Rio Bravo


2h 21m 1959
Rio Bravo

Brief Synopsis

A sheriff enlists a drunk, a kid and an old man to help him fight off a ruthless cattle baron.

Film Details

Also Known As
A Bull by the Tail
Genre
Action
Western
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Apr 4, 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Mar 1959
Production Company
Armada Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Tucson, Arizona, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "A Bull by the Tail" by B. H. McCampbell (publication undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 21m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

At the Texas border town of Rio Bravo, Joe Burdette, the brother of wealthy rancher Nathan Burdette, shoots and kills an unarmed man. Sheriff John T. Chance arrests him with the help of his former deputy, the alcoholic Dude. To prevent Chance from taking Joe to the Presidio to stand trial, Nathan hires a small army of professional gunmen to bottle up the town. Although Chance expects that it will take several days for help to arrive, he requests assistance from the U.S. marshal by sending a message via stagecoach. When Chance's friend Pat Wheeler arrives in town to deliver a shipment of explosives, he describes Chance's situation as having "a bull by the tail." Seeing that Chance's only professional help is the crippled and elderly deputy, Stumpy, and the shaky Dude, whom the townsmen ridicule and call Borochón , which means "drunk," Wheeler offers his services, but Chance refuses, unwilling to risk the lives of "well-meaning amateurs." Chance tells Wheeler that Dude had been an excellent deputy, until a failed romance with Feathers, a female gambler, caused him to take up the bottle two years earlier. Wheeler suggests that Chance hire his new guard, the young Colorado, and praises his intelligence and gunmanship. However, Colorado declines the job, saying that he is better at "minding his own business," thus earning Chance's respect because he feels no need to prove himself. To protect Dude, Chance orders Feathers, who has just returned to town, to leave on the next morning's stagecoach. Feathers takes a room for the night at the Alamo Hotel, which is run by married couple Carlos and Consuelo, and is also where Chance boards. That evening, when Chance sees Feathers winning at the card table using a deck missing three cards, Chance confronts her with an official notice reporting that a man, wanted for cheating at cards, is working with a woman who fits her description. She admits that the notice is referring to her and explains that her husband was cheating without her knowledge and then abandoned her. Weary of dodging her bad reputation, she suggests Chance search her for the missing cards. The tension is broken by Colorado, who suspects that a different player is cheating, prompting Chance and Colorado to search the man. After they find the missing cards up the man's sleeve, Chance, acknowledging Feather's innocence, says he will clear her name with the authorities; however, he still insists that she leave town. When a gunman shoots Wheeler in the back, Chance assumes that his friend was killed for supporting him against Nathan. Chance and Dude investigate the stable from where the shot originated and roust Wheeler's killer, who then runs to a nearby saloon. While suffering the derision of the saloon patrons, Dude discovers the murderer hiding in the saloon's loft and outshoots him. During the night, Feathers, who is attracted to Chance's reserved charms, and Carlos worry about the sheriff's safety and, while he sleeps, Feathers stands guard outside his room without his knowledge. The next day, Nathan rides into town and demands to speak to Joe. Chance allows Nathan to enter the jailhouse, but threatens Joe with an "accident" if there are any attempts to storm the jail. After refusing to leave town, Feathers declares her feelings for Chance, who admits that he might return her interest if the situations with Dude and the Burdettes were less complicated. That night at the jail, Dude, noticing the burgeoning romance, reminds Chance that he once warned Dude about Feathers. When Chance and his colleagues notice that musicians have been playing the same song all day, Colorado states that the song is "El Deguelo," the "cutthroat song" played nightly by Mexicans to the men besieged at the Alamo, adding that he heard Nathan pay the musicians to play it as a signal to Joe. After Chance re-deputizes Dude, who has abstained from drinking for several days, Dude celebrates by shaving and taking a bath at the hotel. During the night, Chance discovers Feathers asleep outside his room and carries her in. In the morning, Dude, suffering delirium tremens, is captured by Nathan's men. Soon after, three men ride into town claiming to need a doctor, and when they encounter Chance, they train their guns on him. Feathers, instructed by Colorado, distracts them by throwing a flower pot through the hotel window, allowing Chance and Colorado to shoot the men dead and rescue Dude. Afterward, Feathers, who is upset by Chance's near death, drinks too much and drunkenly declares frustration with her unrequited love, to which Chance responds that he is glad that she stayed. His confidence lost, Dude resigns as deputy and is tempted to resume drinking. To Stumpy's dismay, Chance gives Dude a bottle of liquor and taunts him about his past humiliations, believing that treating Dude "rough" works better than sympathy. Colorado has changed his mind about accepting the job of deputy and as Colorado is being deputized, Dude discovers that his "shakes" have subsided, passes on the liquor and takes his place with the other two deputies. Observing that Nathan has caused trouble only when they are outside the jail, Chance decides they should take refuge inside it, using Joe as a hostage until the marshal arrives. Dude and Chance then go to the hotel for supplies, unaware that Nathan's men have already overtaken it. After capturing Chance and Dude, Nathan orders Chance to fetch Joe, who will be traded for Dude. Escorted by three gunmen, Chance returns to the jail, but he, Colorado and Stumpy outwit and overcome them. Upon returning to the hotel, they find that Nathan and his men have departed with Dude and left behind instructions for Chance to meet him with Joe at the edge of town. Colorado points out that Nathan cannot allow Chance and Dude to live, because their testimony in court regarding the murders will result in Joe being hanged. After ordering the less agile Stumpy to remain at the jail, Chance and Colorado take Joe to Nathan. As the prisoners are exchanged, Dude tackles Joe and knocks him unconscious, inciting a gunfight. When Nathan's men attempt to surround them, Stumpy arrives and shoots them. After Colorado warns that Stumpy is standing next to a wagon full of dynamite, the older man retrieves a box of explosives and joins Chance. Working together, Stumpy throws sticks of dynamite toward the building sheltering Nathan and his men as Chance ignites each stick with a gunshot, causing an explosion. When the building erupts in fire, Nathan surrenders. Later, Dude, who no longer desires alcohol or his lost love, sends Chance to Feathers.

