In the Texas town of Rio Bravo, Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) manages to capture Joe Burdett, who shot an innocent bystander, with the help of his deputy Sheriff, Dude (Dean Martin). They keep him in the towns jail, where he's watched over by Chance's other deputy Sheriff, Stumpy (Walter Brennan). One of Chance's friends arrives in town, together with supplies and a not-so-eager young gunslinger, Colorado (Ricky Nelson). He brings the news that the town is surrounded by ranger Nathan Burdetts' men, preventing Chance from being able to take Joe to Presidio where he will be sentenced. Meanwhile, a beautiful young woman arrives in Rio Bravo by the name of Feathers (Angie Dickinson), who appears to be a card-cheat.
Rio Bravo has a very classic "western" feel about it. There's the dusty, little town of Rio Bravo filled with gamblers, drunks and beautiful women. There's the Sheriff, a man who rules the town with a quiet but demanding presence, and his two deputies. One needs help getting off the bottle after a girl left him and the other limping, old but still up for a good fight. The story at times is hard to follow. So many characters are involved I sometimes lost track, but I think what's so good about a movie like this is that you don't need to know exactly what is going on to understand the story. It's a pleasure just to watch the characters interact and build their relationships, to take in the atmosphere of the place and get drawn into their little world.
Rio Bravo does this very well. It's slowly paced, but never gets boring because there's just so much to see in between the action. I think what really draws you in are the performances. I wasn't really sure I'd like John Wayne. I'd seen him on the Dean Martin show and found him a bit preachy and old-fashioned, but he makes such an interesting character of Chance. Even though he is the man in charge, he's never in your face about it, but instead lingers in the background, observing what his pals and what his enemies are up to. Of course, when the need arrives, he steps up and performs his duties, but he lets his deputies share the lime-light. What really surprised me was the slowly unfolding romance between Chance and Feathers. I didn't really expect a romance to be part of the story, and if there was it would be between her and Dude. There's a big age difference between the two characters, but I found their interactions very sweet and touching. At times Chance is stubborn and stand-offish, but when he is alone with the girl there's a subtle change in his attitude and behavior. He seems kinder around her.