The Reel Review


A sheriff in the late 1800s West Texas border town of Presidio is helped by an unlikely group of individuals – his alcoholic deputy, a young gunslinger, an aging elder deputy and a quick-thinking woman gambler – after he tries to take on a ruthless cattle baron and his band of outlaws seeking revenge for the arrest of his gunslinging brother. This 1959 Western stars John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson.

Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo

Strong performances from Wayne, with his iconic cadence as the self-reliant sheriff, Martin as the troubled deputy and Dickinson as the flirtatious, clever card sharp, capture the self-reliant archetypes of the American West. Although Ricky Nelson seems a bit too young and pretty to be truly convincing as the young gunslinger, triple Oscar-winner Walter Brennan (Come and Get It, Kentucky, The Westerner) more than makes up for that, with a scene-stealing performance as the one-legged Stumpy.

John Wayne, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan in Rio Bravo

As old school Westerns go, Rio Bravo is among the best – still holding up even after more than 60 years. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s probably about 30 minutes too long, but even so, the consistent pacing and realistic sense of drama is well maintained, filled with iconic images of the American West. The tunes sung by Martin and Nelson are a nice touch too.


Rio Bravo was made in response to 1952’s High Noon, which was believed to be Hollywood’s protest against McCarthyism and the blacklisting of suspected leftist artists. Unlike in High Noon, where Gary Cooper’s sheriff asked for help, in Rio Bravo, John Wayne didn’t ask for help, but got it anyway.

Author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett’s ideas for the ice planet, a city in the clouds and a chase through an asteroid field made it to the final draft of The Empire Strikes Back.

Rio Bravo author and co-screenwriter Leigh Brackett was an accomplished sci-fi writer who wrote a multitude of screenplays throughout her life, including Hatari!, El Dorado and The Long Goodbye. Brackett wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back, which she submitted to George Lucas just weeks before her death in 1978.

• Ricky Nelson got the part of Colorado in Rio Bravo after Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, demanded too much money and top billing.


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