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The working title of the film was A Bull by the Tail. According to Hollywood Reporter news items and a Filmfacts review, portions of the film were shot on location in and around Tucson, AZ. As noted in the Hollywood Reporter review, the character "Nathan Burdette" hires a Mexican orchestra to play "El Deguelo," the "cutthroat song," to "keep the beseiged sheriff aware of the doom closing in around him." As mentioned in the film, the song was played at the Alamo by the Mexican attackers to signal "no mercy" to the Alamo defenders, and the name of the hotel in the story was The Alamo. The Hollywood Reporter review described composer Dimitri Tiomkin's scoring of a "bullfight trumpet" playing "El Deguelo" as "one of the film's most vital elements of suspense."
Although actor Ward Bond appeared in a cameo in the film Alias Jesse James (see entry above), Rio Bravo marked his final major film role. Although, according to a March 1958 Los Angeles Times news item, director Howard Hawks negotiated for Frank Sinatra to co-star with John Wayne, Sinatra did not appear in the film. Although their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed, contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items add the following to the cast: Walter Barnes, Dick LaMarr, Albert Cavens, Jon Fritz, Jay Gerard, Bernie Gozier and Bing Russell. A news item also adds Sheb Wooley to the cast, but he was not identifiable in the print viewed. Modern sources add Eugene Iglesius, Tom Monroe and Riley Hill to the cast.
Actress Angie Dickinson's role was compared in several reviews to the role played by Lauren Bacall in another film directed by Howard Hawks, To Have and Have Not (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). The New York Herald Tribune described Rio Bravo as "a satire on violence in the Western manner...the happy variety and hearty manner of [the villians'] execution....keeps the picture bumping along so merrily." The Variety review reported that the film "gets off at one of the fastest slam-bang openings on record. Within 90 seconds, Wayne...is clubbed, another man knocked out and a third murdered." On the number of deaths in the film, the Los Angeles Times review stated that "the speed with which men bite the dust is not real enough to suggest the presence of death."
Rio Bravo was the only film made under Hawks's Armada Productions banner and was the first collaboration between Hawks and Wayne since Red River (1948, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Hawks and Wayne went on to make three more films together, the 1962 Paramount production, Hatari!, and two westerns that are considered companion pieces to Rio Bravo, the 1966 El Dorado and the 1970 Rio Lobo (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). In later years, Rio Bravo gained critical and popular appeal and, in 1978, the Village Voice named it as one of twenty-five most memorable cult films. In 1976, John Carpenter wrote and directed Assault on Precinct 13, a modern story based on the theme of lawmen besieged by outlaws, and Jean-Franois Richet directed a 2005 remake, bearing the same name.