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One deputy (Dean Martin) is a drunk, one (Walter Brennan) is a cripple and another (Ricky Nelson) is an eager, tinhorn kid. But Sheriff John Wayne knows he can count on 'em when the bullets fly. A landmark salute to heroism, directed by Howard Hawks.
For more about Rio Bravo and the Rio Bravo Blu-ray release, see Rio Bravo Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 23, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond
Director: Howard Hawks
» See full cast & crew
Rio Bravo Blu-ray Review
Bravo to Warner Brothers for another classic Western done right on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 23, 2010
Make your choice.
They just don't make 'em like they used to, but God bless 'em for trying, and in the past couple of decades, getting a few of them -- Unforgiven and 3:10 to Yuma for instance -- awfully close to the bullseye. The Western, the great American genre, the one that sticks and stays, fades at times, but always comes back with a new crop of movies for younger generations to embrace and, hopefully, lead them up into the saddle for a ride down the dusty road that is memory lane where resides the classics of Wayne, Cooper, and Eastwood. Yes, like any genre, both then and now and no doubt well into the future there are the greats, the not-so-greats, and plenty of pictures nestled comfortably in between, but when it comes to the giants of the Western, they don't get all that much bigger than Rio Bravo. John Wayne. Dean Martin. Ricky Nelson. Walter Brennan. Howard Hawks. The cast and crew list alone reads like a who's-who of Hollywood legend; put them all in what is easily one of the best-made Westerns of all time, and it's easy to see why the genre -- with shining examples like Rio Bravo leading the charge -- remains the most venerable of American cinema.
Presidio County Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne, The Green Berets) has arrested a local hooligan, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins), for a barroom murder. He and his two deputies -- a limping old codger by the name of Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a drunkard who goes by the name "Dude" (Dean Martin) -- soon find their town crawling with loiterers that seem hellbent on eventually breaking Burdette, the brother of a wealthy rancher named Nathan (John Russell), out of prison. Matters are further complicated when a supply caravan arrives from Fort Worth and its leader, Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond), is murdered by one of the goons. Chance takes in the caravan's young guard, Colorado (Ricky Nelson), and develops a romantic relationship with a new woman in town, the enigmatic Feathers (Angie Dickinson). Tensions rise as a showdown becomes inevitable; itchy trigger fingers need scratching, shadowy figures are shot on sight, and the small town seems primed to become a battle zone between the eclectic group of heroes and Burdette's gang of hired guns that vastly outnumbers Chance's quartet of would-be heroes.
What makes Rio Bravo so special? Perhaps the better question is, "what doesn't?" The answer, of course, is, "nothing, really," but it does several things so well that they're worth mentioning, but nothing short of watching Rio Bravo can really do Howard Hawks' Western masterpiece justice. It might sound hackneyed in 2010, but two words lend to the film instant credibility: John Wayne. Sure, his day has past, but there's a reason why his films remain some of the most popular of all time, and not just with the nursing home generation. The swagger, the smile, the deliberate and instantly-recognizable voice that's perhaps the most well-known in film history, the all-American rough-and-tumble good guy look, and his ability to so often play similar parts but give new life and personalities to all his characters shaped him into -- and has kept him -- nothing short of an icon of cinema, the face of the movies, and the most recognizable and one of the most respected actors of all time. Indeed, Wayne is Wayne in Rio Bravo. His character is tough on the outside but tender on the inside; he's sure, steady, a crack shot, able to handle any situation, and is always ready for action but is just as comfortable allowing his problems -- both from within and without -- to come to him or, better yet, work themselves out with minimal intervention. He's the sheriff in town, a stalwart, the master of his domain, sure of his plans, confident in his abilities, friendly to those he trusts, passively forceful to those he doesn't -- unless they cross him. Rio Bravo is John Wayne at his best; most any Wayne Western will give the viewer an excellent insight into who he was and what he did on screen, but Rio Bravo is the textbook example of The Duke at his very best.
Director Howard Hawks -- whose other credits include Bringing Up Baby, Sergeant York, and the original 1932 version of Scarface -- has crafted in Rio Bravo a magnificent example of the Western encapsulated; its premise of "band of heroes holed up against a group of armed bandits" is one that's become all-too-familiar across the cinematic landscape, reaching into other pictures and genres in the decades to follow and even being, in a sense, remade by Hawks himself -- twice -- years later in Rio Lobo and El Dorado, both again featuring Wayne in a lead role. Hawks' picture is deliberate, steady, gritty, and dangerous. His pacing is consistent and true whether during action, comedy, drama, or romance. The film's many visual and stylistic cues gel quite unlike any other Western as every element -- from action to romance -- seems perfectly in-place and in-tune. His characters are "characters" in the true sense of the word in that they're not necessarily originals but all demonstrate an uncanny proficiency in defining their parts and meshing together in what is a seamless ensemble cast, even through the generational barriers that numerically but not necessarily physically separated the likes of Wayne, Nelson, Brennan, Martin, and Dickinson. Rio Bravo tells a simple story through an expert construction that manages to make a movie that could be summed up in one sentence into a nearly two-and-a-half hour extravaganza that, even at its slowest, quietest, and most deliberate of scenes, never once fails to captivate in one way or another, whether through Wayne's performance, Hawk's pinpoint craftsmanship, or the way that the story so effortlessly unfolds with every element in its place and a place for every element.
