- Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo is one of the easiest 141-minute watches in cinema history. Hawks had been working as a director for over twenty years at this point with seventeen (17) archiveable films already on his resume. But, in 1955, he had a financial failure (Land of the Pharaohs) and took an abnormally time to gestate between projects (there were even rumors he had lost “it” as he was now over sixty years old). The results in Rio Bravo are a supremely confident tone, a relaxed pace, a film of great chemistry, and one of the more influential films from a narrative standpoint of the back half of the twentieth century.
- Opens with a four-minute dialogueless sequence. Dude, an alcoholic, (played by a never better Dean Martin) is in a bar and there is a great low angle shot (above) of Dude looking up at John Wayne’s Sheriff John T. Chance.
- Leigh Brackett’s screenplay is one of the best of the 1950s, but the casual harmony of the cast is all Hawks. Wayne is effortlessly excellent, and he has real chemistry with Angie Dickinson despite the age difference. Hawks was not only a master of the genre, but another Hawksian’ touch is the way lovers in his films argue and banter with each other (going back to Bringing Up Baby and earlier in the screwball days). There is undeniable chemistry between the men holed up in the jailhouse as well– the “barfly and the cripple” (Martin and Walter Brennan). These are some of the best scenes in the film. Wayne kisses Walter Brennan’s Stumpy on the head and Stumpy slaps him with the broom. Ricky Nelson is a bit stiff next to the other three naturals surrounding him, but he is not bad. Wayne is the center of it all (Dickinson and Brennan do not have any scenes together for example).
- The sweating, shaking Deano is given his The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) role like his Rat Pack buddy Sinatra.
- The film’s influence can be felt in the premises of films by George Romero (Dawn of the Dead, 1978) and John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13, 1976)
- The film is not perfect- there is too much of the hotel owner Carlos. Though, I am a defender of the famous four-minute music interlude (and unabashedly strategic play for some commercial business) at the 106-minute mark. Dean Martin is the essence of cool here in his relaxed baritone with the hat over his eyes as he smokes and croons (above). This is sort of one of the first music videos -both Martin and Ricky Nelson were two of the biggest musicians at the time of the film’s release. This is years ahead of A Hard Day’s Night.
- The greatest shot in the film (and this is not a strength of the film, or Hawks, by any stretch) is at the 127-minute mark as Wayne’s swinging hips walk out towards the final showdown. Hawks obstructs the right half to the screen, thus cutting the frame in half with the barn door on the right creating a frame within the screen frame. It is a slippery slope overpraising Hawks or Rio Bravo for its clean, seamless classical style. This style (the largely invisible kind) is at least a cousin to sheer absence of style. Most often these critics are mistaking the relaxed “style” of Hawks- they really mean the comfortable tone Hawks’ presides over.
- There is also a fascinating read of this film as a direct response to Zinnemann’s High Noon. Hawks and Wayne disliked the premise and politics of it (though they had to admire the craftsmanship and score- Dimitri Tiomkin does the score for both).
- “Rio Bravo is to see a master craftsman at work. The film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong. It is uncommonly absorbing, and the 141-minute running time flows past like running water.” – Roger Ebert – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rio-bravo-1959
- A must see film- top five of the year quality
@Zane – lol I assume you’re referring to the downgrade from MP to MS?
First they came for Inglourious Basterds – and I did not speak out, because I did not know of this site when they came for Inglourious Basterds
Then they came for The Piano – and I did not speak out because I had not seen The Piano
Then they came for The Apartment – and I did not speak out because I had not seen The Apartment
Then they came for Rio Bravo – and there was nobody left to speak for Rio Bravo
Clever… and I largely agree with the sentiment… but you do realize the text you’re riffing off of here is about the Nazis, right?
@Zane – lol
I mean I agree that all the films you listed are still MP in my book, especially Inglorious Basterds but I certainly do not take it as a personal insult from Drake, aside from the fact that it’s his site I would find it strange if I agreed with every opinion of his. I love Roger Ebert as much as anyone but he has numerous grades I strongly disagree with.
I think there is a clear pattern to the MPs he downgrades and that is they are usually tremendous screenplays that may (in his opinion) lack what he refers to as “artistic bravado” of some of the other MPs. I noted on the 1997 page the downgrading of LA Confidential from a MP to a MS and that film would seem to also fit this pattern. And for the record I still think that one is a MP (watched it a couple of nights ago) but again I respect the opinion.
@James Trapp- I think you’re on to something here.
Like Matt Harris said, this is a clever if a little insensitive use of a Holocaust quote.
Damn, this used to be borderline top 100, now its MS. What changed your opinion so much?
Also to be clear i did read your review here, i just dont see how those things could drop a film from almost top 100 to a MS
@Big chungus. I’m going to try to largely let the page speak for itself. I do not consider a Must-See an insult of a grade by any means. I adore Rio Bravo. I thought the page made it clear there are some limitations of what it is going for. It succeeds marvelously at what it attempts, but what it attempts is not on the same plane as most masterpieces.
@Drake – Just a quick question
You have Hawks top 5 ranked as the following:
1.The Big Sleep
2. Bringing Up Baby
3. Rio Bravo
4. Red River
5. His Girl Friday
With all 5 of these ranked as MPs
Does this mean you still have Red River and His Girl Friday ranked as MP and are simply lowering Rio Bravo?
@James Trapp – In this case I was just tackling Rio Bravo. I think I’m moving too fast trying to watch the next film to typically sit and think about where each film ranks in the year’s ranking or where it ranks among the auteur’s work. I usually just start thinking about it when I put the page together for that year, or that auteur.
Fair enough… ya i definitely think its a great film, but for me it would be around top 300 maybe, but i havent done a thorough ranking yet. Thanks for clarification. Keep up the good work!!!
@Big chungus- Appreciate it, thank you!
i totally agree with @drake evaluation and argument on rio bravo.the movie is perfect but his ambition is too limited and to be quite honest I think the film has a bit aged and it is far from being compared to western like liberty valance,my darling clementine without even mentioned the searchers