Rio Bravo - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1959

Director: Howard Hawks

Production: Armada Productions; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 141 minutes. Released 1959. Filmed in Old Tucson, Arizona.

Producer: Howard Hawks; screenplay: Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, from a novelette by B. H. McCampbell; photography: Russell Harlan; editor: Folmar Blangsted; sound: Robert B. Lee; art director: Leo K. Kuter; music director: Dimitri Tiomkin; songs: Dimitri Tiomkin and Francis Webster; costume designer: Marjorie Best; makeup: Gordan Bau.

Cast: John Wayne ( John T. Chance ); Dean Martin ( Dude ); Ricky Nelson ( Colorado Ryan ); Angie Dickinson ( Feathers ); Walter Brennan ( Stumpy ); Ward Bond ( Pat Wheeler ); John Russell ( Nathan Burdette ); Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez ( Carlos ); Estelita Rodriguez ( Consuelo ); Claude Akins ( Joe Burdett ); Malcolm Atterbury ( Jake ); Harry Carey, Jr. ( Harold ); Bob Steele ( Matt Harris ); Myron Healey ( Barfly ); Fred Graham and Tom Monroe ( Hired hands ); Riley Hill ( Messenger ).



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Rio Bravo
Rio Bravo


Films and Filming (London), 1959.

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Cabrera Infante, G., "Infante," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1994.

* * *

Rio Bravo is one of the supreme achievements (hence justifications) of "classical Hollywood," that complex network of determinants that includes the star system, the studio system, the system of genres and conventions, a highly developed grammar and syntax of shooting and editing, the interaction of which made possible an art at once personal and collaborative, one nourished by a rich and vital tradition: it is an art that belongs now to the past; the period of Rio Bravo was its last flowering.

The film at once is one of the greatest westerns and the most complete statements of the themes of director Howard Hawks. One can distinguish two main currents within the western genre, the "historical" and the "conventional": the western that is concerned with the American past (albeit with its mythology as much as its reality), and the western that plays with and develops a set of conventions, archetypes, "stock" figures. Ford's westerns are the finest examples of the former impulse, and in the westerns of Anthony Mann (for example, Man of the West ) the two achieve perfect fusion. Rio Bravo is among the purest of all "conventional" westerns. Here, history and the American past are of no concern, a point amply demonstrated by the fact that the film is a virtual remake (in its thematic pattern, its characters and character relationships, even down to sketches of dialogue) of Hawks's earlier Only Angels Have Wings (set in the Andes mountains) and To Have and Have Not (set on Martinique). Hawks's stylized and anonymous western town is not a microcosm of American civilization at a certain point in its development but an abstract setting within which his recurrent concerns and relationships can be played out. All the characters are on one level "western" archetypes: the infallible sheriff, the fallible friend, the "travelling lady," the garrulous sidekick, the comic Mexican, the evil land-baron. On another level, however, they are Hawksian archetypes: the overlay makes possible the richness of characterization, the detail of the acting, so that here the archetypes (western and Hawksian) achieve their ultimate elaboration. With this goes the remarkable and varied use Hawks makes of actors' personas: Martin, Dickinson, and Brennan have never surpassed (perhaps never equalled) their performances here, and the use of Wayne is etremely subtle and idiosyncratic, at once drawing on his "heroic" status and satirizing its limitations.

The film represents Hawks's most successful transcendence of the chief "binary opposition" of his work, its division into adventure films and comedies. Here the thematic concerns of the action pictures— self-respect, personal integrity, loyalty, stoicism, the interplay of mutual respect and affection—combines with the sexual tensions of the comedies (Wayne's vulnerability to women permitting a fuller development of this than is possible with, for example, Bogart in To Have and Have Not ). The ambiguous relationship of Hawks's work to dominant American ideological assumptions (on the one hand the endorsement of individualism and personal initiative, on the other the rejection of established society in favour of the "primitive" male group, the total lack of interest in such central American ideals as marriage, home and family) permeates the whole film. The "gay subtext" that many critics have sensed in Hawks's films—their tendency to become (in his own words) "love stories between men"—surfaces quite clearly in the Dean Martin-Ricky Nelson relationship, though it is never allowed expression beyond the exchange of looks and is swiftly "contained" within the group (a progression beautifully enacted in the famous song-sequence). Within a system necessarily committed, at least on surface level, to reinforcing the status quo, Hawks's cinema continuously suggests the possibility of alternative forms of social and sexual organization.

—Robin Wood

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