Rio Bravo Blu-ray, Video Quality
Warner Brothers brings the classic Western Rio Bravo to Blu-ray with a handsome 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. While not a sparkling sensation in the same way that something like Avatar lights up the screen, Rio Bravo looks marvelous in its own right. Colors appear slightly over-saturated at times, and there's something of a dusty tone to the picture that's understandable considering the rustic structures, wood and leather goods, and the main dirt road through town that are all constant companions throughout the film. Still, colors more often than not look rather good if not slightly unnatural in a 1950s sort of Technicolor way, whether Chance's red shirt as seen at the beginning of the film or the many shades of brown that often dominate the picture in the form of building façades, furnishings, leather goods, and rifle stocks. Unfortunately, flesh tones often veer heavily towards a red shade, and skin -- particularly in several shots of Dean Martin -- can look somewhat pasty and unnaturally smooth. Still, there's a fair amount grain retention throughout; it's heavier in some places than in others but is nevertheless an almost constant companion during the picture. Detailing ranges from average to borderline exceptional; brick walls enjoy a noticeably rough texture, and viewers will note the wear on leather canteens, the scratches and nicks in rifle stocks, and even some of the more intricate nitty-gritty details of the town's dirt road. Blacks hold up nicely, too, taking on a dark and inky shade without overpowering the image to a great extent. The image is also sharp; edges and backgrounds sometimes go a bit soft, though there are just as many instances where they stay crisp and natural all around. A slight bit of aliasing is visible on several checkerboard pattern garments, but the transfer is generally free of other unwanted anomalies. Rio Bravo looks great; it's certainly overshadowed by some of the other, more visually pristine classic films on Blu-ray, but all things considered -- particularly that the film has recently celebrated its 50th birthday -- it's impossible not to like what Warner Brothers has done with this cherished and deserving classic.
Rio Bravo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Rio Bravo rides onto Blu-ray with a meager Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack. There's little expectation for the track and it delivers nothing more and nothing less than a capable offering that's underwhelming next to the whiz-bang likes of Terminator Salvation but is certainly suitable for the film. Puny and somewhat tinny, it understandably lacks any vigor or punch, but it proves sufficiently adequate in every area. Dialogue is suitably clear, focused, and sharp. Music lacks a more pronounced presentation, playing as a bit soft and, of course, without much weight or spacing to it. The picture delivers minimalist sound effects; the beating of a drum during a funeral procession early on, the sound of hooves beating against the pebbly terrain, and other environmental niceties are clear and distinguishable enough. The picture's strongest chance for sonic success comes at the final showdown; gunshots and explosions demonstrate a surprising bit of power for a mono track, but they obviously don't hold a candle (or a stick of dynamite) to better presentations. Expectations are key to this sort of track; it's best to go in and enjoy the presentation as it was meant to be heard and become immersed in the visuals and the story, allowing the 1.0 track do it job as a supporting rather than primary element to the Rio Bravo experience.
Rio Bravo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Rio Bravo rolls onto Blu-ray with a fine assortment of extra content, headlined by a commentary track with Filmmaker John Carpenter and Critic Richard Schickel. An informative but somewhat dry track, it's more akin to listening to a lecture rather than an informal examination of the film. That's not a bad thing at all; it's a strong track that studies not only the actual content of film but the history behind it, the technical aspects surrounding its creation, its themes, the quality of the actors, and much more. This is a track that should find wide acceptance amongst film aficionados, particularly those inclined towards the history of Hollywood and the nuances of the filmmaking process. Commemoration: Howard Hawks' 'Rio Bravo' (480p, 33:24) features filmmakers Walter Hill, John Carpenter, and Peter Bogdanovich looking back on the film. Featured discussions include Hawks' career and style, his objection to the themes of High Noon, John Wayne's style and performance and the film's place in his career, the casting and performances of the additional lead roles, filming in Tucson, the role of women in Hawks' women, the dialogue-free opening segment, the controversial ending, the film's premiere, and its legacy. Like the commentary, this is a praiseworthy and worthwhile supplement. Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked (480p, 8:35) takes viewers on a journey through the history of Old Tucson Studios, the location where Rio Bravo was filmed. The piece proves interesting but is delivered in a rather dry and traditional documentary style. It's still a worthy piece if only to learn a bit more about some of the history behind Rio Bravo. Next up is The Men Who Made the Movies (480p, 55:03), a 1973 documentary that takes an in-depth look at the career of Howard Hawks; the piece is constructed with clips from many of his pictures and interview snippets with the acclaimed filmmaker. Rounding out this collection of extras is a grouping of trailers for several John Wayne pictures (480p): The Big Stampede (2:28), Haunted Gold (1:46), Somewhere in Sonora (1:34), The Man From Monterey (1:26), and Rio Bravo (2:47).
Rio Bravo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Some might see in Rio Bravo "just another Western, and an overly long one at that." True, maybe, but the movie does such a remarkable job of encapsulating what the Western is all about that, for those that adore the genre, there are few others that come as close as this in terms of how well all of the standard elements come together. Good versus evil, a dusty small-town Texas setting, endearing characters, excellent acting from a collection of top talent from the entertainment world circa 1959, and direction that manages to craft a movie that lacks even a single superfluous or out-of-place element, Rio Bravo is no doubt a definitive Western and easily one of the top choices when tasked with selecting a film that gets it all right, and its even got John Wayne to boot. Warner Brothers has dusted off Rio Bravo and graced Blu-ray enthusiasts with a definitive presentation of the film. Visually, it's not quite on the same level of excellence as some of the other classics that have found their way onto the high definition format, but the 1080p presentation is nevertheless nothing short of a revelation. The mono soundtrack is what it is and about all that it can be, and the supplements are worthwhile in both number and quality. Rio Bravo -- along with The Searchers and The Cowboys -- is a must-own Blu-ray disc for film fans that appreciate the classics. Highly recommended.
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