Pages Navigation Menu

Western films, from silent to today

Rio Bravo (1959)

Rio Bravo (1959) posterJohn Wayne plays Sheriff John T. Chance, who’s forced to throw hot-headed bully Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) in jail on a murder charge.

He knows that will lead to trouble. Joe’s brother Nathan (John Russell) is a rich rancher who pretty much rules these here parts. And before you know it, Nathan Burdette pretty much has the town under seige.

So Sheriff Chance is forced to wait for the marshal to arrive to escort Joe Burdette to tria. And he has just a one deputy whose a drunk (Dean Martin as Dude) and one who has a gimpy leg (Walterr Brennan as Stumpy) to stand up against Nathan Burdette and his hired guns.

An old friend named Wheeler (Ward Bond) offers help and is fatally shot in the back for his trouble. That prompts a young gun named Colorado (Ricky Nelson) to pin on a deputy’s badge too.

But the sheriff and his three deputies still face bleak odds.

That’s also something a pretty gambler named Feathers (Angie Dickinson) realizes. But she can’t force herself to leave town. You see, she’s fallen for the sheriff.


A solid Western, for sure. But I’ve never quite understood it’s reputation as a classic. Or even as one of Wayne’s best Westerns.

It’s slow-moving. For all the talk about danger, there isn’t a ton of tension. Brennan steals the show from Martin and Nelson when it comes to the supporting cast. And the “romance” between Dickinson and Wayne comes off as awkward and forced, not surprising considering he was 51 and she was 26.

Hawks and Wayne made this film in part in response to “High Noon,” in which Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane goes around town, asking for help dealing with Frank Miller and his men when they arrive in town.

Hawks and Wayne thought that was nonsense — that a sheriff worth his salt wouldn’t want to put the citizens he was hired to protect in harm’s way when trouble comes. In fact, Wayne’s Sheriff Chance expresses just that viewpoint when friend Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) offers assistance.

Speaking of Bond, this marked his final feature film. He and Wayne appeared in more than 20 films together. Bond was starring in the “Wagon Train” TV series at the time. He died from a heart attack in 1960 at age 57. He had served as the best man at Wayne’s wedding; Wayne said the eulogy at Bond’s funeral.

Meanwhile, Hawks made just five more films, two of which –“El Dorado” in 1967 and “Rio Lobo” in 1970 — were virtual remakes of this film, with a duty-bound sheriff (always played by Wayne) trying to hold a man in jail, knowing his friends and associates are hellbound to break him out.

Ricky Nelson as Colorado and John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance in Rio Bravo (1959)Directed by:
Howard Hawks

John Wayne … Sheriff John T. Chance
Dean Martin … Dude
Ricky Nelson … Colorado Ryan
Angie Dickinson … Feathers
Walter Brennan … Stumpy
Ward Bond … Pat Wheeler
John Russell … Nathan Burdette
Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez … Carlos Robante
Estelita Rodriguez … Consuela Robante
Claude Akins … Joe Burdette

Runtime: 141 min.

Memorable lines:

Pat Wheeler: “A game-legged old man and a drunk. That’s what you got (helping you)?”
Sheriff John T. Chance: “That’s what I got.”
Wheeler: “Well, if I ever saw a man with the bull by the tail, you’re it.”

Dude: “Any particular reason for going out (and doing the rounds) tonight?”
Sheriff John T. Chance: “We usually do. If we don’t, they’ll think we’re scared.”
Dude: “Well, aren’t we?”

Sheriff John T. Chance, declining help from Wheeler and his men: “All I’d be doing is giving them more targets to shoot at. A lot of people would get hurt. Joe Burdette isn’t worth it. He isn’t worth one of those that would get killed.”

John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance with Angie Dickinson as Feathers in Rio Bravo (1959)Sheriff John T. Chance to Joe Burdette: “If any trouble starts around this jail, before anyone can get to you, you’re going to get accidentally shot.”
Stumpy: “I can pratical guarantee that.”

Sheriff John T. Chance to Dude: “Sorry don’t get it done. That’s the second time you hit me. Don’t ever do it again.”

Feathers: “Take a look at me, Colorado. Take a good look. Would you say my head is soft? Would you say I’m an idiot?”
Colorado: “No ma’am.”
Feathers: “You’d be a liar then.”

Feathers, upon learning that Chance and his deputies plan to hole up in the jail: “That means I won’t see you for three or four days. That’s a long time you know?”
Chance: “You’ll live through it.”
Feathers: “You do the same.”

Tagged with:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *