July 25, 2014

Rio Bravo (1959)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan

What it's about. A classic western starring John Wayne as the local sheriff of a small isolated town. He has two deputies, melancholy alcoholic Dean Martin and cranky aging coot Walter Brennan. A stagecoach brings sexpot and notorious card shark Angie Dickinson, who takes a romantic interest in Wayne. Young pop crooner Ricky Nelson shows up as a good-guy gunslinger in the employ of gregarious rancher Ward Bond. Pedro Gonzalez Gonzales owns the local hotel, and is eager to please Wayne. His hottie brunette wife is Estelita Rodriguez.

Of course, there are bad guys as well. First among these is troublemaker Claude Akins, who murders a man in cold blood. Wayne locks him in jail until the marshall can arrive to take him. But Akins' has a wealthy brother, John Russell, who for some reason is so loyal to Akins that he pays multiple gunmen to intimidate Wayne into releasing Akins. Good luck.

How others will see it. Rio Bravo ranks among the most popular movies starring Wayne and/or directed by Hawks. Every top-billed actor seems to bring something to the table. Wayne represents courage, Martin self-doubt, Nelson cool, Dickinson sex appeal, Brennan comic relief. At 141 minutes, there's no shortage of character development, but showdowns are surprisingly few.

Rio Bravo was ignored by the Oscars, Golden Globes, and other film festivals. Nonetheless, it did well at the box office, and among Warner Bros. movies for the year, came close to surpassing gorgeous Audrey Hepburn's The Nun's Story for the top spot.

Today at imdb.com, the film has an impressive 35K user votes and a remarkable user rating of 8.1. The demographics are consistent aside from a minor gender spread. Perhaps some women find Dickinson's character less than credible. At least, one hopes as much.

How I felt about it. Rio Bravo tries hard to be likable, and succeeds. Wayne is completely comfortable in his role, something that could not be said about his previous movie, The Barbarian and the Geisha. The film's unusually languid pace is also engaging, and it has to be said that one of the highlights is Martin and Nelson supporting and competing with each other in their all-too-brief turn as singers.

Walter Brennan is especially likable, but his cantankerous sidekick character is exaggerated to a nearly cartoonish level. Dickinson's sudden devotion to Wayne's well-being, after he insists on her leaving town, is an endearing but hardly believable subplot. Martin's instant sobriety is also convenient, as well as Nelson's arrival and reluctance to leave town.

In fact, nobody seems to want to leave the formerly sleepy village, as if to stargaze at our A-list leads. They have little if any fear of the bad guys that permeate the bars and streets and want to kill or kidnap Wayne and Martin. Even Pedro Gonzales Gonzales and his wife are chipper after their brush with death at the hands of violent criminals.

Admittedly, this film has some big names, notably Wayne and Hawks. Its charm does go a long way, enough to make us root for our heroes when the four of them surround a house full of bad guys sufficiently stupid to leave a wagon full of dynamite outside, where they fail to post lookouts or guards.