Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Rio Bravo

Year: 1959
Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: James Furthman and Leigh Brackett, based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell
Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell
Running Time: 141 minutes
Genre: Western, action, drama

Summary: A small Texan border town in the late 19th Century: A brutal bandit, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), shoots an unarmed man and is arrested by the town's no-nonsense sheriff, John T. Chance (Wayne), and is locked up in the town jail. Burdette's wealthy rancher brother, Nathan (Russell), has employed a gang of hired killers who, along with Joe Burdette's friends, will stop at nothing to get him out of jail.
With only the town drunk, Dude (Martin), a garrolous, trigger-happy old guard, Stumpy (Brennan), and a young gunslinger, Colorado (Nelson), whose boss was killed by Nathan Burdette's hired killers, Chance has to keep Joe Burdette in jail for about a week until a US Marshall can arrive in the town to collect him.

Opinions: The movie was made as a riposte to the 1952 film High Noon, in which a town sheriff cannot find anyone willing to help him fight the bandits soon to arrive in town. In this film John Wayne has a number of people willing to help him, but repeatedly turns down their offers of help.
However this is very much it's own film. The film features a witty and intelligent script which has a good understanding of male camaraderie. It features some memorable action sequences and set pieces, in particular a lengthy wordless opening sequence where John Wayne saves a desperate Dean Martin from humiliation, with the look of mingled pity and disgust with Wayne regards Martin is one of the high-points of his acting career. In fact this is one of John Wayne's best movies, with the script and direction playing up to his strengths, basically he doesn't have to do much actual acting, he just has to stand around with a rifle and look tough.
Dean Martin also shines as the once great sharpshooter turned alcoholic laughing-stock, who has to battle with his addictions and personal demons throughout the film. It's Martin who provides the film with it's human drama elements, and he does it brilliantly. The only problem is that Ricky Nelson, engaging as he is in the film, never really manages to convince as a gunslinger.
The film also features a great score by Dimitri Tiomkin and, obviously enough with singers Martin and Nelson in the cast, there is a musical interlude where they both sing a couple of songs, but they're good songs.
This is a great slice of entertainment which has been a huge influence on action movies since. Hawks himself returned to elements of this film twice, in the films El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970), both of which also starred John Wayne. The 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13, written and directed by John Carpenter, is almost an updated remake.

Dean Martin and John Wayne in Rio Bravo

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