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LGM Film Club, Part 347: Rio Bravo

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For my fourth post-birthday favorite film viewing, I chose a film that was highly unlikely the first three. Those are all Big War Movies. Intense. So I chose something with absolutely no socially redeeming value–Howard Hawks’ 1959 film Rio Bravo. I don’t think this is a great film, though it is a very good one. The story of one or three men against the odds due to lots of bad guys and cowardly everyday people was central to many of the great westerns. So you make John Wayne your law enforcement official, Walter Brennan his aging disabled deputy, and Dean Martin his former partner who is now a drunk trying to dry out and you have yourself a pretty good cast. I’ve always been surprised to find that Martin was pretty good in westerns, but he really does work well here.

Some of the other roles are a bit more questionably cast. Ricky Nelson was a very good singer, but is way out of his element as the Colorado Kid here. I have zero problem with Angie Dickinson, but casting her as a romantic lead opposite Wayne is totally ridiculous by 1959. He was 52, she was 28. And it’s not like there is any chemistry there either. Her and Dean would have worked well. But I guess our lead needs a girl.

One thing about Wayne–he’s a better actor within his limited range than he gets credit for. He was really intimidated working alongside Martin, who he knew could act circles around him. So he went to Hawks with his concerns and they worked through it. Wayne’s eyes watching Martin try not to destroy himself with booze may not be an acting class, but it’s certainly pretty good acting.

I find the ending somewhat unsatisfying. Largely, while SPOILER the good guys win, there’s not the cathartic destruction of the enemy like one expects. In fact, the only major character who dies is Wayne’s buddy Ward Bond, early in the film when he tries to stand up to the bad guys. Incidentally, Bond was one of the real fascists of Hollywood, somewhat way to right of, well, the rest of that right-wing cast and who thought Joe McCarthy didn’t go nearly far enough.

Anyway, I don’t think this is the best Wayne or Hawks, but it’s certainly still enjoyable over six decades after its release.

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