“Today they want you to stick to the script, so after making ‘Land of The Pharaohs’ I was determined to go back and try to get a little of the spiritt we use to make pitcures with.” - Howard Hawks on Rio Bravo
Rio Bravo - Trailer (1959)
Rio Bravo - 1959 Original Poster
John Wayne and Howard Hawks had two things in common when they got together to make the 1959 Western “Rio Bravo.”
The first was a mutual disdain for the Gary Cooper classic “High Noon.” Speaking with Joseph McBride, Hawks tried to explain one of the reasons he disliked the 1952 film, "I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him."
John Wayne went even further by calling the movie “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” Discussing “High Noon” with movie critic Roger Ebert, Wayne remarked, “What a piece of you-know-what that was. I think it was popular because of the music.”
In making “Rio Bravo,” John Wayne and Howard Hawks set out to create a movie that was the antithesis of High Noon; a movie where the sheriff works with a small band of flawed individuals to hold his ground and actually refuses to let untrained volunteers become targets for professional gunmen.
The director and the actor had another vital interest in common when they banded together to make this now highly respected western; they both needed a hit.
After the disappointing performance of Howard Hawks’ epic scale “Land of the Pharaohs” in 1955, Hawks fled to Europe for several years. He wondered whether he had lost his talent for directing.
John Wayne, on the other hand, had kept working but the results were not well received. His performance in his last film, “The Barbarian and The Geisha” was almost universally ridiculed. He had not had a successful movie since 1956’s “The Searchers.”
Howard Hawks Directs John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson
Having created movie magic in the 1948 western “Red River,” the two Hollywood veterans thought another western together was the perfect cure for what ailed both of them. After securing Hawks’ favorite character actor Walter Brennan for the fifth time, Hawks found beauty queen Angie Dickenson, his final female discovery of note. In another wise bit of casting, parts for popular singers Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson were shrewdly molded into the screenplay with long time collaborator Leigh Brackett.
“Rio Bravo” initially received lukewarm reviews. Movie critics had a hard time convincing themselves that a mere western which featured popular singers in key roles was a serious film. The public, however, was more receptive. “Rio Bravo” opened at number one and finished 1959 as one of the top ten box office hits. Even the critics eventually came around.
“Rio Bravo” is now considered one of the greatest films Howard Hawks ever directed. Quentin Tarantino went so far as to name it one of his three favorite movies of all time. And the debate continues between “Rio Bravo” and “High Noon,” with most people liking only one or the other.
John Wayne would star in four of Howard’s last six films, but none of their future efforts would reach the critical acclaim or enduring popularity of “Rio Bravo.”
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Howard Hawks Screenplay: Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett (Based on short story by B.H. McCampbell)
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.