>> Saturday, October 13, 2007
USA/C-141m./Dir: Howard Hawks/Wr: Jules Furthman & Leigh Brackett/Cast: John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance), Dean Martin (Dude), Ricky Nelson (Colorado Ryan), Angie Dickinson (Feathers), Walter Brennan (Stumpy), Ward Bond (Pat Wheeler)
There are Westerns that are better written, more artfully directed, and more important than Rio Bravo, but none are quite so much fun. This Western classic originated as a rebuttal to multiple Academy Award-winner High Noon (1952), a film that director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne absolutely loathed. They despised the idea of a sheriff begging regular citizens for help, so for their movie they reversed the situation. In Rio Bravo, several nonprofessionals offer to assist Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) during his time of need, but the lawman refuses their aid, knowing that the townsfolk would only get themselves killed or get in the way. In fact, the plot of Rio Bravo gets rolling when an unarmed citizen is murdered while stepping in to help Dude (Dean Martin), Chance’s drunken deputy. With the murderer in custody, John T. must hold his prisoner against an army of paid killers. True to form, he only accepts the help of a couple of professionals--Stumpy (Walter Brennan), an elderly cripple who can handle a shotgun, and town drunk Dude, who is still lightning with a pistol.
Dean Martin gives his finest performance on film as Dude, a washed up alky trying to dry out. Dino was rarely given an opportunity to play a role outside of his familiar, drunken playboy persona, but on the few occasions he was allowed to stretch, he proved himself an excellent actor. He’s completely believable dealing with nausea, the shakes, and an all-abiding thirst; even if his method of quitting the bottle is questionable. Dude manages to kill his cravings for whiskey by drinking beer. Apparently, he was only addicted to hard liquor.
The rest of the performances are equally good, including surprisingly competent work from teen idol Ricky Nelson, who handles both a six-gun and a guitar (in a memorable duet with Dino). It should also be mentioned that Rat Pack beauty Angie Dickinson makes a great, tough-talking love interest for Wayne, and her legs look amazing in stockings. Rio Bravo might be a little long at a leisurely-paced 141 minutes, but it’s hard not to smile all the way through it.
Drinks Consumed--Whiskey and beer
Intoxicating Effects--Hangover, the shakes, soused sentimentality, and physical violence
Potent Quotables--CHANCE: Don’t set yourself up as being so special. Think you invented the hangover.
DUDE: I could sure take out a patent for this one.
Video Availability--Rio Bravo DVD and Rio Bravo [Blu-ray] (Warner Brothers)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Howard Hawks and John Wayne virtually remade Rio Bravo in 1966 as El Dorado, with Robert Mitchum as the drunk that time around.