“Rio Bravo” is supposed to have been made in reaction to the movie “High Noon.” In that movie Gary Cooper is a sheriff who can’t find any townsmen to help him stand against an outlaw gang gunning for him. Howard Hawks and John Wayne were so affronted by what they saw as the whiny, “woe is me” feel of that movie they decided to make Rio Bravo as an alternative. Wayne would play the sheriff but with no angst. Basically, he refuses to deputize a large number of civilians to stand down a gang of outlaws who threaten to kill the sheriff if he doesn’t release the gang leader’s brother.
Wayne is Sheriff John T. Chance. His sometimes deputy but mostly just alcoholic friend is Dude, played by Dean Martin. They’re joined in their desperate but light hearted stand by Stumpy, a gimpy and hot-tempered old man played by Walter Brennan and Colorado, a resourceful young cowboy with a fast gun hand and a guitar played by Ricky Nelson. And finally, Angie Dickinson is a professional gambler who will be the love interest for Chance. For whatever reason the only name we’re given for her is Feathers.
The setup is as follows. While involved in an altercation with Dude in the saloon Joe Burdette (played by Claude Akins) kills a man. Chase arrests Joe and has Stumpy keep guard over him basically for the duration of the movie. Meanwhile an old friend of Chance’s, Pat Wheeler (played by Ward Bond) arrives in town with his crew and supplies. When he hears what is going on with Chance, he offers his associate Colorado as a deputy to help Chance hold off the Burdette gang that numbers in the dozens. Chance declines because he doesn’t want to involve Wheeler in the trouble. But Wheeler is murdered that night. After some back and forth in which members of the gang take Chance and Dude hostage more than once, Colorado comes aboard as a deputy.
As a side story Feathers arrives in town to play poker in the saloon but when a wanted poster shows up that seems to implicate her as a card cheat Chance tells her to leave town. But Colorado defends her saying that another player in the game was cheating. After catching the cheater with several aces up his sleeve, Feathers tells her side of the story. The poster was about her and her late husband. He had gotten into a crooked card game and paid for his crime with his life. For the rest of the movie whenever Chance and Feathers are together, they maintain an odd and annoying sort of awkward bickering cum flirting.
Meanwhile the climax of the movie arrives when Dude is taken hostage by Burdette’s gang and they demand a swap of Joe for Dude. The transfer involves the two men crossing a clearing in opposite directions. Joe is walking away from the barn where Chance, Colorado and Stumpy are holed up and Dude is walking away from the commercial building where the whole Burdette gang is arrayed. But when they reach each other in the middle Dude tackles Joe and forces him into some cover that is somehow much closer to Chance’s building than Burdette’s. After subduing Joe, Chance and his deputies begin a lively gun battle with Burdette’s gang. Eventually Chance’s side gets ahold of some dynamite and he does some fancy shooting to set off the explosives as Stumpy hurls it across the clearing toward the Burdette building. And finally Stumpy ties several sticks together and the final explosion takes most of the building down and the surviving gang members stumble out of the wreckage and surrender.
All that remains is for Chance and Feathers to complete their awkward courtship and declare their weird and annoying love.
So, this is a strange movie. It’s part western, part buddy movie and I guess a love story. Mixed into this is the fact that Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson are allowed to sing a few songs. I know I haven’t made it sound like a conventional western but the main story around the Burdettes is done extremely well, especially the action scenes. Wayne, Martin, Brennan and Nelson make for a very interesting team. I have seen this movie many times and still consistently enjoy this part of the plot. Now as for the “love story” I don’t know what to say. It’s just so out of place and unconvincing that I can’t even dislike it. It’s just this bizarro incursion into an otherwise normal movie. All I can do is hope that sometime in the future, technology will allow it to be excised from the movie.
I can highly recommend this to fans of westerns and John Wayne. Even the songs were very much in the tradition of the Roy Rogers, singing cowboy style. A good western.