Pat Wheeler: A game-legged old man and a drunk. That's all you got?
John T. Chance: That's WHAT I got.
In 1952, Fred Zinneman directed High Noon
, an excellent Western
that snagged a number of Oscars — but numerous awards didn't keep Western legends John Wayne
and Howard Hawks from thinking the idea of a Sheriff running around town and begging people to help him face a couple of outlaws looked
unprofessional, so in 1959, the duo made Rio Bravo
Hawks and his collaborators switched the story of High Noon
to a professional's point of view: if people offered John Wayne their help, he would reply, "If they're really good, I'll take them. If not, they'll only cause me more trouble." Hawks' idea saw Wayne's sheriff take the opposite route of High Noon's
sheriff in every critical decision and position from High Noon
while remaining successful in his task. (As Howard Hawks explained to the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma
, he didn't like the idea, especially since High Noon's
sheriff eventually proved a little luck — and some help from his bride — made him perfectly capable of doing his job alone.)
John T. Chance works as the sheriff of a small Texas town, but he's not as fast as he used to be with a six shooter (he prefers the trademark John Wayne Winchester '93 instead) — and to add to his problems, the brother of the local rancher who pretty much runs the town sits in his jail. The rancher sends plenty of hired guns to get his brother out of jail, and the only people Chance can count on for help include his old, crippled deputy, Stumpy and a washed-up drunk called Dude
(or Borrachón, Spanish for ''drunkard
", by the Mexicans). Along the way, Chance also receives help from a youngster named Colorado Ryan — but will his help be enough to help the other three men deal with the hired guns until the Marshal arrives to handle the rancher's brother?John Carpenter
remade this film in 1976 as Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
by placing the story into a contemporary setting. (Precinct 13
ended up being remade in 2005
Rio Bravo features examples of the following tropes:
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Inverted. This is a lenghty (nearly two and a half hours long) film that's mostly dialogue with only a few action scenes. So when the action does come, it has all shocking suddeness of a slap in the face.
- Even so, there's still one Quiet Drama Scene that stands out from all the others in most viewwers' memories: the moment in the jailhouse where Dude, Colorado, and Stumpy are relaxing, singing songs to pass the time, illustrating the camaraderie that's grown up between them.
- Affably Evil: Nathan Burdette. For his one extended scene in the movie, he's polite and courteous the entire time. He even compliments Dude on his newfound sobriety and confidence ("Every man should have a taste of power before he's through."). Doesn't stop him from trying to bust his brother out of jail and plotting to kill Sherrif Chance and anyone who so much as offers to help Chance.
- Book Ends: The film opens and closes with a shot of the same spot — the opening shows sunrise, and the closing shows sunset.
- The Cast Show Off: Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson singing the memorable song "My rifle, my pony and me", a rearrangement of Dimitri Tiomkin's own theme from Red River
- Character Development: Dude goes from a pathetic drunk to a competant deputy, nearly backslides a few times, before having his dignity restored.
- Chekhov's Wagonload of Dynamite
- Drowning My Sorrows: Dude at the start of the film.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The Burdettes, of course. Also, late in the film (after Chance and his deputies have killed a few Mooks) when Chance and Dude get captured, one Mook comments, "Some of those men you killed happened to be friends of mine."
- Five-Man Band:
- Grumpy Old Man: Stumpy.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: John Wayne's frequent co-star Ward Bond portrays Pat Wheeler.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: We never learn the real names of Dude, Feathers, or Stumpy. We do learn that Colorado's last name is Ryan. For all we know, Colorado could even be his real first name.
- The Power of Friendship: Becomes especially evident as Chance keeps rolling cigarettes for Dude. This evolved during shooting, when Dean Martin asked how come in some scenes Dude was supposed to be fumble-fingered, yet in others he is shown rolling cigarettes.
- Public Humiliation: At the beginning of the film Dude is reduced to begging to pay for his drinking. Then comes the painful moment when one of the saloon's patrons throws a coin for him - into a half-full spittoon! Luckily Chance intervenes before Dude actually picks it out. And of course there will be payback later.
- Rain of Blood: Actually just a few drops dripping into a glass of liquor. But it shows where a wounded gunman is hiding.
- Recycled Script: Wayne's own El Dorado and Rio Lobo would use the exact same formula, with some variations and inversions.
- Feathers' line to Chance - "I'm hard to get. All you have to do is ask me" - is itself recycled from To Have And Have Not.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The Burdettes.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Feathers invites Chance to stay in her room as the Big Bad's mooks won't think to look there. She claims that she can sleep in the rocking chair. Later Chance is shown picking her up out of the chair where she has been standing watch and carrying her up the stairs to the rooms. The scene ends and we pick up the next morning with Chance walking down the street and giving a cheery hello to Dude. Later Chance and Feathers have a conversation where both say they are not sorry about what happened the night before.
- The Siege
- Source Music: While High Noon uses "Do Not Forsake Me" heavily during voice-overs, here the characters themselves provide the "significant" music. Burdette asks the saloon band to play "Deguello" non-stop to unnerve the holed-up lawmen, and both Colorado and Dude (played by professional singers) sing to pass the time.
- Dimitri Tiomkin scored both High Noon and Rio Bravo, for the record.
- Take That: Rio Bravo serves as one to High Noon.
- To Win Without Fighting: Kind of. Chance is impressed with young Colorado because the latter is so confident in his ability that he does not have to demonstrate it to him.
- Young Gun: Colorado Ryan