Now regarded as one of the greatest Westerns of all time as well as a key movie in the filmographies of both director Howard Hawks and actor John Wayne, Rio Bravo (1959) was mostly brushed off by critics at the time of release. Though it was popular at the box office, the film was criticized for qualities that are now seen as attributes; the intentionally simplistic story, for example, is a hook on which is hung a complex study in moral responsibilities and character redemption. Iconic Western star John Wayne was recruited by Hawks (they had worked together before in the popular Western Red River from 1948) to play Marshal John T. Chance, who has arrested Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder. Burdette has a lot of armed friends on the outside, and an assault on the jailhouse is imminent. Chance finds unlikely help in his resistance from friends like a limping old man (Walter Brennan), an alcoholic former sheriff (Dean Martin), a teenage would-be gunslinger (Ricky Nelson), and a beautiful barmaid (Angie Dickinson). The notion of a "band of misfits" prevailing against seemingly insurmountable odds has proven to be an increasingly popular theme in popular culture over the years and the reputation of Rio Bravo has grown along with it. Rio Bravo also provided important roles for singer-actor Dean Martin, who was then trying to establish himself as a solo performer following his 1956 breakup with comedian Jerry Lewis, and for Angie Dickinson, who would go on to a long career in movies and television.
> Howard Hawks, one of the greatest American directors of the classic studio system, was successful in a number of different film genres. He helped create the gangster genre with Scarface (1932), made such key War pictures as The Dawn Patrol (1930) and Sergeant York (1941), explored Film Noir with The Big Sleep (1946), and helped define the Screwball Comedy with films like Twentieth Century (1934) and Bringing Up Baby (1938).
> One of the hallmarks of a Hawks picture was a certain code of honor and heroism, and he was disturbed when that characteristic was lacking in a western sheriff played by Gary Cooper in a polar film from 1952. Hawks flatly told interviewer Joseph McBride (in Hawks on Hawks), "Rio Bravo was made because I didn't like a picture called High Noon... I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him. That isn't my idea of a good western sheriff."
> The real pull of Rio Bravo (as with so many Hawks films) is the natural camaraderie amongst the characters, which draws the audience into the story. Often the humanity comes through in small details and bits of business rather than through dialogue. For example, Hawks told McBride, "...the relationship between Wayne and Dean Martin... worked out best with Martin trying to roll a cigarette and Wayne watching him and rolling it for him because Martin's fingers were shaking. Then because that worked good, why, we did it a couple of more times in the picture."
> Hawks, in fact, may have helped draw out the best performance of Dean Martin's career. As he told McBride, "Dean's a damn good actor, but he is also a fellow who floats through life. He has to be urged. He has to get some kind of a hint, something going, otherwise, hell, he won't even rehearse in some of his shows." As an example of his prompting, Hawks suggested that for a hangover scene Dean keep in mind a guy that Hawks knew "...who'd pound his leg trying to hurt himself to try and get some feeling in it." Dean replied, "OK. I know that kind of guy. I can do it."
> Toward the end of his career, Hawks teamed again with actor Wayne and writer Leigh Brackett for two other westerns which, with Rio Bravo, form an informal trilogy: El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970).
> Two of the main stars of Rio Bravo, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, were also known for their careers as popular singers - although their styles were very different and they appealed to different generations of fans. Martin was well known as a singer and straight man from his ten-year-long (1946-1956) partnership with comedian Jerry Lewis. Martin's recording career spanned from 1946 to 1985 during which he released 32 studio albums and 83 singles. Martin was renown for his breezy crooner style and is remembered for such songs as "That's Amore," "Memories Are Made of This," "Standing on the Corner," "Volare," "Ain't That a Kick In the Head?," "Who's Got the Action?," and "Everybody Loves Somebody" -- all of which charted in the 1950s and early 1960s.
> Ricky Nelson was a child actor who became a famous singing star. He was the real-life son of the stars of the comedy The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which was a hit on radio starting in 1944, then on television beginning in 1952. Their sons on the show were first played by actors, but in 1949 eight-year old Ricky joined the show along with his twelve-year old brother David. Ricky's parents had a musical background (Ozzie was a big band orchestra leader while Harriet was the band's singer) so it was natural for Ricky to be inclined toward music as well. In 1956, sixteen-year-old Ricky fell in love with Rock 'n' Roll, and particularly the Rockabilly sounds of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Thanks in part to exposure on his TV show, Ricky's first release, a cover of the Fats Domino song "I'm Walkin'," went to #4 on the Billboard charts, while the flip-side of the single charted even higher. Ricky went on to become a "teen idol" and his popularity even rivaled that of Elvis (especially when Elvis became sidelined by the draft and sent to serve the military, stationed in Germany). In the years from 1957 to 1962, Ricky had a staggering 30 top-charting songs, second only to Elvis. It would have been easy for the teenager to have been marketed through television and to have turned out a string of forgettable prefabricated pop songs, but what is remarkable is that Nelson exerted control over his output and kept his love of Rockabilly pure. Utilizing top California songwriters and expert players like his close friend, guitarist James Burton, Ricky Nelson hits such as "Believe What You Say," "Hello May Lou," "Be-Bop Baby," "Poor Little Fool," and "Lonesome Town" helped define the California Rockabilly sound and have remained respected examples of the form ever since.
> Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson performed one song together in Rio Bravo, "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me" (Music by Dimitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster). In addition, Martin can be heard singing the title tune (also by Tiomkin and Webster) under the credits, and Nelson performs a novelty song called "Cindy" with co-star Walter Brennan.
On one side is an army of gunmen dead-set on springing a murderous sidekick from jail. On the other is Sheriff John T. Chance and his two deputies: one a drunk, the other a cripple. Place your bets.
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An Indian-hating Civil War veteran tracks down the tribe that slaughtered his family and kidnapped his niece.
An experienced gunman and a peace-loving tenderfoot clash with a Western bully.
Indians try to reclaim a rancher's adopted daughter.