I'm not sure if any of you all have seen it, but Rio Bravo is my favorite Western and maybe my favorite movie of all-time. I first saw it in High School during the summer when Brother John and I stayed up all night to catch it on some Texas station when we had a satellite Dish in Indiana. I have seen it again and again and it never ceases to entertain. Here is Big Hollywood's take.
The next time you watch Bravo pay close attention to the compositions, most of which are medium-wide shots, with the camera at chest level. There are virtually no close-ups in the picture, a gutsy decision at a time when technique was becoming far more elaborate in Hollywood fare. In hindsight, it was a bold choice that enhanced the languorous, easygoing byplay between the film’s charismatic stars. Director Michael Powell once said that Hawks “had a very deep understanding of people, what was inside people.” The relaxed purposefulness of Rio Bravo’s confident compositions allows a rare richness of character to shine through.
Here is Hawks talking about the movie:
I like things like — I think it was in Rio Bravo — Wayne went over to a man and said, “So nobody ran in here?” Some man said, “Nobody ran in here.” And Wayne went like this and hit him right across here with a gun so blood was coming all over his face. And Dean Martin said, “Take it easy, Chance.” And Wayne turned and said, “I’m not going to hurt him.” The audience laughed so at that.
I anticipate that moment every time.
Most crucially, it was director Hawks who crafted John Wayne’s character into a master not only of action but of reaction, in the process establishing an overriding feeling of camaraderie that makes the film endlessly rewatchable. “John Wayne represents more force, more power than anyone else on screen,” Hawks claimed, and yet by dint of directorial will the star of Rio Bravo becomes everyone else’s straight man. During the course of the plot the Duke gets socked by Dean Martin (twice!), is verbally out-dueled by the precocious Ricky Nelson, suffers the outrageous behavior of Walter Brennan, is relentlessly teased by the ever-flirtatious Angie Dickinson, and is continuously rescued by all of the above. “You give everybody else the fireworks,” Wayne grumbled to Hawks at one point, “but I have to carry the damn thing.”
Wayne spends virtually the entire film loaning his star power to others in this fashion, not acting so much as reacting, and using those reactions to give his co-stars a much brighter spotlight in which to shine. Indisputably, we have Howard Hawks to thank for that. The Duke was known to sometimes distrust and argue with lesser directors, but along with John Ford only Howard Hawks commanded his absolute respect. “Hawks I trust with my life,” he once declared, a sentiment amply proven by the fearless bigheartedness of his performance in Rio Bravo.
The Wall Street Journal also has a nice story.