Wednesday, January 18, 2012

HOWARD HAWKS DOUBLE BILL: Rio Bravo


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.


Feathers is a great character too. She seems tough and hardened by her criminal past, or at least her previous association with a famous card-cheat, but she's not afraid to open up and show her true feelings. At times she cries, frustrated by Chance's inability to tell her how he feels, but she never seems like a weak female character. At any point during the film you get the feeling that if the mood takes her, she could take on each and every one of the men in town.

Then there are Chance's deputies, Dude, Stumpy and eventually Colorado. All great characters. Dude, with his alcohol problems, doesn't seem so different from Dean Martin, but I never really though of him during the movie other than Dude. Once one of the best gunslingers, he is a bit of loser now, but in the duration of the story he has some kick-ass moments, showing he still has the ability to be what he used to be. Stumpy is some great comic relief, who's desperate to prove he still has a use beyond being the one who guards and takes care of the prisoners. He's old and wants to do too much and his enthusiasm and grouchiness leads to some funny scenes. He never turns into an unbelievable cartoon character though. Stumpy comes off as a pretty cool old dude. And then there's Colorado, the newest addition to Chance's team. He's such a good shot he never feels the need to show off.


Of course, when you have a movie that has Dean Martin and then teen-idol Ricky Nelson in it, you're gonna have to have some songs. This leads to probably my favorite scene in the movie. They're all sitting around in the jail when Dude breaks into the song "My Rifle, My Pony and Me". Then him and Colorado sing "Get Along Home, Cindy", where even Stumpy joins in. Chance lingers in the background, obviously enjoying this sight of camaraderie between his deputies. Another noteworthy piece of music is ""El Deg├╝ello" (the Cutthroat song), the movies hauntingly beautiful theme. This musical scene shows exactly what is so good about the movie. If you don't think you like westerns (like I did), give Rio Bravo a go. Directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, Rio Bravo is a real classic western. It's cliche enough to be easy to get into, but it has some really enjoyable scenes, awesome action and wonderful characters.






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