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On one side is an army of gunmen determined to spring a murderous partner, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) from jail - on the other is Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) and his two deputies: Dude (Dean Martin), a recovering drunk, the other a lame old codger, Stumpy (Walter Brennan). Joining them is a self confident, smart youngster, Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson), and a woman with a colourful past (Angie Dickinson) - and her eye on Chance. When Joe's rich brother Nathan (John Russell) and his gang come to town to swell the numbers and get Joe, they have to get past the Sheriff and his little team.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are Cowboys & Indians westerns, there are shoot 'em up Westerns, there are comedy Westerns, there are pioneer Westerns and there are character driven Westerns where the hero is outnumbered by the bad guys - like High Noon. But unlike High Noon, Rio Bravo's Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) doesn't try and enlist the help of the hapless townsfolk to face up to the gang trying to get their man out of his jail. Chance relies on what he's got, which ain't much; a motor mouth old codger with a limp (Walter Brennan in brilliant form), and a drunk Dude (Dean Martin) trying to recover. Eventually they're joined by a resourceful young gun, Colorado Ryan (charismatic Ricky Nelson).

Howard Hawks tackles the excellent screenplay with verve and lets the dialogue work its way into our psyche as Chance tries to get his job done, Dude tries to stop drinking, and Feathers (Angie Dickinson) tries to get Chance. Also excellent in support roles are Pedro Gonzales Gonzales as Carlos the hotel keeper and Claude Akins as bad Joe Burdette.

Hawks was back from a hiatus in Europe and Wayne was back in the saddle after a couple of underwhelming pictures. Dean Martin flew back from his Las Vegas show for the meeting with Hawks, and that dedication got him the job. And Ricky Nelson was at the time a bigger star around the world than any of them, both from his own TV show and as a recording artist.

Needless to say, Hawks found a way to work in a scene where both Martin Nelson get to sing with Nelson playing guitar, while taking a breather in the jail they're holed up in. Angie Dickinson is at her sweetest, sexiest best here as the girl who falls for the Sheriff and gets some terrific, wry lines - which she delivers beautifully.

The story is simple enough, a baddie held in jail, his rich brother buying the gunslingers to spring him, with the Sheriff standing in the way, with just a handful of helpers. But the execution is superb in every department, making this one of the classics of the genre. Beautifully transferred, this special edition re-issue is bolstered with some great extras, including a half hour backgrounder on the film, which includes several interviews and an appreciation of the film. There is also a Howard Hawks profile and a backgrounder on Tucson, Arizona, where so many Westerns were shot, including Rio Bravo, even though the story is set in Texas. (You can see the wall map of Texas pinned to the wall in the Sheriff's office.)

Also valuable is the commentary available on Disc ont with the movie, by Richard Schickel (Time magazine's long time film critic and film historian), who is joined by John Carpeneter, a big fan of Hawks. They provide extra depth to the film's appreciation and enjoyment - not that it needs it. This is a classic Western you cannot miss.

February 26, 2009

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(US, 1959)

CAST: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, Walter Brennan, Estelita Rodriguez, Claude Akins

PRODUCER: Howard Hawks

DIRECTOR: Howard Hawks

SCRIPT: Jules Furthman, Leigh Blackett (short story by B.H. McCampbell)


EDITOR: Folmar Blangsted

MUSIC: Dimitri Tiomkin


RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: Commentary by film historian Richard Schickel with John Carpenter. [English, French, German, Italian subtitles] Disc 2: two featurettes; Howard Hawks career profile; Old Tucson: where the Legends Walked [English, French, German, Italian subtitles]

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: February 11, 2009 (reissue Special Edition)

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