A Movie A Day: Quint goes to Rio Bravo (1959)! Nothin’ in his stomach! Nothin’ but guts!
Published at: June 9, 2008, 6:12 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge and plowing through the hundreds of DVDs I own that I haven’t seen. Each day I’ll talk about a film I haven’t watched and each film will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we discuss RIO BRAVO, following Dean Martin over from SOME CAME RUNNING. And what a fantastic actor to follow into this movie.
Martin actually opens the film, at the bottom of his own personal barrel, a drunk that eyeballs one of Rio Bravo’s more notorious citizens as he buys drink after drink.
The entire opening is played with no dialogue and I fucking loved it. We get to know three very key characters to the story all through action. The villain, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), sees Martin’s character, Dude, is in a bad way, smirks and flips a coin into the spittoon.
Dude gets down on his knees and is about to stick his hand into it when someone kicks it over. The camera tilts up and sees John Wayne’s Sheriff John T. Chance with trademarked battered hat and pissed off attitude. It’s clear there’s no man in this saloon that intimidates him... and no man that can beat him up, either.
Dude hits him over the head unexpectedly and down he goes, allowing Joe to get away. He goes to another saloon and is followed, by both a dazed Wayne and pathetic Martin. It’s not until we’re in this saloon that we first hear anyone speak.
The main thrust of the flick is a fairly common western formula. They have a bad guy, the bad guy’s family/posse/friends want him back and they have to keep him from escaping. But there are only a few against a town where anybody can be paid $50 and be a hired killer.
And what a ragtag bunch we have for good guys. John Wayne is the strength of the group, Martin’s a drunk trying to kick his habit and then we have ol’ Stumpy (Walter Brennan), a gimp with a big mouth and even bigger shotgun.
What I loved most about Howard Hawks’ film was how it effortlessly played with Iconography, something I believe in my heart is what makes classic films classic and it’s something that is lost in much of today’s films. Wayne, Martin, Brennan, Angie Dickinson and even little Ricky Nelson, stunt casting if there ever was a case of it, all have iconic moments or are portrayed as such via Hawks’ framing.
In fact, what’s odd about this film is the rather vanilla villains. Usually a strong villain is what solidifies these movies and keeps them fun to watch, but there really isn’t a singular villain in the movie. Sure, there’s the jailed Joe Burdette and his rich brother, Nathan, who are the reasons the things are going on, but the bad guy is everybody and nobody. The suspense comes from not knowing who is bought, because it’s essentially everybody in the town against our little band of do-gooders.
In a way, it’s a horror movie. You could transplant the townspeople for podpeople if you wanted to and it’d be the same story.
There’s good reason why John Carpenter loves this film and you can see a lot of it in his work, especially in THE THING and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.
The cinematography by Russell Harlan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and another AMAD title, GUN CRAZY) is absolutely gorgeous. Rich, popping colors that looked even better as I watched this movie on Blu-Ray in high definition.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is incredible as well. His work is classic and here it’s as pounding and memorable as his most famous work on films like THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, GIANT and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE.
I will say that after such a huge build up I expected there to be a bigger finale than what was on-screen, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. The climax is exciting and inventive. When Stumpy pops up with a day-saving appearance, I wanted to cheer on my sofa… and then when he finds out he’s been in a gunfight for minutes, hunkering down beside a wagon full of dynamite, his reaction is priceless.
Brennan damn near steals the movie for me. With that voice he’s damn near a cartoon character, somebody just as much at home in a Looney Tunes ‘toon as he would be in beautiful Technicolor. But he’s hilarious and real… he’s somehow cantankerous and innocent. It’s a hard balance to strike, but he does it.
Martin’s work in this film is fantastic. He’s so vulnerable, yet strong when he’s called to it. He’s remembered now for being a drunkard (a persona I’ve heard was mostly an act) and just kind of silly overall, but the more I see of his stuff, the more I think he’s an underappreciated actor. He says so much with his eyes in this film. Very subtle work.
Dickinson is absolutely gorgeous, so gorgeous in this film that whenever she kisses John Wayne I found myself thinking, “But you’re young… you can do better than him!” Not only is she gorgeous, but she’s also fantastic in the film. The first scene between her and Wayne when he thinks she’s a card cheat is wonderful. She’s strong, she’s natural, she’s vulnerable… so many things at once. Can’t wait to follow her over to our next film.
Ricky Nelson can’t really act. It’s clear in the movie that his delivery is stilted at best. But strangely enough he feels part of this universe and fits within the rules of the story. He looks good with a gun in his hand and he’s “Aw Shucks” enough in real life to bring that over to the character of Colorado Ryan, a young, quick gun, who throws in his support with the good guys.
I don’t know if it was Hawks’ direction or just pure luck that this casting didn’t derail the movie, but it works.
That leaves Wayne himself. He sure is very John Wayne in this movie. There is only one John Wayne and he’s at the height of himself here.
Here’s what we have coming up in the next 7 days:
Tuesday, June 10th: POINT BLANK (1967)
Wednesday, June 11th: POCKET MONEY (1972)
Thursday, June 12th: COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
Friday, June 13th: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)
Saturday, June 14th: CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)
Sunday, June 15th: SCARLET STREET (1945)
Monday, June 16th: KILLER BAIT (aka TOO LATE FOR TEARS) (1949) Last thoughts on RIO BRAVO: Pretty simple, really. This is a classic for a reason. It’s a movie that’s just as fun to watch today as it was nearly 50 years ago when it was first released. Don’t wait as long as I did to see it.
Tomorrow comes POINT BLANK, starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. See you folks then!