Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rio Bravo (1959)

I probably saw this film in 1959, the year I graduated from high school, but I don’t have a memory of it. And I’ve put off seeing it now because I wasn’t sure I’d like either Dean Martin or Ricky Nelson. Turns out, they are both good, and Wayne is easily the best I’ve ever seen him.

Cast. Could be that the director was Howard Hawks, who  directed the classic western, Red River, also with John Wayne. He gets a relaxed performance from Wayne that has him doing what he always does best, reflecting a wry sense of humor. But if you grew up with Dean Martin opposite Jerry Lewis and then with his own variety show on TV, you think of him as belonging in a high-class Italian suit, holding a highball and a cigarette. A cowboy hat? No.

But the big surprise was the credible job he does as a former deputy on the comeback from two years of finding oblivion at the bottom of a bottle. Ricky Nelson is surprisingly stiff, given the fact that he grew up in front of cameras. But Hawks gets it to work for him, by not giving him much to do or say. The movie gets a little self-conscious when it has singers Martin and Nelson sing a duet, but with the help of Walter Brennan, it recovers itself again.

Brennan is at his comic best in the film, almost a self parody. He gets plenty of lines and though he almost never leaves the jail, where he’s keeping an eye on a prisoner, he has enough action as well. Angie Dickenson is given more than the usual two-dimensional part as the token female in the cast. The scenes of teasing flirtation between her and Wayne are plausible and seem to suit both of them. 

Plot. The plot is pretty simple for a film that runs 2 hours and 20 minutes. In a wordless opening scene, Claude Aikens shoots a man in a saloon and is arrested by Sheriff Wayne. With a town full of Aikens’ friends and a wealthy rancher for a brother, an attempt to spring him from jail is highly likely.

Wayne has only himself, game-legged deputy Brennan, and the still drying-out deputy Martin to prevent that from happening. And it’s a 6-day wait until a U.S. marshal arrives to take away the prisoner. Ricky Nelson, as the “Colorado Kid,” joins them. And the four men manage to hang onto the prisoner while being greatly outnumbered.

Shot in widescreen and color, the film includes a big cast of characters. A regular actor in Wayne’s company, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez plays the town hotel owner. With his thick Mexican accent and his diminutive size, he is a warmly comic presence in the film. Ward Bond also appears in a role that is surprising for its brevity.

Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett were the film's screenwriters. Furthman had a long writing career in Hollywood (1915-1959). Rio Bravo was his last film. Said to take place in west Texas, it was shot in Old Tucson, Arizona, and in Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank.

There’s an extensive list of interesting trivia related to the film at imdb.com. The most revealing is that the film was intended as a response to Gary Cooper’s High Noon, which Wayne is supposed to have considered “un-American.”

Rio Bravo is currently available at amazon and streamable at both netflix and amazon. Tuesday's Overlooked Movies is the bright idea of Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

Source: imdb.com

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Charles King, Dunraven Ranch (1890)


  1. I'm glad you mentioned that this film was intended as a response to HIGH NOON which showed Gary Cooper getting very little help from the townspeople when he had to face the outlaws.

    Howard Hawks felt this would not have happened in the towns of the old west because the people were not just your average dweller in a village, but frontiersmen who would have helped the sheriff, etc.

    This reminds me of a scene in the TV series Colt 45. A big mouth gunslinger comes into a bar and scares and threatens several cowboys. They all were wearing guns and did not want to face him when he was looking directly at them. But the second he turned his back to slap the bartender, a half dozen of them drew their guns and shot him dead.

    I bet there was alot more bushwacking going on rather than high noon face offs. Let's face it, the odds are with you 100% if you shoot a bad guy in the back. But face him head on and you will probably lose.

  2. Hoorah!!!!! This film is what beer was made for!

    What can I say? Brennan, Wayne, Martin, and a surprisingly good role by Nelson! And Angie`s legs!
    For me, Brennan steals the film, his cackle, the limp, and the Dynamite scene, however implausible!

  3. Walker, it's hard to sort out word of mouth coming from Hollywood, but one version is that Wayne objected to Cooper's sheriff looking to others for help. His character makes an argument in RIO BRAVO, when Ward Bond suggests he get more men, that he already had enough, and more men would just mean more casualties when the shooting started...As for shooting a bad man in the back, community standards probably prevailed, even with the "rule" that you never shoot a man in the back. Still, a bona fide bad man probably wouldn't turn his back on a bunch of armed men in the first place.

    Cheyenne, Angie Dickenson's legs are certainly a feature of the story. Wayne's objection to her showing them off in public is a clever turn.

  4. Once or twice in my life, the name Walter Brennan has been brought up in movie conversation with others. I'll chime in and people will say: "What do you know about Walter Brennan at your age?"

    I'll get in my Stumpy character and sound off: "I'm liable to come out blastin'!"

    And then they know.

    I easily place Rio Bravo at or damn near the top of my all time favorite movies (of any genre) because it's pure entertainment with wonderful characters.

    If they still made movies like Rio Bravo today, I'd probably go the theater a hell of a lot more.

  5. I liked this movie. I always enjoyed Dean martin in Westerns.

  6. I saw this in '59, too, and it's been a favorite ever since. I always include it when I'm asked for a list of my 10 favorite westerns, and it's usually in the top 5. My fanzine for the OWLHOOT western apa is titled "Rio Bravo."

  7. I'm so glad you've reviewed one of my favorites. The film has a great Dimitri Tiompkin score, including my favorite rendering of the haunting Mexican "No Quarter" theme. This is where I fell in love with Angie Dickinson.

  8. Ok, you've convinced me. I've been avoiding it too for the same reasons: Dean Martin and Ricky Martin. Guess I have no excuse now.

  9. Mike, the remake of TRUE GRIT is a western worth going to the theater for. Maybe now there will be more.

    Charles, I may have to give those Dean Martin movies a 2nd look.

    Bill, it's going to be on my top 10 list now, too.

    Richard, you're right; "No Quarter" was an evocative addition to the film.

    Laurie, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

  10. Agree with all - a great movie with Wayne being all iconic. I think I actually prefer this to El Dorado which is basically the same film.

  11. Jack Martin took my comment. And I will only add that Angie is another reason for repeated viewings.