Photo Collections

Rio Bravo - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Rio Bravo (1959), directed by Howard Hawks. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Also Known As
A Bull by the Tail
Genre
Action
Western
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Apr 4, 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Mar 1959
Production Company
Armada Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Tucson, Arizona, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "A Bull by the Tail" by B. H. McCampbell (publication undetermined).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 21m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

Rio Bravo


It has been said that director Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo (1959) as a reaction to two popular westerns which angered him - High Noon (1952) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957). His comment on the former was, "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." Hawks also considered 3:10 to Yuma, which had outlaw Glenn Ford playing psychological games with lawman Van Heflin, "a lot of nonsense." So Rio Bravo was the director's take on heroism and the true measure of a man. The simple storyline has sheriff John T. Chance arresting a murderer and keeping him locked up until his trial. It soon becomes evident that the jailed prisoner has plenty of armed friends and they plan an attack on the jail. Luckily, sheriff Chance, who is outnumbered forty to one, gets some unexpected backup from the least likely characters - an alcoholic drifter, a crippled, elderly man, a naive young gunslinger, a dance-hall girl, and a hotel clerk.

John Wayne was at the peak of his career in 1958 and Howard Hawks could not think of a better actor to play John T. Chance, a lawman who embodied duty, decency, and integrity. Walter Brennan, who had worked for Hawks before on several films including Red River (1948), was also a natural for the role of Stumpy, Chance's comical sidekick. But the real surprises of Rio Bravo are two crooners turned actors: Dean Martin, who was attempting a solo film career after the breakup of his partnership with Jerry Lewis, and Ricky Nelson, the teenage idol who had just scored a number one hit with "Poor Little Fool" the previous year.

Cast in the role of Dude, an alcoholic battling inner demons, Martin turned to his friend Marlon Brando for advice about playing the role. According to Hawks in a later interview with Joseph McBride, Martin showed up for the first day of shooting "dressed like a musical comedy cowboy. I said, 'Dean, look, you know a little about drinking. You've seen a lot of drunks. I want a drunk. I want a guy in an old dirty sweatshirt and an old hat.' He went over, and he came back with the outfit he wore in the picture. He must have been successful because Jack Warner said to me, 'We hired Dean Martin. When's he going to be in this picture?' I said, 'He's the funny-looking guy in the old hat.' 'Holy smoke, is that Dean Martin?'"

