Rio Bravo

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(1959, directed by Howard Hawks)

- inducted 2015 –

"There’s a question that always nags me when I look at the work of Howard Hawks, and especially his masterpiece, Rio Bravo— did Hawks perfect the Hollywood style, or was his talent in subverting it? It’s hard to tell in many ways; Hawks took control of his projects as producer early in his career, but never really left the studio system. In Rio Bravo, he works with towering stars like John Wayne and Dean Martin, takes a genre that essentially died through the next decade, and follows a three act structure with clear goals and motivations by each character. It’s all shot on constructed sets, with level-headed camera placement (except for one all too memorable shot of Martin staring up at a scowling Wayne), and a couple of enjoyable songs (because if you’ve got both Martin and Ricky Nelson and don’t have a couple songs, you’re probably doing something wrong).

"Quentin Tarantino has always described Rio Bravo one of the great 'hangout movies.' However, such a description betrays the intricacy of the Hawk’s rhythmic attention to narrative and character, built out of the screenplay by Leigh Brackett. Hawks’s films are not made up of individual scenes but elaborately fluid sequences, each moment naturally leading into the next to avoid clear breaks in the action that would register as 'plot.' Take one 25 minute sequence: Wayne’s John T. Chance notices that recovering alcoholic Dude (Martin) is having a particularly bad night of the shakes as they hole up in the jail where prisoner Joe Burdette waits. Chance suggests 'a walk on the town' to get him out of his weariness, which leads them to the local hotel where Chance speaks with Ward Bond about his tough situation. There, he notices a woman winning more than her fair share at poker, and follows her up stairs to confront her about her past. When Feathers (Angie Dickinson) turns out to be telling the truth, Chance heads back down to reveal the real cheater. Just at that moment, Bond’s character is shot outside the hotel, leading Chance and Dude to follow the killer into a barn and then to a rival bar, where Dude must search out the killer hidden there, climaxing in another non-Hawksian shot of a man perched in an attic, getting the bullet he had coming to him and proving his worth. The question that the film posed over 25 minutes ago— has Dude’s alcoholism erased all his sharpshooting talents away?— is finally answered through a series of naturally following conclusions.

"This is what made Hawks unique to cinema. You could label it as realism or classicism or whatever you like, but Hawks understood that rhythm was the most important element of cinema. He often went over budget not for any elaborate sequences but because he spent overtime rehearsing his actors, trying to nail the right pace of dialogue and shorten things out so the story would flow without feeling constructed. Character motivations and action become simple so that everything feels like it occurs in the present (look for the entire back story of Stumpy, Walter Brennan’s character, reduced to a simple line he tells Nathan Burdette). Plot and character are everything to Hawks, but it’s rarely emphasized in the way other Hollywood films often do. Shots often run much longer (up to two minutes), but the rhythm of the dialogue and character movement means we become ignorant to the lack of editing. And as Robin Wood’s 'Cowboy Cop' points out, the film has little that defines it as a Western beyond some simple iconography, only used to create the plausibility of the situation. Hawks makes the skeletal background of Rio Bravo all but invisible to us. Instead, we pay attention to the one-liners, the actors, the beautiful dresses, the excitement, the songs, the suspense, the gunfights, and finally the big kiss. We pay attention to the reasons we really go to the movies."

~ Peter Labuza

Principal cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, Estelita Rodriguez, Claude Akins, Malcolm Atterbury
Screenplay by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett
Based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell
Produced by Howard Hawks
Director of photography: Russell Harlan
Art direction by Leo K. Kuter
Set decoration by Ralph S. Nurst
Costume design by Marjorie Best
Film editing by Folmar Blangsted
Original music by Dmitri Tiomkin
Makeup by Gordon Bau
Sound by Robert B. Lee
Stunt coordinator: Yakima Canutt

USA
Duration: 141 minutes
Languages: English, Spanish
Filmed in color
Sound mix: mono (RCA Sound Recording)
Cinematographic process: spherical
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Printed film format: 35mm

Produced by Warner Bros. and Armada Productions
Released in USA by Warner Bros.
Premiered in USA on 18 March 1959

Awards and honors:
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 15 July 2009
- DGA Awards: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures – Howard Hawks (nominated)