#187 Rio Bravo

(1959, Howard Hawks)

I’ve made my opinion on the western genre pretty clear in the past, through my review of The Searchers especially. I find them very slow, very samey and generally very fond of playing up really mundane things as being incredibly important. Will Rio Bravo win me over? We shall see.

When an alcoholic former deputy sheriff by the name of Dude (Dean Martin) gets into a bar brawl with Joe Burdette (Claude Atkins), Joe shoots a bystander who tries to break it up, killing him. Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) appears and arrests Joe for murder, taking Dude on as his deputy. However, this creates trouble as Joe is the brother of local land-owner Nathan Burdette, who decides to surround the town with his men to intimidate Chance into giving up his brother and preventing him from leaving to bring in assistance. Alongside this, a passing stagecoach drops off a young woman named Feathers (Angie Dickinson), who develops a fondness for Chance.

In typical Western fashion, the movie is slow-moving and likes to overplay pretty much everything for attempted dramatic effect, and as a result it’s one of those awkward movies that I found pretty average and struggle to write a review for. So let’s talk about the things I did like.

John Wayne was likeable here. I hated him in The Searchers, largely because his character was an angry racist that we were supposed to sympathise with, but here he was just a guy trying to help out his town. He also worked well with his co-stars, particularly Martin and Dickinson, who I also enjoyed. Martin is very good at playing the drunken deputy (who’d have guessed that Dean Martin could play an alcoholic so well?!) and Dickinson is a smart, no-nonsense lady it’s difficult not to like. I also liked Chance’s prison guard, Stumpy (Walter Brennan), since he was consistently entertaining to watch.

Outside of characters, there were moments I genuinely enjoyed. In a scene where Dude is pursuing one of Nathan’s men, he finds himself in a saloon where the patrons laugh at him and his alcoholism, before proving to them all just what he’s capable of. I practically cheered for Dude at the end of it, because the whole scene was extremely well directed and acted, and you can’t help feeling sorry for the lack of respect Dude’s getting.

I also really liked the big climactic shootout, where it seems that everyone comes out to help Chance save the day. It was exciting to watch, and threw in a ton of great humour that really made our heroes even more likeable.

However, while these moments were good, they weren’t enough to hold the movie together as a whole. Dude’s character arc worked well, as he tries to overcome his drinking problem, and there was some great interaction between Wayne and Dickinson, but these two parts of the movie never really gelled that well in my eyes. The entire romantic subplot felt a little tacked on for the sake of adding a female character, and seemed to get in the way of the overall political storyline a little more than it should have.

Also, Dude’s arc was a little all over the place. Great moments, yes, but after the incident in the saloon, he starts to overcome his problem before relapsing for no apparent reason, almost as if they forgot he’d been getting better.

The plot overall suffered the same problems that seem to dog every western in my eyes. It moved slower than it needed to and seemed to bog itself down in excessive detail where it wasn’t needed. A few great scenes don’t make a movie if those scenes don’t feel like they flow well into one another, and that’s the major flaw of Rio Bravo.

I also had a serious problem with the Mexican innkeeper. He was the biggest Mexican stereotype I’ve ever seen, even going as far as saying “aye Chihuahua” at one point. I get that it was the fifties and this happened all the time, but no. I’m still not willing to forgive this awkwardly portrayed character.

Overall, Rio Bravo was OK. Some great parts, but doesn’t add up to the sum of them all put together. Western genre, please give me a movie that I love and prove my negative opinion of you wrong!

Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond & John Russell
Written by B.H. McCampbell (short story) and Jules Furthman & Leigh Brackett
Produced by Howard Hawks
Music by Dmitri Tiomkin
Cinematography by Russell Harlan
Edited by Folmar Blangsted

Favourite Scene: Final shootout was fun, I’ll give it that
Scene That Bugged Me: Carlos, the hotel owner, was a worrying racial stereotype and I felt uncomfortable every time he spoke

Watch it if: You want to see John Wayne act with some singers
Avoid it if: You’re not a huge fan of Westerns

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Posted on May 23, 2013, in 1950s, Western and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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