The only thing Martin really had a problem with was a scene in which he had to cry. The idea of pretending to cry totally unnerved him but he eventually got it right. He also got along great with the cast and crew, even if his joke telling sometimes held up production or he was hung over for most of the shoot. Martin and Wayne also played mischievous older brothers to Ricky Nelson on the set, presenting him with a 300-pound sack of steer manure for his eighteenth birthday and then tossing him into the center of it.

Rio Bravo was filmed in Old Tucson, the same Arizona movie set where Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) was filmed. Cinematographer Russell Harlan modeled the look of the film on the frontier paintings of Charles M. Russell. Filming outdoors was often a chore due to the 120-degree heat and an invasion of grasshoppers that fried on the hot lights and littered the sets.

Rio Bravo was the first in an informal trilogy written by Leigh Brackett and directed by Hawks that included El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970), both starring John Wayne. John Carpenter would later remake Rio Bravo as an urban thriller entitled Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). While Hawks' original continues to survive as one of the great Westerns of the fifties, an English critic said it best when he wrote: "If I were asked to choose a film that would justify the existence of Hollywood, I think it would be Rio Bravo."

Director/ Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Editor: Folmar Blangsted
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance), Dean Martin (Dude the Drunk), Ricky Nelson (Colorado Ryan), Angie Dickinson (Feathers), Walter Brennan (Stumpy).
C-142m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford
Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo

It has been said that director Howard Hawks made Rio Bravo (1959) as a reaction to two popular westerns which angered him - High Noon (1952) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957). His comment on the former was, "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." Hawks also considered 3:10 to Yuma, which had outlaw Glenn Ford playing psychological games with lawman Van Heflin, "a lot of nonsense." So Rio Bravo was the director's take on heroism and the true measure of a man. The simple storyline has sheriff John T. Chance arresting a murderer and keeping him locked up until his trial. It soon becomes evident that the jailed prisoner has plenty of armed friends and they plan an attack on the jail. Luckily, sheriff Chance, who is outnumbered forty to one, gets some unexpected backup from the least likely characters - an alcoholic drifter, a crippled, elderly man, a naive young gunslinger, a dance-hall girl, and a hotel clerk. John Wayne was at the peak of his career in 1958 and Howard Hawks could not think of a better actor to play John T. Chance, a lawman who embodied duty, decency, and integrity. Walter Brennan, who had worked for Hawks before on several films including Red River (1948), was also a natural for the role of Stumpy, Chance's comical sidekick. But the real surprises of Rio Bravo are two crooners turned actors: Dean Martin, who was attempting a solo film career after the breakup of his partnership with Jerry Lewis, and Ricky Nelson, the teenage idol who had just scored a number one hit with "Poor Little Fool" the previous year. Cast in the role of Dude, an alcoholic battling inner demons, Martin turned to his friend Marlon Brando for advice about playing the role. According to Hawks in a later interview with Joseph McBride, Martin showed up for the first day of shooting "dressed like a musical comedy cowboy. I said, 'Dean, look, you know a little about drinking. You've seen a lot of drunks. I want a drunk. I want a guy in an old dirty sweatshirt and an old hat.' He went over, and he came back with the outfit he wore in the picture. He must have been successful because Jack Warner said to me, 'We hired Dean Martin. When's he going to be in this picture?' I said, 'He's the funny-looking guy in the old hat.' 'Holy smoke, is that Dean Martin?'" The only thing Martin really had a problem with was a scene in which he had to cry. The idea of pretending to cry totally unnerved him but he eventually got it right. He also got along great with the cast and crew, even if his joke telling sometimes held up production or he was hung over for most of the shoot. Martin and Wayne also played mischievous older brothers to Ricky Nelson on the set, presenting him with a 300-pound sack of steer manure for his eighteenth birthday and then tossing him into the center of it. Rio Bravo was filmed in Old Tucson, the same Arizona movie set where Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) was filmed. Cinematographer Russell Harlan modeled the look of the film on the frontier paintings of Charles M. Russell. Filming outdoors was often a chore due to the 120-degree heat and an invasion of grasshoppers that fried on the hot lights and littered the sets. Rio Bravo was the first in an informal trilogy written by Leigh Brackett and directed by Hawks that included El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970), both starring John Wayne. John Carpenter would later remake Rio Bravo as an urban thriller entitled Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). While Hawks' original continues to survive as one of the great Westerns of the fifties, an English critic said it best when he wrote: "If I were asked to choose a film that would justify the existence of Hollywood, I think it would be Rio Bravo." Director/ Producer: Howard Hawks Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman Cinematography: Russell Harlan Editor: Folmar Blangsted Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter Music: Dimitri Tiomkin Cast: John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance), Dean Martin (Dude the Drunk), Ricky Nelson (Colorado Ryan), Angie Dickinson (Feathers), Walter Brennan (Stumpy). C-142m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Rio Bravo (Special Edition) - The DVD Special Edition of Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO on DVD


