Wednesday, June 7th, was the 100th birthday of the legendary crooner Dean Martin. Rio Bravo (1959), starring John Wayne, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan, was one of Martin's first films after his split with long-time film partner Jerry Lewis (they began appearing in nightclub acts together in 1946 and made 16 movies between 1949 and 1956). And it is also one of my favorite of his roles.
In 2005 my uncle brought some recorded VHS tapes to give us when he came to visit. One had Rio Bravo and North to Alaska on it. My brothers and I watched those two films on a loop for over a month, whenever we had a moment (aka mom was gone and we were left to our own devices). They may not be Oscar-worthy films, but they are pure entertainment.
Rio Bravo, the film I am reviewing today, was based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell of the same name. Howard Hawks, who had been on a four year break from directing after a flop, took on this film supposedly as a response to High Noon (1952), which portrayed a sheriff who goes around the town asking for help against a gang of killers. In Rio Bravo, the sheriff, played by the one and only John Wayne, goes up against Nathan Burdette (John Russell), a man who pays others to do his dirty work, with just a drunk and an old man.
Are you calling me a drunk?
John Wayne plays John T. Chance (the "T." stands for Trouble). Dean Martin plays Dude, his drunk deputy who used to be good... real good. Now he's a town joke called Borochón, which means "drunk" in Spanish. Walter Brennan is the lovable Stumpy who walks with a limp. Other characters include Ward Bond as Pat Wheeler, who offers to help Chance and is killed for it, Ricky Nelson as Colorado, a young gunslinger who was in Wheeler's employ and now wants to get the man who shot his boss, and Angie Dickinson as Feathers, a woman who fits a lot of descriptions of a known card cheater's girlfriend. And of course the film wouldn't be complete without Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, who plays Carlos. He owns the hotel/bar and is another loyal friend to Chance.
Mr. Martin, who combines a lethargic and casual manner to perfection, and Mr. Brennan, who can do more with a cackle or a horse laugh than most, give "Rio Bravo" the added notches that raise it above the average Western.
When you really, really want that iced coffee, I mean... beer ;)
After arresting Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder, Chance has to hole up at the jail to wait for the Marshall to arrive. Nathan Burdette, Joe's brother, is a powerful man who will do anything to get him out of jail.
You're a rich man, Burdette... big ranch, pay a lot of people to do what you want 'em to do. And you got a brother. He's no good but he's your brother. He committed twenty murders you'd try and see he didn't hang for 'em.
Let's get this straight. I don't like a lot of things. I don't like your men sittin' on the road bottling up this town. I don't like your men watching us, trying to catch us with our backs turned. And I don't like it when a friend of mine offers to help and twenty minutes later he's dead! And I don't like you, Burdette, because you set it up.
There is a brief period of quiet before the action goes down and, since a Dean Martin movie wouldn't be complete without him singing a song AND you have Ricky Nelson in the cast, what better time for a duet?
If the tune sounds familiar, that's because it's the theme from Red River (1948) also starring John Wayne and directed by Howard Hawks. You can here the original theme here. The lyrics are in the comments.
Dean Martin also recorded another song titled "Rio Bravo" that, except for the last two lines, is not sung in the film. It was released as a single at the same time as the movie.
By the memory of a song,
While the river Rio Bravo rolls along.
Only the last two lines of the song are sung in the movie as Dude and Stumpy walk "into the sunset" at the end.
Before the end of the movie however, there is a rousing gunfight involving explosives and fist fights. And throughout the film Chance and Feathers argue and make up, ending with him finally saying he loves her.
Angie Dickinson on set with director Howard Hawks.
Here's a great TCM article on the film and how Dean Martin prepared for the role.
Fun Facts from IMDb:
This was the last film that John Wayne wore his hat from Stagecoach (1939). It was also his last of 22 films with Ward Bond and Bond's last feature film. Wayne also wore his belt buckle from Red River (1948).
There are only five close-ups in the movie: Joe firing his gun, Dude's hands trying to roll a cigarette, Dude pouring a shot of whiskey back into the bottle and a beer glass where a drop of blood falls in, and Chance's boots tapping together in Sheriff's office as he's sitting in a chair.
Feathers's dialogue was occasionally inspired by the character of "Slim" To Have and Have Not (1944), as when, after the first kiss, she says: "...it's better when two people do it," recalling the phrase "it's even better when you help;" and again later when she says, "I'm hard to get - you're going to have to say you want me," recalling Slim's "I'm hard to get, Steve - all you have to do is ask me."
Angie Dickinson was only 26 at the time of filming. John Wayne was 51.There are a ton of behind-the-scenes photos from this film. I shared a bunch of them during the 2015 Summer Under the Stars, which you can view here.