Fun Every Time You Watch it: Rio Bravo
I guess the fact that I am infatuated with Westerns shouldn’t surprise me – my dad was one of the three biggest Westerns fans in the entire world. Literally, the first movies I remember watching involve cowboys, dirt roads, shootouts, ladies in long skirts, and lots of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. Even some of my earliest television memories are of Gunsmoke.
Now married to another Western fan, my love for the genre continues. I was once asked who I preferred in Westerns, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. I told them that was like asking me to choose between coffee and sweet tea – the answer is whichever one’s in front of me at the moment.
Two of my favorite all-time Westerns are Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1966). Even today, they’re just good, clean, outrageous fun to watch. I actually feel sorry for anyone who can’t sit back and enjoy a good old movie and simply take it for what it is. F-U-N.
Although I love James Caan’s Mississippi in El Dorado about as much as I love any movie character (and Robert Mitchum is mesmerizing as Sherrif J.P. Harrah ), I’d say my favorite of the two is Rio Bravo…. but just by a “feather.”
John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson, and Ricky Nelson – with a cast like this, how could it not be a classic? Although it’s darn near impossible to pick any out of that group, I’d (personally) say that Martin, Dickinson, and Brennan make the movie extra special.
In a pretty limited role – Carlos Robante, as Pedro, is also the very definition of scene-stealer.
Plot: In a small town in Texas, John Wayne is Sheriff John T. Chance. Along with his “drunk” deputy/friend, Dude (portrayed brilliantly by Dean Martin), a crankly old man deputy with a limp “Stumpy” (Walter Brennan at his best), and a singing young sure-shot named Colorado (a VERY young Ricky Nelson), he has to keep an eye on a murderer whose very wealthy and powerful brother is trying to break out of jail. As if Sheriff Chance doesn’t have his hands full with these characters, a beautiful distraction named Feathers (beautifully played by Angie Dickinson) comes to town on the stagecoach. She’s mysterious, chatty, and filled with equal amounts of energy and trouble.
Let the games begin!
I could watch this movie once a week and never complain – even though I’m pretty sure I could quote every line that comes out of “Stumpy” and “Feathers.” How are you going to miss with names like those? The wonderful Walter Brennan (Stumpy) and too gorgeous to even be believed or forgiven Angie Dickinson (Feathers) are at their best – and that’s saying something.
If you’ve never watched Rio Bravo or El Dorado, I’d whole-heartedly recommend buying the DVDs. You’ll fall in love with both movies. If you HAVE seen them, watch them again.
Somehow they just get better and better with each viewing.
My Rifle, My Pony, and Me/Cindy – Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan:
Rio Bravo Trivia
- The sets were built to 7/8th scale, so the performers look larger than life.
- Ricky Nelson celebrated his 18th birthday during filming of Rio Bravo.
- Director Howard Hawks didn’t want Ricky Nelson in the role of Colorado. He thought he was too young and unproven to handle his own with Martin and Wayne. He was so sour on the idea that he deliberately gave Nelson the fewest possible number of lines he could for a third-billed star. Undoubtedly, after Ricky Nelson proved himself (and surely helped with the success of the movie), he realized he’d been wrong.
- Howard Hawks’ first choice for Colorado was actually Elvis Presley! Elvis was excited about the idea but his manager asked for too much money along with… get this.. top billing! Over John Wayne! Naturally Hawks and Wayne would have none of it, so the search for Colorado continued. Elvis Presley went on to join the US army in March 1958, two months before filming of Rio Bravo began.
- One of the movie’s most famous fans is none other than actor/producer/writer Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has said that before he enters into a relationship with a girl, he shows her Rio Bravo. If she doesn’t like it, the deal is off – there is no relationship! I can appreciate that.
- John Wayne was 51 during the filming of Rio Bravo.
- Montgomery Clift, who happened to be a very liberal Democrat, turned down the role of Dude because he’d have to work with very conservative Republicans John Wayne and Walter Brennan. Clift suggested Dean Martin for the role and the rest is history.