Rio Bravo – And the Stories That Taught Me About How to Tell Stories – Legends of Western Cinema Week

I let time get away on me a little and I didn’t remember until this afternoon that this is the last day of this celebratory week. I hope that readers will forgive sloppy hasty thoughts as I sit down to write this post in a bit of a hurry to get it done before supper!

Please also take the time to read other contributors to this event if you haven’t already!

I also want to take a moment here to apologize to a number of probable readers who may feel that I’ve insulted one of their preferred western movies – The Lone Ranger (2013) – because I linked to an article deploring that movie in an earlier post this week. I personally found it to be an okay movie. (I gave it two stars out of four.) I am however happy to learn that so many other people really enjoyed it. I like it when people like westerns, even if they don’t necessarily pick the same westerns I would pick as really good ones.

Now on with the show…

Earlier this week – Monday night – I re-watched the classic western movie Rio Bravo (1959)

This film, directed by Howard Hawks and staring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan and Ward Bond, was supposedly created in reaction to what Hawks and Wayne felt were the glaring flaws of High Noon (1952), which it’s said, they found un-American, disapproving of Gary Cooper’s character’s supposed cowardice in High Noon as he goes about seeking help from townies when a threat threatens him as the law in a town. They may not have liked the supposed political allegory of that movie, either. (It’s possibly criticizing McCarthyism.)

For the record, I quite enjoy High Noon as well as Rio Bravo. I think they’re just different stories with different views of the world. (Also, I’m not big on political interpretation of movies. I tend to favour taking what you see at more or less face value. I won’t be going into a deep philosophical probing of the politics of either High Noon or Rio Bravo here.)

The most obvious contrast to High Noon is that Rio Bravo is in colour. Technicolor, at that.

In contrast to High Noon’s Marshal Will Kane asking for help, in Rio Bravo, John Wayne’s character, Sheriff John T Chance, repeatedly refuses help when it’s offered to him by friends, as a threat threatens him as the law in a town.

He has help, his two deputies, one with a bit of a drinking problem but who can sing good (Dean Martin) and one who is a bit on the elderly side (Walter Brennan, of course.) A little later on, he’ll also be offered, and he’ll accept, help from a kid with a fast gun and a nice singing voice. (Ricky Nelson.)

Chance’s problem is that at the beginning of the film, he arrests a bad dude for cold-blooded murder, and the bad dude has a bad brother, and Big Bad Brother is going to bust other brother out of jail. He’s going to have to do it before the marshals? arrive to transport the brother off to another place where he’ll be tried.

Will Dean Martin’s character – known as Dude to his friends – be able to conquer his bottle dependence and stand alongside Chance? Will the four united found-family of lawmen be able to withstand a siege and attack by the Bad Brother and his minions? (Hint: One of them is John Wayne. Who do you think will win?)

How many times will Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson sing?

Will John Wayne sing??!

There is also the minor issue of a ‘bad girl’ (Angie Dickinson) who Chance finds rather annoying but attractive.

This is a movie that I have seen many times, but I was surprised to find just how familiar it has become, how well I know the story and remember what will happen next, even after several years ‘off’ from watching it.

And even though I was able to anticipate most of the scenes this watch, there were still some minor surprises I had forgotten, and still some laughs, and still enjoyment.

Rio Bravo is one of the movies I’ve seem more than once the most. It is likely in the top ten of my “rewatched” list.

This isn’t because I love the movie, but because it is one of my father’s favourite movies, and he showed it to me more than thrice when I was a child. Not as a very young child, that wouldn’t be entirely appropriate, but at an elementary school and junior high school age. He also watched other classic westerns more than once with me – including Eldorado (something of a younger sibling to Rio Bravo) Fort Apache, Shane, The Tall T, and yes, High Noon, and more I’m sure I’m forgetting to name right now. There were also other, non-western genre movies we watched more than once, including many classic film noirs, which I now seek out myself for the odd rewatch.

I didn’t realize until relatively recently, that along with the many books I read as a child, and the books I continue to read, the radio shows and podcasts I’ve listened to and the occasional TV show episodes I’ve seen, movies like Rio Bravo were teaching and continue teaching me something essential to my development as an aspiring writer – how to tell stories.

They were, of course, also trying to teach me about how to behave and how others can behave, classic westerns in particular tend towards allegory and morality and this is something that I hope to write a separate post about in the future.

I don’t love Rio Bravo. I don’t need to. It has become one of my foundational stories, a story, by virtue of it’s repetition and memorability in my life, that has a disproportionate influence on how my own writing comes out.

Rio Bravo has music. My stories have music a lot of the time (although not always.) (I also remembered the ‘musical siege’ component of Rio Bravo, when the Bad Brother has the town musicians play a certain song over and over as a form of psychological warfare, as lasting longer than it actually does in the film. I guess I just like the idea and think it should last longer.)

Rio Bravo is about friends being loyal to each other and facing threats together. My stories often have friends facing threats together.

Rio Bravo has a strong redemption sub-plot, as Dude proves to others, but more importantly, to himself, that he can function without being drunk all the time. I would like to incorporate more redemption-type plots in my stories.

Rio Bravo does have a “bad girl with a heart of gold” which I tend not to like as a western genre trope, and I was actually surprised on Monday at how obvious it is that Chance and the girl get up to naughty-naughty, but the good news is that I didn’t remember that, it was obviously not something that I picked up on as a child. And it turns out that Angie Dickinson’s character is less “bad” than it at first appears…although, then again… they get up to naughty-naughty…

Rio Bravo also has Walter Brennan throwing dynamite around, which, admittedly, has yet to happen in any of my stories, but it’s an idea!

I am not sure how many stars to give Rio Bravo – it’s certainly three stars, but is it really four stars? In my rating system, four stars means that I want to watch it again within the next couple of years, and the thing is, I don’t think I’ll need to see Rio Bravo again in the next year or two or even three – because it’s already so deeply ingrained in me.

Have you seen Rio Bravo lately? What do you think of it? What are some of your foundational movie stories?

6 thoughts on “Rio Bravo – And the Stories That Taught Me About How to Tell Stories – Legends of Western Cinema Week”

  1. Howard Hawks’ movies seem to lend themselves to inspiration. His characters are strong, even with their flaws, and they are people of action, whether in an adventurous tale or a comedy.

    The silent opening to Rio Bravo impresses me greatly every time. When the movie is scheduled on television I tell my family that I will just watch the opening this time, but all of us usually wind up on the couch until the last dynamite stick is thrown.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your post. I love when stories go so deep they become part of us (plus it frees up more room on the ‘lists’ — i.e. here’s my favorites list and here are my heart stories ;D). Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And yes, I forgot to mention it, but the lack of dialogue in the opening sequence of Rio Bravo is very strong. 🙂


  4. John Wayne singing… That’s something I don’t need to see LOL
    Interesting review. I really like Rio Bravo. It’s just such a classic, quintessential western. A movie that I would point at when somebody asks ‘What’s a western?’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good review! I appreciate the brief comparison and contrast to High Noon. And you raise good points about “foundational” works and how they influence us. It’s cool to read how Rio Bravo in particular has influenced your story-telling!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s