Kelly). Again the trajectory of their characters go in opposite directions and say different things about America. Feathers starts off low, but gradually wins her way into Chance's affections. She is proven not to be a card cheat after all and eventually wins him completely when she throws a pot of flowers through a window to distract Burdette's men as they try and take Chance. The conversation scenes between the two are a delight as she motor-mouths him into submission, the film showing her redemption from card cheat/singer/whore to being Chance's partner, the maternal domestic hearth of civilization necessary to create a nation. Amy Kane starts off as this, but when her husband turns their wagon around to go back to town to face Miller and his gang she decides at once that she can't go against her Quaker religion. Kane's return to violence signals the end of their marriage and the breaking up of the very cradle of American civilization. She spends most of the film waiting for the noon train, the train that will take civilization away and bring chaos back again in the shape of Miller. While she waits she learns other barbed things about the town her husband helped create - the Mexican hotel owner Helen Ramirez (Kathy Jurado) who used to be her husband's woman and the desk clerk who tells her the town used to be `busy' and `prosperous' when Miller was running things with many other people also bearing a grudge against her husband. Love wins out in the end, but it speaks volumes about the state of the nation that she has to renounce her very Faith in order to keep her man. The domestic hearth of civilization is united at the end, but with a Quaker a murderer (the founding fathers were Quakers remember), what `civilization' (re what kind of America) is this?
Both High Noon and Rio Bravo feature hotels run by Mexicans. The former shows a town (a nation) only partially racially integrated. Ramirez only owns half of her hotel and her situation is perilous to say the least. The only non-white we see in the town, when she hears Miller is coming back she immediately packs her bags to leave. It is intimated that she was a whore before and counted Miller among her clients as well as Kane. She sells up her stake for a pittance and runs away. She had almost negotiated her way into American society, but now she has to move off to another town and begin again. In an unstable nation there is little hope of racial integration in this film, a point picked up on by a number of pro-Indian/Mexican Westerns in the 50s starting with Devil's Doorway [Mann, 1950], Broken Arrow [Delmer Daves, 1950], Vera Cruz [Aldrich, 1954] and going right through to The Searchers [Ford, 1956] and Two Rode Together [Ford, 1961]). Rio Bravo counters this with a hotel owned by a Mexican husband and wife team Carlos and Consuela Robante (Pedro Gonzalez and Estelita Rodriguez). They are the source of riotous comedy and obviously do represent civilization fully formed. Not only that, but the town undertaker is a Chinaman, a significant fact in the light of the times with America wading progressively deeper into Vietnam. The America painted in Rio Bravo has most definitely achieved racial integration with Mr. Robante even turning up at the end to support Chance in the final showdown. In High Noon the un-integrated Mexican runs away, but in Rio Bravo the integrated Mexicans stand up and fight for their newly adopted country.
The only character of Rio Bravo not to reflect one in High Noon is Colorado. This is perhaps the biggest indication of the two different views of America we are given. In Rio Bravo Colorado symbolizes the hope for the future and he follows on very much from the character of Matt in Red River. Both characters are young and have to negotiate their rights of passage toward the assumption of full adulthood (re nationhood) so that one day when Tom Dunson/Chance (both played by Wayne of course) will bear the mantle of American civilization in safe hands. Early in the film when we see Colorado he belongs to Wheeler by contract and demonstrates his loyalty to Chance by only taking orders from his boss. When his boss asks Colorado to assist Chance, Colorado's refusal perplexes his boss but impresses Chance. He displays a wisdom that his boss lacks as underlined by Wheeler being gunned down. After the murder Colorado offers to help and Chance makes it clear he doesn't want help from a hot head who bears a grudge and angles for revenge. This is important as most Westerns from the last decade have been revisionist revenge Westerns. Hawks clearly states here that he will have no truck with revisionism. When Colorado helps Chance overcome three of Burdette's men however, Chance accepts that he is now part of the deal and welcomes him into the group. Colorado repeatedly demonstrates his good sense and prowess with a gun and in the end successfully negotiates his rites of passage to be bearer of the future American civilization once its chief guardian (Chance) passes on. He is the hope that burns to the end in a fundamentally hope-filled movie. Where is this hope at the end of High Noon? Colorado does not reflect a character from High Noon because there is no such figure of hope in the film. More than any other character in Rio Bravo Colorado `corrects' precisely what was missing from the earlier film to turn the image of an America hopelessly divided into an image of an America confident and united in the face of adversity. When America is threatened she does not disintegrate and shatter into a thousand pieces. She regroups, consolidates, considers its options and carries out a plan of action. Such is the mantra of Howard Hawks and such is the mantra of the very process of creation mythology.
