Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Because all we really did this weekend was watch TV on DVD and take long walks, I'm still talking about movies I saw Friday. For that night's first film please see yesterday's entry.* The second of these movies was the ruddily Technicolor Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959),* a western so deeply iconic that many of its motifs are generally considered universal for the genre.* In a dialog-free opening, Sheriff Chance (John Wayne) confronts brute blackhat Joe Burdette in a rough whiskey joint. Burdette's harassing the sheriff's drunkard former deputy by offering him liquor money if he'll stoop to retrieving it from the saloon's spittoon. When fighting ensues, Burdette shoots a bystander and finds himself jailed for cold-blooded killing. Incidentally, Burdette is the thuggish enforcer of his older brother's villainous band of outlaws, who pledge to free the jailbird during the last days before a marshal's to arrive with hanging authority. The sheriff has his own tribe: the aforementioned drunkard--a sultry Dean Martin at wits end after a soured marriage, and crippled old staple Walter Brennan, in true Pa Kettle form, who spends the movie holding a shotgun on the jailhouse door. There's also Ricky Nelson, the young mercenary gunslinger with untested allegiances. Between these archetypes the movie simply excels, locating a beating heart in each character while nonchalantly riffing on human nature and bonding in the west as, incidentally, tensions mount throughout a week where everyone will be tested. Howard Hawks always includes some unbuttoned male heartthrob, delivering a naturalistic and sultry performance that slaps some sex appeal into a genre usually regarded as fustily macho. Even John Wayne wanders these frames in a relaxed incarnation of the usual bravado, the fatherly sheriff of a wayward family, who's more comfortable smiling than drawing lines in the sand. [Cavin]

Then, a 2 sided conversation ensued...

To which Blogger Mr. Cavin added:

* This may be because the movie has been remade so many times. Howard Hawks himself remade it as the mildly less playful El Dorado (1966)* again with Wayne and starring Robert Mitchum in Dino's drunken lawman role. Then he remade it again, albeit a little more loosely and including an intricate Civil War back-story, as Rio Lobo (1970),* starring Wayne yet again. Among the scores of movies owing more than a passing nod to its influence: John Carpenter's stripped-down Assault on Precinct 13* which itself spawned a remake, though that remake is nearly worthless. Full disclosure: while Rio Bravo probably lacks the high artistic merit of the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance* or High Noon,* the laughs and heartbreak of Cat Ballou,* or the sweeping spectacle of any Mesa Valley cattle-drive movie, it has been my very favorite western, or tied for first with the Michum remake, since I was still young enough to attempt ranking these things. I see no reason to demote it now: it was every bit as good again this time around.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007 4:01:00 AM  
To which Blogger Ian McDowell added:

I love it, too, although I don't find it as ultimately moving as the great Ford westerns. One advantage the first remake has is the casting of the equivalent roles. Mitchum is better than Martin (although Martin is actually good), and James Caan is MUCH better than Ricky Nelson. But BRAVO has Angie Dickinson, and it was first. I also love HATARI, which (like THE BIG SLEEP), was also scripted by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK's Leigh Brackett, who was hired because she was Hawk's favorite detective story writer (he didn't know she was a woman!).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 12:27:00 PM  

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