Rio Bravo (1959)


Genre: Western

Starring: John Wayne (The SearchersThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Dean Martin (The Cannonball RunOcean's Eleven (1960))

Directed By: Howard Hawkes (Gentlemen Prefer BlondesThe Big Sky)

Overview: A sheriff keeps a murderer in jail, awaiting the marshal's arrival. When it's discovered that the murderer's brother wants to spring the prisoner, the sheriff must make a stand, enlisting a rag tag group of men, namely a drunk, a cripple and a greenhorn.

Though Wayne and Martin get top billing in this production, it's nothing but a jail tale without Angie Dickinson. What a dish she was in '59, not to mention being a convincing actress too.

Before I say anything else about Rio Bravo, let me clarify that it is a good movie. By 1959 standards I'd bet it was excellent. What Rio Bravo suffers from most is the trend that the Western has walked away from in this post-modern world. There's two camps for Westerns as I see it: the happy-go-lucky pioneering spirit that is prevalent in the older pictures - black hat versus white hat, honour, chivalry, dying for what's right and all that. Then there's the Leone type tale, with murky-moraled men, most brutally represented in High Plains Drifter (a film Wayne took such issue with that he personally wrote Eastwood to complain).

The Westerns I've most enjoyed have a dark turn in their tales - brutality as rule. With hard-hearted shows like "Deadwood", with gory and amazing Western-perspective-changing films like The Proposition, and even with older, less fluffy fare like Dead Man, it's hard to immerse oneself in the world that is Rio Bravo.

The sets are nice, but clearly sets. The characters are rugged, but with enough comedic relief to still be civilized and likable. Most enjoyable, and truly worthy was the character played by Dean Martin, a town drunk who's trying to go sober and whose lowly reputation makes his deputy's badge a heavy burden. We explore his alcoholism quite a bit, and its effect on his team and himself is by far the most poignant of the characters' developments.

With a climax that's too easy (though fun) and a plot that wraps itself up in a nice little package, Rio Bravo delivers exactly what one would expect from a 'nice little Western', and given that it's in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, well it's probably one of the better ones.

The only thing I had real issue with was the cardboard cut-out acting of the meek Mexican saloon owner and his histrionically-directed overbearing Mexican wife. Their comic melodrama was a wonderful change from the enjoyment I was experiencing from the main plot. Next time you write a script, don't ask your kid for advice.

You hear me Lucas?!

Angie Dickinson on set with Hawkes
Angie Dickinson on set with Hawkes

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 70% (Though Not Worthy Of An Encore)

I first learned of Rio Bravo thanks to Quentin Tarantino, specifically because of a quote in True Romance:

"Do you know what films are? They're for people who don't like movies. Mad Max, that's a movie. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that's a movie. Rio Bravo, that's a movie. Rumble Fish, that's a fuckin' movie."Clarence Whorley

And by that standard, yes, Rio Bravo... that's a movie.

P.S. Highly recommended addiction tales of this era include Days Of Wine And Roses and Man with The Golden Arm.

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"The Westerns I've most enjoyed have a dark turn in their tales - brutality as rule. With hard-hearted shows like "Deadwood", with gory and amazing Western-perspective-changing films like The Proposition, and even with older, less fluffy fare like Dead Man, it's hard to immerse oneself in the world that is Rio Bravo."

 Interesting point. It's actually for this reason that I love Rio Bravo so much. I think it's one of the only Westerns where you CAN immerse yourself in -- the leisurely pace is just perfect for me, and by the end you know the whole geography of the town and feel like you can step in and be deputized by Chance. I probably find this movie funnier than most, every one of Walter Brennan's lines just kill me. Agree 100% about the saloon owner and his wife, it would be an even better movie without them (especially when he shows up at the end shootout! Arrrrgggh). 

 If you haven't seen Assault on Precinct 13, it was designed by John Carpenter to be an urban remake of Rio Bravo, and succeeds pretty well.

Oh neat, I see the parallel to Assault on Precint 13.  I didn't know that.

Ultimately I liked it. Had I seen it 5 ywears ago I'd have liked it more, but the more I see the more poetwential I see for more honest and nuanced characters, especially in rugged little places like Westerns.

Truly staggered by this review. I entirely agree that you fall into two categories....but if you grow up on Leone Westerns, then it is almost impossible to take this film seriously.  Angie Dickinson throws herself at Jonn Wayne?  Is that really credible?  The shoot out at the end is a joke. 

Ends way to easily.  The musical intermission serves only to prove that Dean Martin must have wanted a singing moment to assist his musical career....

 Yes it is well acted...look at the calibre of Actors for crying out loud.....but where's the tension...Is Dean Martin really a convincing drunk?


Yes there is humour......but watch the Good the bad and the Ugly.  What makes that film great is not just the acting, or the plot, or the protracted dance like final confrontations.....but that everytime you watch see something new....and the hurmour of the film becomes more and move obvious everytime you watch it......I mean even when Tuco is stopping himself from being too abusive about Blondie's mother, there is brilliant humour.  


In Rio Bravo all there is, is good acting.   

This is a pointless pointless as Rio Grande......The only value in the rio movies is that you learn it is Spanish for River!! Thanks!!!


How are you staggered by my review exactly?! You agree with me...

I wish you wouldn't stay anonymous! your vitriol is beautifully spat!

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