Sunday 18 December 2016

Rio Bravo (1959)

Rio Bravo
I realize that I am starting to get overly negative in my reviews. My excuse is that I try to find both good and bad sides to the movies I watch and therefore end up with a balanced review, but I am frank enough to admit that sometimes I get carried away and swoon over a movie or get all negative and maybe that is beginning to tilt towards the negative. Maybe it that as I move forward in history the bar is increased and I expect more from the movies I watch. With that in mind I went into “Rio Bravo” thinking that this is a movie I will like, this is a movie I should say a lot of positive things about.

It did not take long however before I started thinking that maybe I had chosen the wrong movie for my reform. There are so many things here that rubs me the wrong way. Yet I should be more positive so let me start out in that mode.

“Rio Bravo” is a pretty movie. The set is clean and iconic and is filmed with style. Although we keep going around in the same sets they work pretty well and the colors are nice.

Secondly, Angie Dickinson as Feathers, a gambler girl who accidentally finds herself in the small town of Rio Bravo, is real pretty and adds a nice decorative element to the set.

Thirdly I love that Dean Martin’s character is called Dude. If I was a western character I would want to be called Dude.

That is about it though.

A major problem with “Rio Bravo” is that it is a backward gazing hodge-podge. It throws together elements and styles that generally hark back rather than look forward. As a western it is incredibly old school. A bunch of anonymous henchmen of the bad guy (John Russell as Nathan Burdette) is laying siege to a small town to get one of their number, an equally anonymous Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) out of prison. The defense of the prison is in the hands of a few good and sympathetic characters headed by John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance. This is like the oldest western cliché in the world. Where “High Noon” took the basic story and turned it around to something new and exciting, “Rio Bravo” turns it back into something known and predictable.

“Rio Bravo” also does not seem to take itself serious. Comedic elements are thrown in with a very loose hand, but instead of providing release and humor it dilutes the nerve of the movie and it is just not funny enough to be a comedy as such. For me a western is either gritty as hell or an outright comedy. The halfway place is a non-place.

Then there is the element of Feathers. With or without her this would have been exactly the same story. The romance between her and Chance is odd, but I can forgive that. Love is a strange fish. The problem is that it is forced and fundamentally unnecessary. The reason it is there has nothing to do with the story, but because somebody decided the story needed a love interest, because, well, the audience wants such a thing… or do they? Dickinson does a good job at being a third wheel, but that is essentially what she is.

Howard Hawks I have always held in high esteem. His back-catalogue is truly impressive. That is why I was completely baffled by the poor direction the actors are getting here. Wayne looks like he would rather be somewhere else, the bad guys look like they were picked from the extra’s queue and what was that with Ricky Nelson as Colorado, the young gunslinger? Rarely have I witnessed a worse casting. Completely unbelievable and very poorly directed. What was Hawks thinking? Again it feels as if somebody decided that this movie needed a teenage idol for the girls to moan over and to hell with it if he did not fit into the movie.

Which brings us to the songs… come on…

A hodge-podge, that is what it is. If you asked a computer to cook up a western from elements producers would think the audience would like you could get something like Rio Bravo. Disjointed and bland and insincere.

Well, all this may be less important if I enjoyed watching it, but at 135 minutes it creeps along too slowly to ever get me out of the chair and even the final show down, the piece de resistance of the movie, fizzles and never really turns interesting.

I know, I know, I promised to be positive. I am really sorry, that will have to be next time. I promise.


  1. If you ever revisit this, watch High Noon with it. John Wayne intended this to be his answer to High Noon, a movie he hated.

    I don't hate Rio Bravo, but it's not as good as High Noon, and isn't as good at despite being considerably longer.

    1. It was High Noon I had in mind when I watched this and perhaps that is unfair to Rio Bravo. On almost every account that is a better movie. It is economic and to the point, everything makes sense and help explain the situation and it is clearly an intelligent movie. On all those accounts Rio Bravo falls short. There is so much unnecessary filler here, critical elements are never explained and while I would not go as far as saying it is stupid, it certainly does not convey that sense that this is a carefully thought out movie.
      High Noon was a response to the McCarthy witchhunt and as an answer to that Rio Bravo emphasize all the values it sees as true patriotic values. The problem there is that it makes the movie look pathetic and counter intuitive.

  2. I liked this a little more than you, but I agree about it being a throw-back. After High Noon, you can't go back. It didn't feel as cinematic as previous Westerns I've seen; not enough beautiful sweeping vistas for me!

    1. I think I missed that too. Those big sweeps that makes you long to be there.
      It feels very conservative, very safe and thereforre ultimately dull.

  3. We spoke on this one before, and I was surprised Rio Bravo had the look of a stage play. Tarantino's western Hateful Eight was inspired by the talky style. Both films I felt had too much dialogue.

    1. Dialogue does not bother me, really. I like talky movies. The problem for me with Rio Bravo is that it piles so much irelevant stuff onto the movie that it points in all directions and loses focus.

  4. To me, Rio Bravo could have benefited from a rewrite and cutting out needless dialogue. But maybe that's the charm of the film for some viewers, that the characters are verbose and there is irelevant stuff.

    1. That is true. I suspect the producers used a public survey on what the audience want in a movie and then tried to stuff everything in, fitting or not.