Rio Bravo is a 1959 western with John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson. It was produced and directed by Howard Hawks and was based on a short story of the same name. In 2014 the Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 2012 a Sight and Sound critic poll rated it the 2nd greatest Western of all time -in case your interested Wayne’s The Searchers came in at no.1
In Rio Wayne plays a sheriff who, after he arrests the brother of a powerful local rancher for murder, must protect his town and keep the prisoner in jail before said brother and his cronies arrive, and take the law into their own hands. To assist him with this he has a cripple, Stumpy, a drunk deputy, Dude, and a kid, Colorado. In other words the odds are not in his favour. Martin, in a move against typecasting, plays the drunk whilst Ricky Nelson plays Colorado. Hawks wanted a teen idol – think a Harry Styles of the day – to play the role but Elvis’ people were looking for too much money. And so young Mr Nelson got the part. And as for the role of Dude, well Monty turned it down due to differing political views from Hawks and Wayne. Sinatra was also a contender before Hawks settled on Martin. Dickinson, in her breakthrough role, plays Feathers, well, I’m not quite sure what her role is other than a piece of fluff, albeit a very attractive bit of fluff, who makes googly eyes at Wayne despite his apparent indifference to her womanly charms.
The film itself came about because Hawk and Wayne were apparently so incensed with High Noon, which they viewed as un-American, that they felt compelled to respond with a film as American as well, apparently Rio Bravo. Wayne was rather outspoken about his political views – some of which are very unPC -I’m thinking his stance re the white race in particular- but despite that, or because of it in some quarters, he is considered an icon of American values and ideals. Like him or loathe him, he does hold a particular place in our collective psyche. He is the epitome of rugged masculinity; the macho man who cowers before no man, the quintessential frontiersman forging a place for the individual against a backdrop of lawlessness and hostile terrain.
Okay so enough about the Duke and back to the movie. Westerns are not my thing, not my carpet bag so as to speak; however the kids didn’t want to watch one of my ‘Black & Whites’ – they wanted action, so this was the compromise. The verdict? There was plenty of action, quite a few laughs thanks to Stumpy, and we all agreed that none of us had a clue why Feathers was in the movie. Which says a lot….unfortunately. I thoroughly enjoyed Martin and Nelson’s little singing interlude – god what an incredibly smooth voice Martin had – and can appreciate why the Western Writers of America chose “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time. And there is something so terribly romantic about westerns – is it the setting? The appeal of the open, uncharted land? The dreams and hopes for this new society? The horse and sunsets? The smell? I’m not sure but I enjoyed Rio far more than I expected ; so tie up your horse, leave your muddy cowboy boots by the door, pour yourself a glass of amber coloured liquid and enjoy. Just remember – no spittin!!!