RIO BRAVO — CLASSIC FILM PICK
"Rio Bravo" (1959) is Howard Hawkes's shamelessly commercial Western. At the time of its release the movie pandered to audiences that were perceived as being distracted away from the movies by the small screen. One of the film's many notable features is John Wayne's participation as a belated cinematic response to Fred Zinnemann's 1952 Western "High Noon" (written by Carl Foreman), known now as an anti-McCarthyism allegory regarding blacklisting. Wayne resented "Nigh Noon" for taking what he viewed as a "defeatist" stance. The irony is that "Rio Bravo" comes off like a lightweight next to the far superior "High Noon," which starred Gary Cooper.
Dean Martin plays Dude, an alcoholic deputy to John Wayne’s sheriff John T. Chance in the Texas town of Rio Bravo. Martin delivers a powerfully representational performance that cuts across Wayne’s signature presentational acting style. With a ripped blazer that barely covers his exposed chest, Martin’s Dude is an emotional wreck who makes scene-stealing from Wayne look easy. Dude stumbles into a bar only to be taunted by a cocky gunfighter by the name of Joe Burdette (Claude Akins). Burdette can’t resist baiting Dude by offering to toss him a dollar for a drink before chucking the coin into a spittoon. A fight breaks out. Burdette shoots and kills an unarmed man. Chance tosses Burdette in the pokey under the supervision of his other deputy, disabled chatterbox Stumpy (Walter Brennan). Burdette’s status as the brother of a wealthy rancher prompts an extended town visit from a gang of men intent on breaking Burdette out of jail before a U.S. Marshall arrives to take him away.
A traveling bar-girl, “Feathers” (unforgettably played by Angie Dickinson), takes a shine to Chance as his old wagoneer pal Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) makes his way into town with a confident young gunslinger, Colorado (Ricky Nelson).
Soldiering on despite a complete lack of chemistry between them, Wayne and Dickenson pretend to slip into a romance that allows the spunky young actress to spice up the movie. Jocular humor is at play in a movie that emphasizes the film’s entertainment value as residing in the gentle rapport between its main characters. A jailhouse musical duet between Ricky Nelson and Dean Martin segues into a singalong with Walter Brennan. From its lush use of a Technicolor-realized color palate to its disciplined control of compositions—there are only three close-ups in the whole movie—“Rio Bravo” is a gorgeous Western to hang out with.