Rio Bravo (1959)

Director: Howard Hawks

This was one I was looking forward to revisiting tonight, cos I recall having liked it a lot whenever I last saw it (early noughts). And, well, yeah, I… kind of didn’t like it so much tonight. I noted in my review of Silver Lode how High Noon… influenced that film, shall we say, and it influenced this one too, in the other direction; John Wayne (who apparently got offered the Will Kane role first but refused it because he supported the HUAC blacklist) and Howard Hawks were so disgruntled by it that they made this as a response… appalled by Zinnemann’s presentation of a sheriff begging for help and needing others to back him up, they instead went for a sheriff surrounded by so much help he can afford to refuse offers of it. It’s a classically “Hawks” macho set-up, which the DVD commentary compares to a family, Wayne the patriarch, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson as the “sons”, Walter Brennan as the somewhat eccentric “uncle” perhaps… and, of course, Angie Dickinson as the somewhat token female who is, in her own way, as manly as the actual men. (The bromance is still more interesting than the romance.) Yet on this rewatch, I was kind of surprised by how relatively little happens in the 135 minutes Rio Bravo craps on for, which is possibly an odd thing to say given how many subplots it has, but it’s kind of light on action for the most part… and that was a bit of a problem for me, cos when you consider the actual narrative situation—sheriff has a local rancher locked up for murdering someone, the latter’s rather wealthy brother hires assorted scum to blockade the town and menace the sheriff so he can’t get out of the place—I was a bit surprised by how little tension it generated. The whole thing just felt plodding, although the commentary notes the slow pace is actually usually considered one of its selling points, letting Hawks have time to digress and build character relationships. And, yeah, he does that… I just felt he could’ve done it more tightly and at rather less length. Disappointed.

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