All this talk of creation mythology, Hawksian thematics and political readjusment shouldn't let us forget that at heart Rio Bravo conveys all this in a wonderfully warm, beautifully observed and touchingly humorous chamber work made with the lightest of touches by Hawks with a superb script to match. The long stretches of beautifully nuanced dialog are admirably spiced with brilliantly staged set-pieces. All the performances barring a somewhat wooden Ricky Nelson are superb, the nick-named characters (a Hawks trademark) gelling together to make a beautifully alive very human community. John Wayne is absolutely magnificent as the nation creator John T who dazzles Feathers (even though Colorado is more her age range!), provides all a true friend can need to haul Dude back from oblivion, carries on affectionately with old Stumpy (even kissing him on his bald pate at one point!) and plays perfect father to the nation of the future Colorado. Under all this of course, Chance offers a corrective to the faults that lie within Marshall Kane. Through sheer force of charismatic leadership qualities people flock to him unquestioningly. In his hands you can be sure that America is absolutely safe and sound. Kane has tamed his town, but not without leaving enemies that given the chance will re-emerge against him as shown by the ecstatic way one of Miller's men is welcomed back in the bar by many of the town's men who all seem to resent Kane for one reason or another. Miller's return exposes the fact that Kane doesn't have a single friend in the town worthy of the name. In fact, people can't seem to be able to get rid of him quick enough. This casts serious doubt on Kane's leadership qualities from the beginning despite Cooper's image of pure integrity. As the nights get longer and the group consolidate around Chance's rock-solid security in the jailhouse we get a hugely enjoyable sing-a-long courtesy of Ricky and Dino of two songs Dmitri Tiomkin wrote for the film ("My Rifle, My Pony, and Me" to the big theme tune from Red River and "Get Along Home, Cindy") along with the constant background of a haunting trumpet theme, a cutthroat song named "El Deüello" ordered by Burdette to be played to scare the group. On the contrary, it only serves to unite Chance's merry band further. This was the tune Sergio Leone had in mind when he asked Ennio Morricone to compose "Dmitri Tiomkin music" for his A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Chance continues to deny help until the end, but when he is forced into the final confrontation at the old warehouse with its store of dynamite everyone flocks to his aid (how's that Mr. Foreman?) to ensure the job gets done. Nation creation doesn't get more relaxed and congenial than this.
Hawks went on to make two more Westerns (El Dorado  and Rio Lobo ) with Wayne which were also based on Brackett scripts. They recycle many of the same themes and situations. Though both are fine films in their own right, neither can really hold a candle to the subtle and highly sophisticated accomplishments on show in Rio Bravo. A quiet chamber piece honing its big-boned symphonic themes to immaculate precision, the film is quite simply a masterpiece. It also looks immaculate on this Warner Bros. DVD presentation, the picture quality beautifully sharp (aspect ratio 16:9) and sound clear. Highly recommended.
on 5 June 2005
Hawks was a director who could turn his hand to any kind of movie. Westerns (Red River), screwball comedies (Bringing Up Baby) even science fiction (The Thing From Another World). Whatever the genre though, Hawks' films tended to explore the same themes. In Rio Bravo, a small close-knit group of men are forced to confront personal demons and overcome differences, in order to defeat the villains who outnumber them. The plot concerns a sheriff (John Wayne) and his fight to stop a powerful rancher springing his brother from jail. Wayne has only a crippled old deputy (Walter Brennan), a green kid (Ricky Nelson) and a drunk (Dean Martin) to rely on.
This is ostensibly John Wayne's film, as he's the star, but the film's main character is really Dean Martin's drunken ex-deputy. His efforts to regain his pride and lost standing, both in his own mind and in the eyes of his friend (Wayne) make up the backbone of the story. Dean Martin, who was never taken seriously as an actor, here gives a terrific performance. His sweaty, humiliated 'Dude' is touching without ever being sentimental. Dude's eventual redemption, when he pursues a wounded gun-man into a bar crowded with men who'd previously laughed at him, is thrilling.
The film nicely undermines Wayne's iconic masculinity. In several scenes, the sheriff finds himself gently mocked by Angie Dickinson's attractive gambler (the one person in the film he can't get the better of). It's also the only film I can think of in which John Wayne kisses another man (a slight peck on the top of Walter Brennan's bald head).
on 7 January 2001
One of the best westerns ever made, this is the typical Howard Hawks movie. Themes of friends coming together, loyalty and an unwritten code of honour run through the film. With an assured hand, tough and a gentle, yet never dull, Hawks first lets us understand who these people are; from Dean Martin's drunk (caused by a woman) to Ricky Nelson's novice hired gun who has more morals than he suspects the cast fill the screen with an ambling warmth.
Leading them all is Wayne in one of his most relaxed, iconic performances. He is as straight as a arrow and uncorruptable. What really makes this fun though is his growing romance with Angie Dickinson's saloon moll. Wayne and Dickinson do the usual Hollywood dance, but with enough sassy dialogue and feeling to make one wonder why they didn't appear more together on celluloid. Add to this great action scenes and it all adds up to a great movie.
on 4 October 2013
Rio Bravo, along with Eldorado, provide a diptych of late Westerns (I shall explain what I mean by that term, in a minute) at their best from a master director, Howard Hawks, who essayed many film genres and hardly never had a dud that I know about in any of them.
I personally think that Rio Bravo is slightly superior to the Eldorado, particularly because of that superlative supporting actor Walter Brennan. To add to that, Angie Dickinson provides far more than just the perfunctory love interest which is supplied in Eldorado. Though it has to be said that the James Caan is far more assured in his introductory screen role than Ricky Nelson.
What do I mean by 'late Western'. In a late Western, the interplay of character and an articulate, often witty script is just as important as the gunplay. Hawks minted a particular style of naturalistic conversational interplay, at least by the standard of the times, which was all his own.
In short, Rio Bravo is the classical Hollywood film through which to unwind. Sit back and let the stars, director and writers entertain you. They can't make them like that any more.
on 24 September 2000
One of John Wayne's Best. He saves his friend, Dean Martin, from drinking himself to death, saves the town from a bunch of outlaws, stop his crazy old deputy from shooting any-one, and still manages to find the time to fall in love! Great acting, lots and laughter and a brilliant western.