Rio Bravo

The Western is one of the most representative genres in American cinema, and John Wayne is most certainly the quintessential Western figure. In “Rio Bravo”, one of his most beloved pictures, he plays John T. Chance, the sheriff of a small Texas town. The region used to be pretty quiet, but now a rich but badass ranch owner named Nathan Burdett is disturbing the peace with his army of gunmen-for-hire who strut through the town arrogantly like they own the place. Chance does his best to keep them in line, but that doesn’t stop Burdett’s brother Joe to regularly unload his gun in some poor guy’s gut. Yet when he does so right in front of the sheriff, it doesn’t take long before his ass is in jail. That obviously doesn’t please Burdett, who’s ready to hire as much men as needed to spring his brother outta prison. Chance certainly doesn’t have a number advantage: he only has two deputies, one a drunk and the other a cripple. Hence it’ll take him all of his wits and will to survive the deadly attacks of his enemies.

“Rio Bravo” was directed by one of the most skilled filmmakers from Hollywood’s golden age, Howard Hawks. His film is immensely entertaining, it looks great and it’s smartly written and directed. The intrigue is full of twists, as Chance and his men have to constantly come up with new ideas to counterattack the bad guys’ traps. Yet Hawks also spends plenty of time nicely developing his characters. Unlike a lot of Westerns, this film’s characters are not cardboard stereotypes but endearing, three-dimensional people. When John Wayne isn’t shooting his rifle at bad guys, we can see him being human and interacting with his friends. Wayne is an intensely talented actor, and here he delivers a terrific performance. I love how he can be both tough and tender. He’s strongly virile and masculine, yet he’s a good-hearted man. Some of the best scenes in the film are the quieter ones, as Wayne romances a talkative, strong-willed woman played by Angie Dickinson. What’s particularly fun is to see these two playing hard to get and pretending they don’t really care when it’s obvious that they have the hots for each other.

There are also a bunch of male bonding scenes (this is a Western after all) and they’re equally enjoyable. Dean Martin is surprisingly good as Dude, the sheriff’s old friend and partner who became a drunk when a woman broke his heart. The film has him trying to get back on his feet, but it ain’t easy. The other deputy is played by Walter Brennan as a giggly old coot, and then there’s singer Ricky Nelson as Colorado, a sharpshooting youngster who joins Wayne when his boss is killed by gunmen. Nelson, Martin and Brennan have a memorable scene in which they take a break from the heat to sing and play some music. “Rio Bravo” is really a masterpiece, one of the all-time great Westerns. It’s heart-warming, thrilling and romantic… It doesn’t get much better than this!