Review: Rio Bravo (1959)


Howard Hawks’ answer to High Noon!

Screenplay By: Leigh Brackett & Jules Furthman
Directed By: Howard Hawks

In 1952 the movie High Noon was released and almost immediately Howard Hawks and John Wayne were up in arms over the almost feeble nature of Gary Cooper’s sheriff. For their money real Western men, especially Western sheriff’s, are tough and tumble and would never go from person to person begging for help. It took a while, but with Rio Bravo Wayne and Hawks put together their answer to High Noon. While it may be Hawks way of denouncing the sort of ideas put forth by High Noon, the movies don’t have much in common outside of the fact they are Westerns and the lead character in each is a sheriff. Rio Bravo is about a group of men more than it is any individual and it is about the idea of what makes a man.

Obviously in the world of Wayne and Hawks men are men, they are tough, not the least bit cowardly and ready to go at a moments notice. But, they aren’t boors, they are men with morals and drive to their characters. It is when highlighting the idea of what constitutes a man that Rio Bravo is at its best. It can be said that John Wayne doesn’t do much different with his character in Rio Bravo than in any other countless Westerns he starred in, but that is missing the point. His character isn’t supposed to be deep or different, Chance is the Western icon, how we want our Western men to be, whether they actually were like that or not. The same is true for the rest of the characters in Rio Bravo, they may have their problems but when the chips are down they can be counted on, that is how men are supposed to act after all.

Rio Bravo isn’t a film with a gray area, the landscape is clearly black and white. There are good guys and there are bad guys and the themes presented are very simple as is the siege story. This is both a strength of the film and its greatest weakness. Its simplicity is a strength because as dumb as it may sound, it keeps things simple. Sometimes base emotions are all that matter, and Rio Bravo is a film all about base emotions, both in its characters and in its viewers. However, the simplicity of Rio Bravo does become a major hindrance to the picture. For the story that Rio Bravo seeks to tell too much time is taken, the movie is stretched far too thin. Much like the simplicity of its characters and themes, the movie needs to hit and go. But, Hawks likes to linger and have scenes that are set up as nothing but thinking sessions, and they really aren’t needed. Rio Bravo is a good thirty minutes too long and it shows.

There were some other small problems with Rio Bravo, but they weren’t so bad as to deserve a mention. Rio Bravo is a good film, one that works well within its strength but suffers from trying to be more than it is. Rio Bravo is worth checking out, just be prepared for parts of it to drag as it tries to stretch itself out. As for the comparison to High Noon, I think it’s clear which is the far superior film, and that would be High Noon. But, that doesn’t mean Rio Bravo is chopped liver, it’s simply a good film whereas High Noon is a great film, but there’s nothing wrong with a good film.





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