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With: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond
Written by: Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell
Directed by: Howard Hawks
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 141
Date: 18/03/1959

Rio Bravo (1959)

4 Stars (out of 4)

What I've Got

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's difficult to choose a single masterpiece by Howard Hawks because he was such a chameleon. He made top movies in all genres: the detective film (The Big Sleep), the western (Red River), the musical (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) the screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby), the war film (Air Force), the epic (Land of the Pharaohs), the adventure (To Have and Have Not), the gangster film (Scarface), etc. He lent a professionalism, clarity, and solid pace to each movie he made.

Most critics have realized recently, however, that it's possible to bookend Hawks' career with two extremes: Bringing Up Baby is a mad screwball that shoots across the screen without a breather, and Rio Bravo is a loose, laid back, but psychologically complex western. These two disparate movies can represent all that is great about Hawks. Rio Bravo (1959) has one of the best and strangest casts in all of movies; John Wayne, Angie Dickinson, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan.

Wayne stars as the sheriff of Rio Bravo. He captures the leader of a gang and throws him in prison. His only deputy is the lame and elderly Brennan. He recruits drunk Martin and greenhorn Nelson to help guard the prison against the coming rescue attempt by the villain's gang. This may sound like a Breakfast Club conflict of personalities, but Hawks' gift was to ease the movie along and gently blend all the elements into a cohesive whole. Since most of the movie consists of waiting, each character has plenty of time to develop. There's even time for a legendary singing duet between Martin and Nelson. But Hawks treats the waiting period the same as the action scenes, and we're never bored. At least one scene belongs in the canon of great scenes: Wayne and Martin are looking for a shooter in a bar. Martin notices drops of blood in his beer whirls around and shoots the bad guy hiding in the rafters above. The movie has a sort of glee that goes with it. It's more than exciting, and more than just interesting or funny. It's a pure joy to watch.

DVD Details: In 2007 (for the 100th anniversary of John Wayne's birth) Warner Home Video re-released Rio Bravo on DVD, replacing their 2001 version. The new, two-disc set comes with a commentary track by critic Richard Schickel (who wrongly calls this Hawks' "last great" film) and filmmaker John Carpenter (who unofficially remade Rio Bravo twice, as Assault on Precinct 13 and Ghosts of Mars). There's a tribute to the movie, a very good hour-long documentary on Hawks (featuring interviews with him shot in 1977) and a featurette about the Tucson, Arizona sets. A "John Wayne Trailer Gallery" is pretty pathetic, with only a handful of trailers, most of them from Wayne's mediocre "B" movies of the 1930s. All this makes it worth swapping the old disc for the new one, but the transfer (which is fine, but not exactly stellar) is exactly the same.

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