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USA 1959
Directed by
Howard Hawks
141 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Rio Bravo

Many regard Rio Bravo as a classic Western and one of Hawks' best films but on both counts that is a serious overestimation.

The main story, set down Texas way in the late 1860s involves Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) who is holding bad boy, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), in his small jail for the murder of an unarmed man in a saloon fight precipitated by Joe’s humiliation of Dude (Dean Martin), Chance’s dipsomaniacal deputy. Joe's ruthless land baron brother Nathan (John Russell) has the town surrounded with the aim of getting his brother out of the hoosegow. The plot preoccupies itself with the stand-off as the Burdette boys try one ruse then another to spring no-account Joe, of course, since they are chronically inept, without success. Meanwhile Angie Dickinson’s Feathers, a freewheelin’ gambler passing through town, falls for the gruff charms of Sheriff Chance.

Largely shot on studio sets and looking very ersatz, Rio Bravo is fun but sanitized in a 1950s way. It commendably sets out to develop the film’s characters and their relationships but it is hamstrung by the light-weight values of the time which not only gives us Dickinson’s improbably virtuous and well-presented card player but also then teen idol Ricky Nelson as a gunslinger (he not only sings but does a duet with Martin, "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me."). The film is also seriously overlong, with all the main elements but particularly the romantic flirtation between Wayne and Dickinson being laboured. Walter Brennan’s chatterbox deputy, Stumpy, provides plenty of amusement whilst Dude’s redemption provides a strong sub-plot in the film well-delivered by Martin, playing to his public reputation as a drinker. Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett’s script contributed one classic line, delivered with Bacall-like savoir-faire by Dickinson. When Feathers first kisses Chance and he doesn’t respond she does it again with better results, she says: “I’m glad we tried it a second time. It’s better when two people do it”

The film bears comparison with Fred Zinneman’s High Noon (1952) in which Gary Cooper plays a sheriff in a similar situation. Hawks made a sequel in 1967, El Dorado with Wayne and Robert Mitchum and rehashed it again in 1970, in his last film, as Rio Lobo,  once again with Wayne, whilst John Carpenter reworked it in Assault On Precinct 13.




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