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 awfully
un-American unprofessional. (As 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.) So in 1959, the duo made Rio Bravo.
Hawks and his collaborators (the screenplay was written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett) 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.
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 '92 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?
On record as being one of the all-time favorite films of Quentin Tarantinonote .
Rio Bravo features examples of the following tropes:
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Inverted. This is a lengthy (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 viewers' 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.
- Arch-Enemy: Nathan Burdette and Joe Burdette to Chance and co.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension / Best Her to Bed Her: Played with. Chance figures out that Feathers was one of a man-woman team of big-time card cheats, and as such accuses her of assisting in just such a con that he's just uncovered. She acts turned on by his accusation, and smilingly taunts him for it—by suggesting he frisk her.
- Big Bad: Nathan Burdette.
- Book-Ends: The film opens and closes with a shot of the same spot — the opening shows sunrise, and the closing shows sunset.
- Character Development: Dude goes from a pathetic drunk to a competent deputy, nearly backslides a few times, before having his dignity restored.
- Character Tics: Colorado has a habit of rubbing his nose with his index finger. Howard Hawks told Ricky Nelson to copy this tic from Montgomery Clift in Rio Bravo.
- Chekhov's Wagonload of Dynamite
- Come to Gawk: 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.
- Throughout the movie, the townsfolk loiter outside whenever they think the big confrontation between Burdette's hitmen and the sheriff is about to happen.
- Deadpan Snarker: Chance is a big-time Snark Knight. But then, with John Wayne, it's fairly inevitable.
- Feathers has some Snark-to-Snark Combat with Chance.
- Dude, Colorado, and Stumpy all have their moments, too.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Joe Burdette shoots a man dead for trying intervene when he beats up Dude.
- Distressed Dude: Dude is captured by Burdette's men at the climax and has to be rescued by Chance and his deputies.
- 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."
- Even Evil Has Standards: Everyone in the bar (from the patrons to the band themselves) Nathan and his men are using to spy on the jail react badly when Nathan insists the band play the "Deguello".
- Fake Shemp: Ward Bond's death scene was filmed from a distance because it was actually a double. Bond had already left the set to be back on location for Wagon Train.
- Five-Man Band:
- Give Me a Sword: The bad guys have Chance where they want him in front of a saloon, but then suddenly Feathers throws a plant pot through the window and simultaneously Colorado throws a rifle to him.
- Grumpy Old Man: Stumpy.
- Hitler Cam: How John Wayne is introduced, as he kicks over a spitoon from which Dude is about to pluck a coin.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Chance and Feathers, played by the 6'4" John Wayne and 5'5" Angie Dickinson, respectively. The sets were famously all built on a 7/8 scale to make the actors look larger than life. Next to Wayne, Dickinson looks like she was built on a 7/8 scale.
- Leitmotif: Feathers has a sexy, seductive theme.
- Like an Old Married Couple: Carlos and his wife; Chance and Feathers at times.
- Moment Killer: Just when Chance and Feathers are about to kiss at one point, Dude peeks out of the bathroom and asks for a towel. To his credit, he realizes what he did.
- Ms. Fanservice: Feathers has a real penchant for wearing tight clothes and constantly striking sexy poses, particularly for Chance's benefit.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The lone saloon patron who was murdered at the beginning of the film. His only crime? Intervening when Joe Burdette was beating Dude half to death.
- Not What It Looks Like: Carlos rants to Chance about how, in his desperate attempt to carry out Chance's instructions to make sure Feathers gets on the stagecoach, he ended up trying to carry her—just when his wife showed up. Carlos explains that he's "responsible" for Feathers. The end result was poor Carlos getting a black eye.
- Of Corsets Sexy: Much of what Feathers wears is corseted, and she looks very good in them.
- 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.
- Pride: Chance's most positive and negative quality. He's confident in his abilities, but too proud to admit that he actually needs help from his deputies and his allies.
- Prisoner Exchange: Dude gets captured and the villains will release him in exchange for Joe Burdette. Unusually for this trope, we never get any indication of whether or not the villains intend to play fair, as it's the heroes that play dirty and go in with every intention of leaving with both prisoners.
- Professional Gambler: Feathers's choice of profession.
- Quick Draw: Subverted. When asked why he carries a rifle, Sheriff Chance replies that he found there were lots of men faster with a pistol.
- Rain of Blood: Actually just a few drops dripping into a glass of liquor. But it shows where a wounded gunman is hiding.
- Rated M for Manly: One of the things Quentin Tarantino likes the most about this movie is how it uses this trope.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The Burdettes.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Chance informs Nathan that if there's any attempt to break out Joe, Stumpy will empty his shotgun into Joe's cell. Nathan points out that would be murder. Chance agrees, but says it doesn't matter as "we'll all be dead by then anyway."
- 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: The plot involves the villains laying siege to the jail where Joe is held and Sheriff Chance holding them off until the Marshal arrives.
- 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.
- Spicy Latina: Carlos's wife.
- Spiritual Antithesis/Take That!: To High Noon, which Howard Hawks and John Wayne were both highly critical of. Specifically, the scene where Chance explains to Wheeler exactly why he doesn't go out asking any civilians for help: numbers or no, if they aren't professionals, they're more apt to end up as just more targets.
- In a more subtle jab, Chance's key crew consists of a drunkard and an old cripple—basically, two fellows who have nothing to lose and are motivated by their loyalty to him. Guess who Gary Cooper turns away in 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.
- Trojan Prisoner: Played with. The bad guys capture Chance and threaten to kill a hostage if he doesn't cooperate, then walk into the jail with him posing as federal marshals. Stumpy isn't fooled however.
- Young Gun: Colorado Ryan. A slight subversion in that Chance says about him: "It's nice to see a smart kid for a change." and Stumpy agrees. "Yeah, he's not like the usual kid with a gun."