Produced and Directed by Howard Hawks
I tackle yet again what some consider a classic.
Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) shoots a man in cold blood in a bar in the town of Rio Bravo and now John T. Chance (John Wayne) and former sheriff’s deputy Dude (Dean Martin) must hold him in jail until authorities arrive to take him off for trial all the while keeping Joe’s men and those of his brother Nathan (John Russell) at bay.
Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) is a cocksure gunslinger that happens to be the son of a friend of Chance. Nelson I guess is in there to draw in the teen element to see the film. He and Martin perform two songs together. Colorado is an okay part, but Nelson’s acting ability is overshadowed by that of Dean Martin and also somehow by the acting ability of John Wayne. Wayne was no great thespian so I’m not sure what was going on here.
Feathers (Angie Dickinson) is the love interest in this movie. She is a much stronger female character than you would expect to find in a film of the time. She is strong willed and while John is attracted to Feathers, he keeps away. She is the one that pursues and essentially woos the hero. An inversion of the norm. Almost without exception the woman was there to be conquered by the male hero but here she does the conquering.
The only character I truly dislike is the character of Stumpy (Walter Brennan). Stumpy is too goofy in an otherwise dramatic film. There’s nothing wrong with a dramatic film containing some humor to lighten the mood, but the character of Stumpy brings the drama to a screeching halt in a way that really stands out from the rest of the movie. The cantankerous old codger bit wore thin for me.
This was supposedly John Wayne and Howard Hawks’ rebuttal to High Noon. They both felt that High Noon was un-American in its allusions to Hollywood blacklisting and decided to tell a similar story but in a different way. Rather than take help from anyone, John T. Chance only chose those he thought capable. He was also surrounded by loyal people. Chance was assured and confident and did not falter or give up.
John T. Chance receives offers of help but refuses them in part because he doesn’t think those offering are up to the task and also because he doesn’t want to put them needlessly in danger. Early on Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) is shot by Burdette’s men after offering to help. Chance knows that things could get messy before it’s all over. He’s a good man and cares about others.
The film itself has a great deal of tension but very little action. It’s all about building up to the finale of the film. You are to doubt whether or not the recovering alcoholic character of Dude can last long enough or will be of any real use. Is Colorado as good as he appears? Will Stumpy be enough when the inevitable happens?
The bad guys are almost an afterthought here. And that’s the point. It’s not about good guys versus bad guys. It’s about one man doing his duty while facing fearful odds. The hero is certain of what must be done. We could use more of that in film these days. There is not much about doing your duty in films these days.
Overall it’s a pretty enjoyable movie. It’s regarded as one of Howard Hawks best and rightfully so. Check it out.