Of all the directors who have ever worked in Hollywood, one of the most
impressive was Howard Hawks. He was an incredibly versatile director,
who not only made films in many genres; he made classics in those genres.
From war movies (Sgt. York, The Dawn Patrol) to screwball comedies
(Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday) to hardboiled detective films
(To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep) and even gangster pictures
(Scarface), Hawks left his mark on every type of film that he worked
in. He also dabbled in westerns too, and it comes as no surprise
that he made some classic there too. One of his best westerns was
Rio Bravo, a classic John Wayne movie that has just been released
on Blu-ray. Not only does it look great, the disc is filled with
bonus material that supplements the film quite well.
Dude (Dean Martin) used to be pretty good with a gun, but that was before
a woman broke his heart and he took to drinking. Now a washed up
boozer, he lets the local toughs degrade and tease him as long as he can
get a drink out of it. When he helps Sheriff John T. Chance (John
Wayne) arrest the local bad man, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder,
Dude finds that he's thrown in on the side of the law in a dispute that
they can't win.
is the brother of the local rich rancher, Nathan Burdette (John Russell),
and Nathan isn't going to let his brother hang. He's got enough money
to hire as many guns as he needs to release his brother, and the only people
the Sheriff has on his side is a drunk, a lame old man (Walter Brennan)
and, eventually, a brash young kid (Ricky Nelson). With the odds
against them and the town scared, the easy thing to do would be to let
Joe go, but that's not the way Chance works. He's been paid
to do a job, and do it he will, even if it means that he'll be killed.
At one time Quentin Tarantino said that this was his favorite film of
all time, and it is easy to see why. The movie is a character study
of how four men react under pressure, and while it's not totally believable
it has some memorable moments that add a touch of authenticity to the film.
One of the best scenes in the film happens early on when a friend of Chance's
(played by John Ford regular Ward Bond) tells him that he could probably
swear in some of the town-folk as deputies. Chance replies "Suppose
I got 'em, what'd I have? Some well meaning amateurs. Most
of them worried about their wives and kids. Burdette has 30 or 40
men, all professionals. Only they're worried about is earning their
pay. No, Pat. All I'd be doing is giving them more targets
to shoot at." This is a very pragmatic look at the old western dilemma
of an out-gunned sheriff, and one that makes a lot of sense.
today, the movie's black and white approach to the plot seems a bit dated.
Joe Burdette is just pure evil, casually shooting a man who tries to stop
him from beating a man who's down. (He even wears a black hat in
contrast to Chance's white one, causing my son to comment that "I thought
that was a joke. I didn't know you could really tell who the good
guys were by the color of their hats!") Chance and his deputies are
fighting the good fight because they have to. The moral ambiguities
from movies like The Searchers or Unforgiven are no where to be found in
this film, but that doesn't mean the movie isn't entertaining.
The love sub-plot between the traveling gambler Feather (Angie Dickinson)
and Chance was pretty unbelievable too. They never really showed
much motivation for Feathers character, she just falls in love with the
tall, rugged, and much older Chance at first sight and is willing to risk
her life to help him. The reverse is true too. Why isn't Sheriff
Chance married already, and why does he fall so hard for Feathers?
Granted she's good looking and interested in him, but he seems to be drawn
to her only because that's what's expected of a hero in a western.
Howard Hawks does a great job of directing this film, creating suspense
when it's needed and adding a very liberal does of humor too. (Is
that any surprise from the director of so many screwball comedies?)
Walter Brennan's character, Stumpy who spends most of the movie guarding
the prisoner, is almost only there for comic relief, but Hawks directs
the action sequences with style too. The shootout in the street that
takes place about 2/3 through the film is a good example of this.
The tension quickly builds when Chance is cornered by three gun-totting
hombres, but the actual gunfight is over in the blink of an eye.
This is much more exciting, and realistic, than everyone jumping behind
conveniently placed barrels and having a prolonged battle. Hawks
once said a good movie is one with three good scenes and no bad ones, and
he's right. This film certainly has several good scenes, and that
makes it memorable.
When the credits started to play at the beginning of this film, I was
honestly shocked at the amount of grain and dirt this film had. Luckily
it quickly subsides, and the movie looks pretty good after the credits
are over. This film has been restored, but it doesn't look nearly
as good as The Searchers. There is a fine grain throughout the film,
and even after the credits are done there are a few instances of spots
on the image. These aren't significant defects, especially for a
film that's nearly 50 year old, but they are present.
Filmed in Technicolor the 1.85:1 widescreen image had some very strong
and even colors. On the digital side of things the disc looks very
good too, with posterization being nearly nonexistent. Near the end
of the film Dean Martin wears a shirt with thin vertical and horizontal
colored stripes that form small squares. These lines were very tight
and even, with no aliasing (jagged stair-step effects) or artificial colors
created when he moved. Even though there were some defects, this
is a very good looking transfer.
The movie is presented with the original mono soundtrack in English
as well as a French dub. I was very happy with this; I'm not one
who feels that every classic film should be remixed to 5.1. The dialog
was clean and easy to discern, and just as important there wasn't any background
noise. Hiss and hums frequently plague movies from this time period,
but this track has been cleaned up to eliminate them. The audio was
hampered by the technology available at the time, there isn't much dynamic
range and the gun shots sound a little flat, but it doubtlessly sounded
that way during the film's premier.
Warners does a fantastic job when it comes to releasing classic films
in high definition, and this disc in no exception. This disc is filled
with bonus features, porting over all of the extras from the two-disc special
edition of the film. First there is a commentary track with director
John Carpenter and film historian Richard Schickel. Both of these
men admire this film, and they had some interesting things to say about
it. They relate behind the scenes anecdotes, talk about the women
in Hawks' movies and give some background to the film. Their tracks
were recorded separately and then spliced together, and while it would
have been a bit more interesting to have these two men converse together
about the movie, this is a solid commentary track.
Next up is Commemoration: Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, a 33-minute
documentary on the film made for the 2-disc SE released a month before
this Blu-ray edition. This was easily my favorite extra, with ample
interviews with directors and film critics as well as co-star Angie Dickinson,
the only surviving member of the cast. This was an entertaining and
insightful look at the film. An installment of Men Who Made Movies,
focusing on Howard Hawks is also included. This 50+ minute documentary
looks at the man's career and examines the themes that flow through his
movies. Told with copious clips and an interview with the director
from 1973, this is a nice overview, though a little stale in its style.
Finally there is an 8-minute featurette on the location used to shoot the
movie: Old Tucson: Where Legends Walked. Living in Tucson
for several years as a child, I've been to the movie set/tourist attraction
several times and it was nice to see this short piece dealing with it,
even if there isn't a lot of substance to the piece.
Rio Bravo is a very good film, though its stark black-and-white
view of the world is a little dated now. John Wayne gives a strong
performance as usual, but it is director Howard Hawks that really shines,
putting together an exciting film filled with humor that never drags during
its 2 hours and 20 minute run time. The restored film looks great
on this Blu-ray disc, with only minor grain and a couple of spots that
slightly mar the presentation. Filled with substantial extras, this
is a disc that is easy to recommend.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.