Rio Bravo (1959) – reviewed by George

There are six stars billed above the title in this Western: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond. And there are six supporting players billed below the title: John Russell, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, Estelita Rodriguez, Claude Akins, Malcolm Atterbury, and Harry Carey Jr. All of the performances are excellent, but Walter Brennan pretty much steals the movie – about half of his lines elicit a hearty chuckle and some of those a big laugh, not so much because of the lines but because of Brennan’s delivery. And Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez is funny too, for the same reason.
An old-style film, the opening credits take only 1:30, and the closing credits consist entirely of “The End”. After the opening credits the action begins and goes on for 3:13 before anyone speaks. And in that time Howard Hawks, the director/producer, and Jules Furthman and Leigh Bracket, the screenwriters (from a short story by B.H. McCampbell), have established, without dialogue, that Dean Martin is a desperate drunk with no self-respect, John Wayne is the town’s sheriff, and Claude Akins is the baddest of bad guys: cruel and murderous.
There aren’t many vistas because the film is purposely claustrophobic, mostly limited to the small town’s main street and the buildings on it: the jail, the hotel, the bar. And the movie seemed a bit slow until I realized that there is almost no temporal ellipsis – just about the only moments we don’t see are those when everybody is asleep. The Director of Photography is Russell Harlan, and he is really talented.
The score by Dimitri Tiomkin is really fine too, and there are two original songs with music by Tiomkin and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.
The plot is simple: Wayne arrests Akins for murder and then has to hold him until the U.S. Marshall can arrive – six days. John Russell (TV’s Lawman) is a wealthy rancher who is also Akins’s brother, has many men at his disposal, and is intent on getting his brother out of jail. Wayne has a drunk and an old cripple, and later a young kid who is good at fast-draw shooting, and is even more determined to keep Akins in jail. So yes, the plot is simple and something you may have seen before, but this telling pulls you in and keeps you entertained so well with its original take on an old story that you may end the viewing feeling you’ve never seen this particular tale.
As for the songs, in a quiet moment the night before the big showdown, with Ricky on guitar, Ricky and Dean duet on “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me”, and considering that these guys are pop legends still, there’s something touching about hearing them sing together. Then they are joined by Walter Brennan on “Get Along Home, Cindy”. Not as touching, but still a gem.
This movie is simply a classic Western with a great director and crew and a stellar cast, and everyone at the top of their game. If you’ve only seen Dean Martin in Martin and Lewis comedies or in the Matt Helm films, you will be surprised at the depth he achieves with his portrayal of a hopeless drunk.
One final note: I looked for Malcolm Atterbury and Harry Carey Jr., but never saw them. imdb.com says their scenes were deleted. So why leave their names on the finished film? And the movie has a copyright date of 1958 – what’s that about?

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