Howard Hawks had just returned to Hollywood after four years abroad when he embarked on Rio Bravo with John Wayne. They had previously only made one film together, Red River (1948), but it had established Hawks as a master of the western and it provided Wayne his first opportunity to stretch as an actor (and, in the process, gain a little respect from his most frequent director and greatest critic, John Ford). Hawks' last film, Land of the Pharaohs, had been a disappointment and Wayne was a major star who had not had a hit since The Searchers in 1956 and was frustrated by his last film, The Barbarian and Geisha. Both men wanted to return to something familiar and the western became their comfort genre. Wayne respected Hawks as a storyteller and a professional, and Hawks understood how effective Wayne could be in a film.

Rio Bravo is ostensibly based on a short story by one B.H. McCampbell (in fact, Hawks' daughter, Barbara), but according to Hawks, it was born out of his response to High Noon, a film he abhorred. "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," he explained in to Joseph McBride in the interview book "Hawks on Hawks." Reacting against High Noon and 3:10 to Yuma, another western about a sheriff asking for civilian help to get a captured outlaw out of town, he simply turned the situation around for Rio Bravo.

Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) spends the movie turning down the well-meaning offers of townspeople and holes up in the sheriff's office to guard his prisoner with the assistance of a drunk (Dean Martin) and a crippled, crotchety old man (Walter Brennan) as a gang of paid killers gathers in the town. "That's all you got?" asks a well-meaning pal (played by Wayne's real-life pal Ward Bond). "That's *what* I've got," answers Wayne's stalwart Chance. Before the film is over, the well-meaning pal is dead and Chance gets unsolicited help from a cool young gun (Ricky Nelson), a love-struck gambler/showgirl (Angie Dickinson), and the spirited Mexican hotel owner (Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez), all of whom prove that, in their own way, they are good enough.

The film opens on a wordless four minute sequence that, with lucid simplicity, introduces the characters of the town drunk Dude (Martin), Chance (Wayne), and the sneering punk Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), who offers the slinking barfly Dude a drink and then tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon. Chance's searing glare at Dude as he reaches for the dollar (shot from a rare low angle that enhances both his physical and symbolic authority), and Dude's shame at seeing his degradation reflected in Chance's eye, hint at a long history that will unfold through the next couple of hours, after Chance arrests Burdette for murder and Dude takes his place as Chance's deputy and tries to shake off the bottle and DTs.

As critics have pointed out, the rich group dynamics recall such earlier Hawks masterpieces as Only Angels have Wings (1939) and To Have and Have Not (1944). Such specific details as Chance helping redeem his drunk friend in general and the dollar in the spittoon in particular (not to mention a girl named "Feathers"), however, came from the silent gangster picture Underworld (1927), written by frequent Hawks collaborator Jules Furthman with uncredited contributions by the young Hawks, at least according to him. In Hawks' own words, "I always liked that story." The direction is leisurely and laconic, creating a film that feels loose even as Hawks explores the relationships through the physical performances and character by-play, the distinctive body language and gestures, and telling glances that communicate more than words ever could.

The part of Chance was all but written for him (the original treatment simply named the character 'John Wayne'). The other roles weren't quite so obvious. Hawks wanted Montgomery Clift for the role of Dude, who turned it down. Dean Martin was not even on the director's wish list, but Martin's agent pushed for the singer/actor. Hawks was so impressed that Martin hired a private plane to fly out for a meeting after performing all night in a Vegas club that he signed him on the spot. It remains Martin's career best screen performance. Dude is no slurring and stumbling drunk stereotype, but a sweaty, jittery alcoholic going cold turkey as his self-respect battles it out with his self-pity, and Martin is all nervous energy and exhaustion as he fights to stay sober and win back his dignity. Hawks creates one of his most effective and evocative bits of screen business to illustrate Dude's torment and Chance's quiet but unflagging support. Dude keeps trying to roll cigarettes, as much to give his hands something to do as to calm his nerves with a smoke, but he keeps tearing them into pieces. As the loose tobacco falls to the floor and Dude's shoulders drop in resignation, Chance is there with another cigarette, rolled as a back-up and offered to his friend without a word.

