Rio Bravo, a 1959 film directed by Howard Hawks and released during the height of tensions in America, the fear of Communism still hanging over the country, even post-Red Scare. John Wayne’s film Rio Bravo, which stars Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson reflects mainstream American Westerns of the time.
The story revolves around Claude Atkins’ character Joe Burdette. Throughout the film his own men struggle to get him released from jail, which eventually leads to a complete surrender of the lead roles. After having little to no experience watching American Westerns, I now appreciate them more. I’ve also come to see John Wayne and his roles differently.
While some shots were very limited, the impact and effectiveness of certain shots was used to understand the storyline. John Wayne, playing John T. Chance comes to Dude (played by Dean Martin)’s rescue in the opening scene of the movie. Dude appears in most of the close up shots throughout the movie. One close-up shows Dude angry, hitting himself on the leg, while another shows Feathers’ character shaving Dude’s head.
I thought the most effective close-up shot was the one before Dude and Joe’s men attacked him. It showed the reflection of Dude in the water. It surprised me, but it almost seemed to anticipate the attack. The film also used dissolve transitions to change the settings and speed up the physical time of the storyline.
Rio Bravo has some interesting technical features that are difficult to explain from a modern perspective. I was particularly intrigued by a scene from the film in which Joe Burdette teases Dude and makes jokes about him in his prison cell. Dude then responds to the taunts with a beer can, which breaks on impact. In movies today, this is easily achieved with computer-generated imagery, but since this wasn’t available at the time this film was produced, I’m curious how it was done. The effect of the bottle is very realistic, especially for a film released in 1959. In a subsequent scene, Dude and Ricky Nelson’s Colorado sing “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” It is my assumption that the song was prerecorded and performed live by the actors during filming. I would still like to know whether this is true.
This film, in comparison to modern movies, was able to deliver a strong performance with an ensemble cast I would consider “star studded” at the time. Many films today try to accomplish this feat by assembling a group of actors that are accomplished on their own, but who seem incompatible when paired together. The result is a movie that fails to be a box office success.
This film wouldn’t have been nearly as successful, if it had been directed by someone other than Howard Hawks. Or if John Wayne hadn’t played the lead role. Angie Dickinson, who played the love interest to John Wayne in the film was a character that was multi-dimensional and had many attitudes towards other characters’ actions.
Rio Bravo reflects its time accurately, as it echoes the American Westerns of that era and their impact on American culture. While the storyline was formulaic, it was entertaining and reflected the culture of America during that time. I was surprised at the success of the film and its cast. The film’s technical features were impressive, especially for its era. I can imagine that some scenes were difficult to create on a soundstage. Rio Bravo has helped me to appreciate Westerns in this era as well as John Wayne’s cultural impact.
Hawks, Howard, director. Rio Bravo. Rio Bravo (1959). Warner Bros. IMDb.com, 2018, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053221/?ref_=nv_sr_1.