Friday, 17 October 2014
Movie Review: Rio Bravo (1959)
A classic few-against-many western, Rio Bravo is a study of determination against the odds. The story of a sheriff and his two allies doggedly holding out against the overwhelming forces of a corrupt businessman is a thrilling standoff in defence of what is right.
As the siege grips the town, Chance gradually gains a few allies. Young gunslinger Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson) first insists on minding his own business but starts to change his mind after his mentor Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) is killed by Nathan's men. Meanwhile card shark Feathers (Angie Dickinson) arrives in town and catches Chance's eye. Nathan intensifies his efforts to intimidate and threaten Chance into releasing Joe, but the lawman and his allies are determined to bring Joe to justice, leading to a series of ever more violent skirmishes with Nathan's men.
Rio Bravo is a masterpiece of mounting tension, as a state of physical and psychological siege creates a perfect canvass for classic western themes. Chance, Stumpy and Dude have to defend a shrinking perimeter around the jailhouse, their enemies already present inside and outside the town, and ready to pounce at any instant and upon any sign of weakness. And Chance's allies are far from perfect or dependable. Dude's battle against the bottle hangs in the balance, and the movie opens with a brilliant, dialogue-free scene of Dude reduced to retrieving coins from a spittoon to get yet another drink. Stumpy is an old-timer, trigger happy but handicapped by a limp leg and a caustic attitude.
The script by Jules Furthman Leigh and Brackett Hawks mixes plenty of character interaction and development with bursts of action to keep the pressure building. By the time Hawks unleashes all the guns to explode into action for the raucous final showdown, Chance and his friends are remarkably well developed, having faced down their real demons and come to terms with their destinies.
John Wayne is iconic as John T. Chance ("T for trouble", according to Feathers), a man who knows his role, ready with an answer for everything but reduced to a puddle of uncertainty when placed in the cross hairs of Feathers' affection. Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson rarely had better roles. Martin is the most complex character in the film, Dude struggling against his past potential, present dependency and unsure if he deserves a second chance for a better future. Dickinson is a combination of confidence and sensuality that allows Feathers to match wits and stubborn commitment with Chance.
Rio Bravo celebrates righteous struggles against enemies both external and internal. As is often the case, winning the fight against self-doubt makes disposing of outside foes that much easier.
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