Rio Bravo (1959)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Rio Bravo</strong> (1959)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) As the story goes, Rio Bravo was director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne’s response to High Noon’s deconstruction of western heroism. Unable to tolerate even the slightest amount of criticism (you should read Wayne’s hyperbolic commentary), they teamed up like fearful clucking hens to reconstruct the Western archetype. (They clearly had no idea of what was in store in later years.) Despite my lack of sympathy for their intentions, even I have to admit that Rio Bravo is rather well done in the end. It’s a straight-up formula with a sadistic macho streak of bloodthirstiness as confused with American values (and I’m being charitable in drawing a distinction between the two), but Howard handles it with his usual energy, and Wayne delivers exactly what his creepy robotic persona was designed to do. Rather than look in vain for help from an apathetic population as in High Noon, here we have a sheriff with an overabundance of help as they wait for the enemy attack on their small western town. (Wayne being Wayne, it goes without saying that his character is proven right at every turn of the story.) The overindulgence of the film’s intentions most clearly shows in the film’s inflated run-time at two hours and twenty minutes—there’s no good reason for the film to run this long, but it does. (It doesn’t help that, with two of his actors being also singers, the film pauses for songs. Yes, really.) Fortunately for everyone, most of the film’s interminable lengths come early in the film, leaving the concluding act far better and involving than the rest of the film once the laborious scene-setting ends and we go to the main event promised all along. “Go out of a high note” is the usual tip for filmmakers, and Hawks was too much of a veteran by that point in his career to do otherwise. Despite an overstuffed script, Rio Bravo eventually pulls off a success … but don’t stop watching after the first hour or you’ll never get there.

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