In a previous installment of Wonderful Westerns, we took a look at the legendary movie High Noon and its impact. In that article, I mentioned that John Wayne wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie; he viewed it as un-American. He thought if a lawman needed help from people, they would naturally help him.
They wanted to make a movie with just a straight-up, good-guy sheriff who has no inner conflict and gets help from just about everyone. While the movie does lack the depth and importance that High Noon had, it’s a lot of fun to watch.
One of the reasons Rio Bravo works so well is because of its cast and their chemistry. There’s John Wayne as the tough but determined lawman John T. Chance; his underdog drunk deputy named Dude (Dean Martin); a young, green, but self-assured gunslinger named Colorado Ryan (played by singer Ricky Nelson); and the comical limping old man Stumpy (played by three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan).
This formula worked so well that Hawks would use the same kind of characters again… twice. (We’ll talk about those movies later.) But, really, watching these actors bounce off each other is a real treat. Especially any scene with Stumpy.
Its plot centers around Chance and his cohorts attempting to hold the brother of a local bad guy in jail and feels almost like a Western-gangster movie. Think about it: a lawman tries to hold off hitmen while also trying to hold a murderer (Claude Akins), who’s also the brother of the crime boss-like bad guy (John Russell), in his jail cell.
This isn’t too surprising since Hawks is also well known for directing crime and film-noir movies, including The Big Sleep (1946) and the original Scarface (1932). And I know if I don’t mention this, someone may complain about it: this movie was a major inspiration for John Carpenter’s excellent movie Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
There’s one scene, though, that I’m still baffled about, but it still works for some reason. It’s a musical scene where Dude, Colorado, and Stumpy sing together. I have no idea why they would include this other than having two successful and popular singers perform together (three if you want to go by Billboard success). But it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
Though it lacks the same level of depth and complexity of High Noon, Rio Bravo is still a decent watch. It has some excellent action, good performances, and fun writing. This is the prototypical good-guys-versus-bad-guys Western that’s a ton of fun. Go ahead and give it a watch for yourself.