When Howard Hawks’ 1959 action romp, Rio Bravo, was released, it wasn’t really taken seriously. But the film is now regarded as an American classic. John Wayne led the cast, but the director also cast veterans Walter Brennan and Ward Bond, singer Dean Martin, pop singer Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson in a vivid, star-making turn.
Wayne plays a sheriff in a small Texas town who is holding a murderer in the town jail until the marshal can move him to a penitentiary. But the killer’s brother, a wealthy rancher, intends to break the prisoner out of jail. Wayne’s character is vastly outnumbered, but he turns to an unlikely posse—a drunken deputy (Martin), a helpless cripple (Brennan), and a young greenhorn (Nelson), along with a visiting lady gambler (Dickinson). The story is fleshed out by two superb screenwriters who worked frequently with Hawks—Jules Furthman (Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep) and Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep, Hatari!, El Dorado). Brackett was one of the pioneering female writers of an earlier era, and she went on to work on such classics as The Long Goodbye and The Empire Strikes Back.
Brackett surely contributed to the vitality of Angie Dickinson’s character, Feathers, a tough, sassy woman who more than holds her own in confrontations with Wayne. In addition to sharp dialogue and fine performances, the film incorporates several suspenseful and exciting action sequences, masterfully orchestrated by Hawks, cinematographer Russell Harlan aided by the rousing score of Dimitri Tiomkin.
At the time of its release in 1959, Variety called Rio Bravo “a big, brawling western with enough action and marquee voltage to ensure hefty reception at the box office.” Writing in The New York Times in 2012, Dave Kehr called it “one of the most purely pleasurable films ever made.” Roger Ebert raved, “To watch Rio Bravo is to see a master craftsman at work. The film is seamless. There is not a shot that is wrong.” The film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2014.
Angie Dickinson’s films include Ocean’s Eleven, Don Siegel’s The Killers, The Chase (opposite Marlon Brando), Point Blank, Big Bad Mama, and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill. She also made history as the first female star of a TV action series, Police Woman, in the 1970s.
text courtesy laemmle anniversary classics
Rio Bravo (1959) 60th Anniversary Screening, Angie Dickinson in person | Anniversary Classics | Laemmle Royal Theater | Feb 25