Ah, the West! There is no better way to spend a cold winter night than to stick on a sunny Western of shootouts, drinking and badass cowboys. Rio Bravo is considered an American masterpiece, perhaps John Wayne’s finest moment. A grumpy sheriff, a drunk, a cripple and a pretty boy tasked with holding a man in prison, fending off his brother’s men.
The story is simple, the setting is small. In Rio Bravo the sheriff Chance and his deputy Dude arrest a man for murder. The other part of the trio, Stumpy, keeps watch of this criminal within the sheriff’s office cells. Unfortunately for Chance and his buddies, the man they’ve arrested has a rich brother wanting him out no matter what. The gang must watch out for hired guns till the Marshall arrives to take the prisoner away and the story revolves around the challenges from these hired men. A simple story in a two-hour film leads for plenty of characterisation and gentler moments to compliment the action. It tends to go from the lads having a bit of banter in the office, then Dude and Chance going on a walk, some bar banter, then a scene of action. Repeat till cooked.
The pace may be following a stiff structure, but the characters are definitely engaging. John Wayne plays the lead as the grumpy sheriff, done well with a spot of romance with an attractive gambler on the run from a past life. He has the smarts to get the job done and has great trust in his men. A decent protagonist, but not the highlight of the cast.
Dude happens to be my favourite. A man driven to drinking after a girl leaves him behind, he is now attempting to quit but it is never so easy. His mood swings, back story and attempts to confront problems make for an incredibly engaging character, incredibly realistic in comparison to the pretty boy Colorado and Stumpy’s one note joke direction of never being told anything. Dude and Chance make the perfect team for on-screen entertainment and it really drives Rio Bravo as a great film, rather than one full of predictability and two-dimensional characters.
Thanks to the great cast and some persistent villains changing their tactics to the end, Rio Bravo brings in a great deal of tension when it steps away from the character relationships and funny foreign hotel host. The final shoot out had me on the edge of the seat as our likeable cast peek over corners, open to a bullet in the face. It isn’t a dark film so you can perhaps expect the outcome, but an investment has been made thanks to the films running time and you want to see the cast get through this.
Rio Bravo is a great Western, preceding Eastwood’s entrance into the genre with his bad ass attitudes. It may seem a touch dated in comparison to the evolution of the genre, but a good Western will forever remain that way.