The role of Colorado, the level-headed young gun who belatedly signs on for the siege, feels like it was written for a young Montgomery Clift. The lightweight Ricky Nelson proves to be no Monty Clift in his big screen debut, but he brings enough confidence and cool to the part to justify the commercially savvy casting of the sitcom and bubblegum rock star. TV proved to be prime casting ground for Hawks, who was fascinated at how quickly it had grown, and grown up, in his four years abroad. Longtime movie character actors Ward Bond and Walter Brennan were headlining hit shows when Hawks signed them up as trail boss Pat Wheeler and Chance's deputy Stumpy, respectively, and John Russell (cast as the heavy Nathan Burdette) was about to start his long-running western series Lawman.

Hawks had a knack for discovering young talent, especially actresses. Angie Dickinson was no unknown when he cast her in the role of "Feathers," the sultry, somewhat insolent gambler with a past and soft spot for the gruff sheriff who tries to run her out of town. But after years of bit parts, supporting roles, countless TV guest spots, and even a lead (in Sam Fuller's China Gate), she was still awaiting her big break. Hawks gave it to her and took a personal interest in every aspect of her part, right down to the wardrobe, which was designed to show off her curves and her legs ("Hawks said, 'You've got a pretty good figure, but it could be better.' So I got into pretty good shape for that movie," recalls Dickinson). The age difference between the 26-year-old beauty and the 50-year-old Wayne is glaring and the craggy, stocky Wayne looks uncomfortable around the petite Dickinson. Hawks works that awkwardness into the character dynamic, transforming a weakness into a strength: the otherwise rock-steady-sure Chance lose his composure around the sexy young woman. Dickinson, in turn, slips back and forth from aggressive professional standing up to the presumptuous Chance to babbling and blubbering wreck terrified that Chance's inflexible code will get him killed.

The film earned lukewarm reviews – how could critics take seriously a mere western with "singers" Martin and Nelson and no pretense to "important" themes be taken seriously? – but it opened at number one and ended the year in the top ten grossing films of 1959 and re-established the box-office credential of both Hawks and Wayne. It took much longer for critics to see the mastery of Hawks' unforced storytelling, the easy chemistry and natural by-play that Hawks makes look so effortless, the evocative touches in the script and the dialogue, and the themes of friendship and redemption, leadership and respect, that reverberate throughout Hawks' career. It's now considered one Hawks' greatest films, perhaps his masterpiece, and one of the finest westerns of all time. John Carpenter, who has praised Hawks all through his career, paid homage with Assault on Precinct 13, a pseudo-remake set in a police station under siege, and more recently Quentin Tarantino cited it as one of his three favorite films of all time.

Warner Bros. is giving Rio Bravo two deluxe edition releases. The "Two Disc Special Edition" features a commentary track by filmmaker and Hawks fan John Carpenter and film critic/historian Richard Schickel, who were recorded separately and edited together for an interesting and effective critical byplay. Both of them praise the richness of his storytelling and point out the subtle details in his seemingly simple style. In Carpenter's own words: "Hawks to me is a director whose camera is always in the right place at the right time." The second disc features Schickel's excellent 1973 documentary The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks plus two new featurettes: Commemoration: Howard Hawks' Rio Brav and Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked. The "Ultimate Collector's Edition" comes in a slipsleeve that also includes mini-reproductions of the film lobby cards, the original press book, and the Dell comic book adaptation.

