Veteran Hollywood director Howard Hawks and laconic movie star John Wayne were so comfortable with each other that they would make five feature films together (1948-1970), four of them Westerns, the first RED RIVER and the most famous, RIO BRAVO (1959). For what would become a classic film, Hawks called on his frequent collaborators, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett. Their tight script starts with a classic set- up in which a gang of cowboys come into town (in Presidio County, Texas), drink, and raise hell. A quick-tempered murder takes place at the hands of Joe Burdette, who thinks he is above the law because of his brother Nathan Burdette, the local rich man with a huge ranch and the ability to hire gunslingers to murder an enemy for a $50 gold piece. Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) doesn’t really agree and, after some scuffling and gunfire, takes Joe over to the jail. In this dust up, the sheriff is helped by a pathetic man with the DTs. He goes by the name of Dude (Dean Martin) but is called “Borrachón” (Big Drunk) to his face. Chance had been his boss three years earlier, but after leaving town for a short fling with a pretty woman, Dude ended up going on a 30-month drunken binge. Now back in town with a raging thirst and badly shaking hands, he offers to assist the sheriff, who needs all the help he can get while waiting for the marshal to come take the prisoner away for trial. The only other help Chance has is the cantankerous, loquacious, often irritating old “Stumpy” (Walter Brennan). So, much of the 140-minute film is about waiting – tension-filled days and nights waiting for Burdette to send his killers into town, waiting for outside help to arrive, and, as romantic interlude, waiting for the sheriff to fall in love with the lovely “Feathers” (Angie Dickinson), who somehow misses every morning stagecoach and stays behind to do her part in watching over Sheriff Chance. Oh, and don’t forget Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson), who eventually becomes helpful, but seems to show up in certain scenes with a mile-high pompadour strictly to get teenage girls to come watch a Western. This film really shines in the interplay between the sheriff and the drunk, the beautiful cardsharp, and the irksome old man. John Wayne had his Western persona carved into mahogany by then and didn’t really need to say much to show strength, wisdom, compassion, and even a bit of hesitant love. —Chale Nafus, The Austin Film Society
Sophisticated, beautiful, fearless Angie Dickinson began her acting career in TV dramas of the 1950s. Her big film break came in 1958 when Howard Hawks chose her for RIO BRAVO. With her first Golden Globe in hand, she would then work in film and TV for the next 50 years, with notable appearances in OCEAN’S ELEVEN (1960), THE KILLERS (1964), POINT BLANK (1967), BIG BAD MAMA (1974), and 91 television episodes of the trailblazing Police Woman (1974-1978).