Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rio Bravo (1959)

Rio Bravo ★★★★ 3/5

Howard Hawks directed this 1959 Western. Considered one of the last great Westerns, the film stars John Wayne as John T. Chance, a sheriff in a small Texas town in the American frontier. The film opens with the Sheriff's deputy, Dude (Dean Martin) fighting Joe Burdette (Claude Akins). During the fight Burdette shoots an innocent bystander and ends up arrested for murder. He is shortly taken to jail where Chance, Dude and a third deputy, Stupmy (Walter Brennan) await Burnette's brother Nathan (John Russell). However the Sheriff knows that the arrival of Nathan is not going to be a pleasant one as Nathan is a wealthy tycoon known for helping his Brother out in times of trouble, and also known to be wealthy enough to hire scores of hitmen who will kill anyone who tries to interfere.

There are several townspeople who want to help Dude as they know he is in no state to fight Burnette on his own. Dude is infamous for his alcoholism and Stumpy is cripple. Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond), a friend of Chance's becomes an example of what happens to anyone who wants to help Chance when he is murdered by one of Burnette's men. Dude and Chance look to apprehend Pat's murderer and do so in the local saloon where Dude, who is in the process of overcoming his alcoholism, proves that he can again be the deputy he once was by avenging Pat's death.

Before long, Dude's dependency on alcohol wins over and when Nathan and his men return to town, they capture and tie him up, leaving Chance vulnerable and almost murdered. He is saved by Colorado Ryan (Rick Nelson) and Feathers (Angie Dickinson) who divert attention and allow Chance to defend himself. Colorado is a former employee of the murdered Pat Wheeler and has nothing to do with his employer dead and decides to help Chance. Feathers is a woman passing through town who takes up employment at the Hotel. Her motivation to help Chance is love. Her attraction to him is clear the moment she appears on screen.

The progression of the film leads to a final shootout at an abandoned house. Chance and his crew take on Nathan Burnette and his men. As expected in classic American Westerns, the good guys take out the bad guys and the Sheriff gets the girl.

While watching the film, Howard Hawks influence is clearly visible. The communication between Chance and Feathers is very similar to that of Bringing Up Baby (1939). The dialogue between the two is fast paced and more comical then serious. Feathers plants ideas into Chance's heads and tells him what she wants by telling him what he wants. The screwball element in this film is not as strong as that in Bringing Up Baby, but it is there. Rarely was comedy used in the Western, but Hawks managed to use it throughout all of Rio Bravo. It is most obvious in scenes featuring Carlos Robante (Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez). Robante owns and operates the Hotel where the majority of the film takes place. He fills the film brilliantly. Robante makes the comical bits fit in the movie and does so without taking away the credibility of the film being a Western.

I did have a problem with Rick Nelson in the film. I found him to be droll, inexpressive and an odd addition to the casting. In reading more about the film, I actually discovered he was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance. That struck me as odd because I found him to be completely out of place. At the time the movie was filmed, Rick Nelson was the biggest teen heart throb on the market. he was a TV star, a chart topping musician, and graced the cover of every teen magazine on the chart. He even had a segment in the film where he crooned with Dean Martin, then performed a solo. To me, it was like Howard Hawks used Rick Nelson as a marketing ploy to get people to come see his movie. It would be like sticking Justin Bieber into a current film to play off his popularity. The fact he received a Golden Globe nomination completely overwhelmed me. But, then I remembered when The Tourist (2010) was nominated for a Golden Globe nomination. The accusations were that the film was not worthy and the Golden Globes only did this so that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp would appear at the ceremony. Is it possible that in 1959 the Globes did the same thing to get the biggest teen star to their awards show?

I have to warn you. This is a long movie. The film clocks in at over 2 hours long. It seems to drag quite a bit. It is the comical moments starring Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez that keep the film rolling. The movie is by no means one of Howard Hawks finest. Nor is it John Wayne's finest.

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