For more information about Rio Bravo (Special Edition), visit Warner Video. To order Rio Bravo (Special Edition), go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker

Rio Bravo (Special Edition) - The DVD Special Edition of Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO on DVD

Howard Hawks had just returned to Hollywood after four years abroad when he embarked on Rio Bravo with John Wayne. They had previously only made one film together, Red River (1948), but it had established Hawks as a master of the western and it provided Wayne his first opportunity to stretch as an actor (and, in the process, gain a little respect from his most frequent director and greatest critic, John Ford). Hawks' last film, Land of the Pharaohs, had been a disappointment and Wayne was a major star who had not had a hit since The Searchers in 1956 and was frustrated by his last film, The Barbarian and Geisha. Both men wanted to return to something familiar and the western became their comfort genre. Wayne respected Hawks as a storyteller and a professional, and Hawks understood how effective Wayne could be in a film. Rio Bravo is ostensibly based on a short story by one B.H. McCampbell (in fact, Hawks' daughter, Barbara), but according to Hawks, it was born out of his response to High Noon, a film he abhorred. "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," he explained in to Joseph McBride in the interview book "Hawks on Hawks." Reacting against High Noon and 3:10 to Yuma, another western about a sheriff asking for civilian help to get a captured outlaw out of town, he simply turned the situation around for Rio Bravo. Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) spends the movie turning down the well-meaning offers of townspeople and holes up in the sheriff's office to guard his prisoner with the assistance of a drunk (Dean Martin) and a crippled, crotchety old man (Walter Brennan) as a gang of paid killers gathers in the town. "That's all you got?" asks a well-meaning pal (played by Wayne's real-life pal Ward Bond). "That's *what* I've got," answers Wayne's stalwart Chance. Before the film is over, the well-meaning pal is dead and Chance gets unsolicited help from a cool young gun (Ricky Nelson), a love-struck gambler/showgirl (Angie Dickinson), and the spirited Mexican hotel owner (Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez), all of whom prove that, in their own way, they are good enough. The film opens on a wordless four minute sequence that, with lucid simplicity, introduces the characters of the town drunk Dude (Martin), Chance (Wayne), and the sneering punk Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), who offers the slinking barfly Dude a drink and then tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon. Chance's searing glare at Dude as he reaches for the dollar (shot from a rare low angle that enhances both his physical and symbolic authority), and Dude's shame at seeing his degradation reflected in Chance's eye, hint at a long history that will unfold through the next couple of hours, after Chance arrests Burdette for murder and Dude takes his place as Chance's deputy and tries to shake off the bottle and DTs. As critics have pointed out, the rich group dynamics recall such earlier Hawks masterpieces as Only Angels have Wings (1939) and To Have and Have Not (1944). Such specific details as Chance helping redeem his drunk friend in general and the dollar in the spittoon in particular (not to mention a girl named "Feathers"), however, came from the silent gangster picture Underworld (1927), written by frequent Hawks collaborator Jules Furthman with uncredited contributions by the young Hawks, at least according to him. In Hawks' own words, "I always liked that story." The direction is leisurely and laconic, creating a film that feels loose even as Hawks explores the relationships through the physical performances and character by-play, the distinctive body language and gestures, and telling glances that communicate more than words ever could. The part of Chance was all but written for him (the original treatment simply named the character 'John Wayne'). The other roles weren't quite so obvious. Hawks wanted Montgomery Clift for the role of Dude, who turned it down. Dean Martin was not even on the director's wish list, but Martin's agent pushed for the singer/actor. Hawks was so impressed that Martin hired a private plane to fly out for a meeting after performing all night in a Vegas club that he signed him on the spot. It remains Martin's career best screen performance. Dude is no slurring and stumbling drunk stereotype, but a sweaty, jittery alcoholic going cold turkey as his self-respect battles it out with his self-pity, and Martin is all nervous energy and exhaustion as he fights to stay sober and win back his dignity. Hawks creates one of his most effective and evocative bits of screen business to illustrate Dude's torment and Chance's quiet but unflagging support. Dude keeps trying to roll cigarettes, as much to give his hands something to do as to calm his nerves with a smoke, but he keeps tearing them into pieces. As the loose tobacco falls to the floor and Dude's shoulders drop in resignation, Chance is there with another cigarette, rolled as a back-up and offered to his friend without a word. The role of Colorado, the level-headed young gun who belatedly signs on for the siege, feels like it was written for a young Montgomery Clift. The lightweight Ricky Nelson proves to be no Monty Clift in his big screen debut, but he brings enough confidence and cool to the part to justify the commercially savvy casting of the sitcom and bubblegum rock star. TV proved to be prime casting ground for Hawks, who was fascinated at how quickly it had grown, and grown up, in his four years abroad. Longtime movie character actors Ward Bond and Walter Brennan were headlining hit shows when Hawks signed them up as trail boss Pat Wheeler and Chance's deputy Stumpy, respectively, and John Russell (cast as the heavy Nathan Burdette) was about to start his long-running western series Lawman. Hawks had a knack for discovering young talent, especially actresses. Angie Dickinson was no unknown when he cast her in the role of "Feathers," the sultry, somewhat insolent gambler with a past and soft spot for the gruff sheriff who tries to run her out of town. But after years of bit parts, supporting roles, countless TV guest spots, and even a lead (in Sam Fuller's China Gate), she was still awaiting her big break. Hawks gave it to her and took a personal interest in every aspect of her part, right down to the wardrobe, which was designed to show off her curves and her legs ("Hawks said, 'You've got a pretty good figure, but it could be better.' So I got into pretty good shape for that movie," recalls Dickinson). The age difference between the 26-year-old beauty and the 50-year-old Wayne is glaring and the craggy, stocky Wayne looks uncomfortable around the petite Dickinson. Hawks works that awkwardness into the character dynamic, transforming a weakness into a strength: the otherwise rock-steady-sure Chance lose his composure around the sexy young woman. Dickinson, in turn, slips back and forth from aggressive professional standing up to the presumptuous Chance to babbling and blubbering wreck terrified that Chance's inflexible code will get him killed. The film earned lukewarm reviews – how could critics take seriously a mere western with "singers" Martin and Nelson and no pretense to "important" themes be taken seriously? – but it opened at number one and ended the year in the top ten grossing films of 1959 and re-established the box-office credential of both Hawks and Wayne. It took much longer for critics to see the mastery of Hawks' unforced storytelling, the easy chemistry and natural by-play that Hawks makes look so effortless, the evocative touches in the script and the dialogue, and the themes of friendship and redemption, leadership and respect, that reverberate throughout Hawks' career. It's now considered one Hawks' greatest films, perhaps his masterpiece, and one of the finest westerns of all time. John Carpenter, who has praised Hawks all through his career, paid homage with Assault on Precinct 13, a pseudo-remake set in a police station under siege, and more recently Quentin Tarantino cited it as one of his three favorite films of all time. Warner Bros. is giving Rio Bravo two deluxe edition releases. The "Two Disc Special Edition" features a commentary track by filmmaker and Hawks fan John Carpenter and film critic/historian Richard Schickel, who were recorded separately and edited together for an interesting and effective critical byplay. Both of them praise the richness of his storytelling and point out the subtle details in his seemingly simple style. In Carpenter's own words: "Hawks to me is a director whose camera is always in the right place at the right time." The second disc features Schickel's excellent 1973 documentary The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks plus two new featurettes: Commemoration: Howard Hawks' Rio Brav and Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked. The "Ultimate Collector's Edition" comes in a slipsleeve that also includes mini-reproductions of the film lobby cards, the original press book, and the Dell comic book adaptation. For more information about Rio Bravo (Special Edition), visit Warner Video. To order Rio Bravo (Special Edition), go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

