Rio Bravo (1959)

Rio Bravo (1959)

“Next time they’ll shoot first and laugh afterwards.”

After arresting the murderous brother (Claude Akins) of a local rancher (John Russell) and throwing him in jail, sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) enlists help from his limping deputy Stumpy (Walter Brennan), an alcoholic former-deputy named Dude (Dean Martin), and a young sharpshooter named Colorado (Ricky Nelson) in guarding Akins until help arrives; meanwhile, he falls for a beautiful young dance hall girl (Angie Dickinson) named Feathers.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Angie Dickinson Films
  • Dean Martin Films
  • Howard Hawks Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Masculinity
  • Romance
  • Sheriffs and Marshals
  • Walter Brennan Films
  • Ward Bond Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary opens his review of this classic western by writing that “Howard Hawks made this film in reaction to High Noon because he was so upset that it had a lawman who begs civilians to help in a crisis.” He notes that this “slam-bang, exciting, funny western is quintessential Hawks: it is unabashedly commercial yet personal; is about a group of heroic men of action who work together for a common moral purpose; expresses a masculine code of conduct based on courage, loyalty, perseverance, and expertise; has a female lead who impresses the male lead by having what he believes are (positive) masculine traits (i.e., independence, loyalty, inner fortitude, guts) and at the same time excites him with her femininity; contains action, humor, and [a] large dose of dialogue; is filmed with a functional, unobtrusive camera; and has a happy ending.”

He adds that “Hawks’s men are allowed to be scared, but, like Dude, they must put themselves on the line when scared to prove they are worthy men to themselves and their male friends.” For Hawks, “a man is defined not by how well he relates to women — he is mystified by them — but by how well he handles pressure and reacts to danger. It’s okay that Dude (the film’s pivotal character) wants help from his friends, but when the chips are down and they need his assistance, Dude must be dependable. Along with the word ‘proficient,’ ‘dependable’ is how Hawks defines ‘good,’ the highest rating a person can have in a Hawks film.” Peary points out that Rio Bravo “has many terrific scenes,” and asserts it remains “one of the all-time great westerns.”

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s review (excerpted from his longer analysis in his first Cult Movies book), and I consider this a must-see film on numerous levels. However, it’s a film I admire more than enjoy — perhaps because I tend to prefer more economical westerns that pack a punch in ~1.5 hours (Rio Bravo is a leisurely 141 minutes). I’m most impressed by Martin’s performance: he shows true depth of character as an alcoholic wracked by hand-shaking nerves and tremens, who knows his reputation has gone down the drain and is willing to push past his own failings to step up to the work that needs doing.

It’s also enormously refreshing to know a happy ending awaits our motley crew; this makes watching the suspenseful, well-filmed final shoot-out just that much more exciting.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the ensemble cast

  • Russell Harlan’s cinematography

  • Numerous memorable moments

Must See?
Yes, as a classic western by a master director.


  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Rio Bravo (1959)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Classic western with a great Dean Martin performance. A must.

  2. Not must-see, but it’s a solid-enough entry for fans of westerns. Personally, I think it’s a little needlessly long.

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