Saturday, June 9, 2012

Film Review: Rio Bravo (1959)

Duke, Dino, and Ricky: Only in the movies.
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TCMDb: A sheriff enlists a drunk, a kid and an old man to help fight off a ruthless cattle baron.

     Alright, I'm gonna put it straight out there for you: John's name may come first, but Dean steals the picture away from him, and makes the whole film his. There's no denying it. It is just a plain and simple fact that Dean knocks the socks right off your feet with his portrayal as the deputy who was once a long time ago done wrong by a woman, and over the past few years, turned to the drink to dull his pain and his memories of a soft, warm-bodied, no-good woman (and a woman that could do Dean wrong is something else entirely, but that certain four letter word isn't allowed on this here blog).
     His performance as Dude is solid; awing; and truthful.
Dean grabs your attention from the very beginning.
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     For some reason that I've never been able to fathom, people never took Dean seriously. Was it because of his persona as the good-time-easy-going-broad-lovin'-chimney-smokin'-drunk? That's the only thing that seems to make sense to me. He pretended that he didn't have a care in the world, or if he did, he could could care less about it, and the people took him seriously--so seriously that when he gave a performance such as Dude in Rio Bravo, people could hardly believe that it was Dean Martin.
The look on his face . . . and people say he couldn't act. Why I oughta . . .
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     That statement isn't one based off of me being slightly biased alone. It's true, no one could hardly believe it was Dean. According to a TCM article, Dean showed up "looking like a musical comedy cowboy", and after Hawks telling him just what he wanted, "I want a drunk. I want a guy in an old dirty sweatshirt and an old hat." Dean went and got just what he wanted, and pulled the role off so well, Jack Warner said to Howard Hawks, "We hired Dean Martin. When's he going to be in the picture?" To which Hawks replied, "He's the funny-looking guy in the old hat." And Warner's reaction? "Holy smoke, is that Dean Martin?" . . . So, you see, it's not just me, it was the head honcho, too.
     Seriously, though, Dean is marvelous in Rio Bravo. I grew up on John Wayne, he being my father's favorite film actor, and because of that, I must have seen this picture . . . eh, way too many times to even think about. Even as a kid, though, while I had no idea who Dean Martin was (the Dark Ages), I still thought he stole the picture from John. He's just too damn good. And throughout the whole film--all two hours and twenty minutes of it--you'll never catch him acting. He is Dude, he did experience heartbreak, and he is an alcoholic. You feel for him the moment he's introduced to the screen, so desperate for a drink that he's willing to get down on his knees and reach his hand inside a spittoon to retrieve a gold coin that's been thrown into to humiliate him . . .
About the first eight minutes of Rio Bravo.
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. . . you start to feel hope for him when he's made it the first day without a drink . . .
First day on the job . . . and sober . . .
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. . . you rejoice with him when he finds himself back on top, showing everybody that he's still got it . . .
    Now that's what I'm talking about.
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. . . and then you feel like hitting him upside his head because he still thinks he's no good, and though he tried, tried real hard, he's just not like he use to be . . .
Those hands really do have the "shakes".
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     I ask you, how many actors can make you feel all of that for him?
     Dean's best scene comes when  Dude's given up on himself, and when he hears how Colorado, played by Ricky Nelson, helped Chance kill Burdette's men, he asks, "Was he as good as I use to be?"
     Chance looks at him, and replies: "It'd be pretty close. I'd hate to have to live on the difference."
Dean's best scene in the film.
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     Fed up, Dude takes off his Deputy Sheriff badge, gives a nod, and says, "Then you got the best of them. Him for me."
     Confused, Stumpy asks exasperatedly, "What's he talkin' about 'him for me'? Well c'mon tell me. Nobody ever tells me nothin' around here!"
     "You heard him. He's quitting."
     Stumpy, proving his namesake, stumps up to Dude and asks softly, "What's got into you."
     "Look at 'em." He says, holding up his large, shaking hands for Stumpy to see. "Ain't that pretty? Huh? Shaking worse all the time." A slight hitch catches in his voice when he asks, "What can a man do with hands like that? Go ahead, tell me. What?"
     "Well take a drink. You said Chance told you to. Your given your chance you told 'em," he mumbles, so agitated that he mixes up his words.
     "He can take the whole bottle," Chance snaps.
     "Well go ahead!" Stumpy cackles.
     Pushed to his limit, Dude grabs hold of the whiskey bottle, pulls the cork out of the neck, and pours himself two fingers. He's just about to take that long awaited drink that his body has been craving for for days, but just then the Deguello music that Nathan Burdette has paid for someone to play as a warning to Chance of what will happen. He's caught off guard by the music, and holding the glass to his lips, listens to the music, but still has yet to take a drink of the amber liquid.
     Going to the window, Stumpy is about to pull the wooden boards shut, but Dude calls out to him softly, "Stumpy. Don't close it." Stumpy stumps back over to stand by Chance as they both watch Dude.
     The look on Dude's dirty, sweaty, and bloody face is torn. He wants that drink. Yet that music has done something to him. He realizes that he wants to prove himself to everybody, but mostly to himself, that he can be the man that he use to be, and stay that way. With one last glance at the whiskey, which he most surely can taste as though he was swirling it around his tongue already, he pours it back into the bottle.
      He looks at the glass, and says amazed, "Didn't spill a drop. Shakes are gone just because of a piece of music. Til they played that piece, I'd forgotten how I got into this thing. Keep on playin' it, I don't think I'll ever forget again." He stops twirling the glass in his hand, and looks up hopefully at John T. "Chance, give me another shot at it. Stumpy can take the bottle away."
Dude was quite easily one of Dean's greatest portrayals.
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     Stumpy looks up at Chance, and giving Dude one last long look, he turns slightly to Stumpy and says, "You heard him."
     Now, while Dean steals the picture from everybody, John Wayne, Angie Dickinson as Feathers, Walter Brennan, the funny Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez all hold their own. Even Ricky Nelson, while on the front seems very misplaced, does well, too. If Dean should have ever been nominated for anything (which he was, though never an Academy Award), he should have most definitely been nominated for his role as Dude.
                  The Crooner and the Rocker share a delightful tune 
               together in one of the few peaceful scenes in the whole 
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     If you have not yet realized, I love this film. It's a true classic. Everybody is amazing in it. And it's one of those sort of films that you can watch over and over again and never get tired of it. I give Rio Bravo 4/4 stars.


silverscreenings said...

I completely agree with you. This is Dean's movie and he is marvelous. I've seen this movie zillions of times and his performance never gets old.

azw596 said...

Definitely a film that can be watched over and over, there's never a dull moment, and as you write, the entire cast certainly holds their own! Dean plays his role perfectly, he is both serious when needed, but also able to laugh at his sad state of affairs. The "Didn't spill a drop" scene indeed captures him at his best, as well as your wonderful description of the scene does! Thanks for another great review, and for leading me to a film I'll always remember!

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