You want that gun, pick it up. I wish you would.
- John T. Chance
Sorry don't get it done, Dude.
- John T. Chance
If I ever saw a man holdin' the bull by the tail, you're it.
- Pat Wheeler
I told him you were the best.
- Pat Wheeler
Well, I'll tell you, there's something I'm a lot better at, Mr. Wheeler, and that's minding my own business.
- Colorado Ryan
Hey, sheriff, you forgot your pants.
- Feathers

Trivia

There are no close-ups in this film.

The sets in Old Tucson are built to 7/8th scale, so the performers look larger than life.

Although Harry Carey, Jr. was listed in the credits on-screen, he does not appear in the picture. Carey had a drinking problem at the time. He called the director "Howard" instead of "Mr. Hawks" on one of his first days on the set, infuriating Hawks. His contract, including his pay and his screen credit, was honored, but his part (a townsperson) was cut.

The song "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" was originally used as the theme for Red River (1948), another 'John Wayne' western. The original title was "Settle Down".

Notes

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-François Richet directed a 2005 remake, bearing the same name.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States March 1976

Released in United States May 1989

Released in United States Spring April 4, 1959

Shown at in New York City (Film Forum) May 27-28, 1989.

Released in USA on video.

Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The 48-Hour Cowboy Movie Marathon) March 18-31, 1976.)

Released in United States Spring April 4, 1959

Released in United States May 1989 (Shown at in New York City (Film Forum) May 27-28, 1989.)