Rio Bravo [1959]

Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan
Genre: Western
Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 141 minutes

When it comes down to naming the best Western of all time, the list usually narrows to three completely different pictures: John Ford's The Searchers, Howard Hawks's Red River, and Hawks's Rio Bravo. About the only thing they all have in common is that they all star John Wayne. But while The Searchers is an epic quest for revenge and Red River is a sweeping cattle-drive drama ("Take 'em to Missouri! Yeeee-hah!"), Rio Bravo is on a much more modest scale. Basically, it comes down to Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne), his sobering-up alcoholic friend Dude (Dean Martin), the hotshot new kid Colorado (Ricky Nelson), and deputy-sidekick Stumpy (Walter Brennan), sittin' around in the town jail, drinkin' black cofee, shootin' the breeze, and occasionally, singin' a song. Hawks--who, like his pal Ernest Hemingway, lived by the code of "grace under pressure"--said he made Rio Bravo as a rebuke to High Noon, in which sheriff Gary Cooper begged for townspeople to help him. So, Hawks made Wayne's Sheriff Chance a consummate professional--he may be getting old and fat, but he knows how to do his job, and he doesn't want amateurs getting mixed up in his business; they could get hurt. This most entertaining of movies also achieved some notoriety in the '90s when Quentin Tarantino (director of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Jackie Brown) revealed that he uses it as a litmus test for prospective girlfriends. Oh, and if the configuration of characters sounds familiar, it should: Hawks remade Rio Bravo two more times--as El Dorado in 1967, with Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and James Caan; and as Rio Lobo in 1970, with Wayne, Jack Elam, and Christopher Mitchum. --Jim Emerson

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