The Restored Dean Martin

John Wayne and Dean Martin... Image: We Have Embarked
John Wayne and Dean Martin fight crime in the Old West. Image: We Have Embarked

In our childhood, we had disdain for Westerns. All that aimless shooting and hiding behind rocks and kicking up dust seemed, to us, the Most Boring Thing In The World.

But one day we were asked to watch the 1959 Western, Rio Bravo. We felt we couldn’t refuse without causing offence, so we begrudgingly complied.

We loved it.

Rio Bravo dislodged many of our hardened opinions of Westerns, namely:

  1. Costumes are unimaginative.
  2. Characters (especially women) are one dimensional.
  3. Dialogue is not clever.
  4. Plots are uninteresting.
  5. John Wayne has no comedic timing.

Rio Bravo proved us Totally Wrong about all these things.

The film stars John Wayne as a sheriff who has captured a weasley member of a sneaky, violent gang, a fellow named Joe Burdette (Claude Akins). While Akins is held behind bars, his fellow gang members keep watch on the jail, watching for opportunities to free him.

The film also stars Walter Brennan as a jailhouse assistant, Angie Dickinson as a gambler wanted by authorities, and Ricky Nelson as a cowboy who’s just passin’ through.

One of the most interesting characters in the film, and one on whom we immediately developed a crush, is played by Dean Martin.

Don't do it, Dean! Image:
Don’t do it, Dean! Image:

At the start of the film, Martin’s character is not one you’d bring home to meet Mother. He’s a dishevelled inebriate who’s been given the Spanish nickname Borrachón (meaning “drunk”).

When the film opens, Martin enters a saloon, desperate for a drink. He’s unshaven, nervous, sweating. He slinks along the wall, staring hungrily at a whiskey being poured at the bar. When the man at the bar sees him, he smiles and throws a coin into the spittoon. Martin bends down to retrieve it.

Clearly, Martin is someone with a bit of a problem. He’s also a sheriff’s deputy, so it’s actually a big problem.

But John Wayne, Sheriff and Boss Of Everyone, has not given up on Martin. He knew Martin before his alcoholic tailspin and still respects his expertise. Even though Martin operates in a whiskey-soaked haze, he’s a far better shot than most fellows in town.

Because John Wayne believes in him, we believe in him too.

There are a lot of intriguing subplots in this film, one of which is Martin’s determination to Quit Drinking. Martin displays many of the symptoms of withdrawal, including shaking, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Aside from that, he’s thrown a bottle of beer at Akins, yelled at Brennan to Shut Up and slapped Wayne’s face. Yet neither Brennan nor Wayne reject him. “He’s gotta sweat it out,” says Wayne. “Be nice to him and he’ll fall apart in small pieces.”

Through all this, we see glimpses of Martin’s famous celebrity character, and that gives us hope.

Ahh! Nothing like a good shave. Image: Shave_Close
Ahh! Nothing like a good shave. Image: Shave_Close

Martin shows us recovery is not an easy task. He makes a critical mistake in dealing with the violent gang, and becomes filled with self loathing. “I’m real good when I’m sober,” he says bitterly.

However. His hands stop shaking and he’s able to joke about his troubles. He has a bath and a shave, and changes his clothes. He asks John Wayne to get rid of a bottle of whiskey.

We know that his Dean Martin has been Restored to his charming self when he, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan have a merry jam session.

With his amusing demeanor and dazzling smile, it was easy for us to develop an instant crush on the post-restoration Martin…even if he was in a Western.

Rio Bravo: starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson. Directed by Howard Hawks. Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1959, Technicolor, 140 mins.

This post is part of the Reel Infatuation Blogathon hosted by Font and Frock and yours truly. Click HERE to see today’s fab entries.

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  1. I love Dean Martin (ha, I just realized that both of us wrote about performers named Dean). I’m so glad you chose him. And I forgot what a terrific cast this film has. Thanks for the reminder. I’m going to have to watch it again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “With his amusing demeanor and dazzling smile, it was easy for us to develop an instant crush on the post-restoration Martin…even if he was in a Western.” So true and is probably why so many of us fell in love with this guy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bahaha! So true!

      Once I saw a PBS (?) special on Dean Martin, and a long-time friend said Dean was more of a performer than a singer. I disagree – he had enough talent to be equally superb at both.


  3. Haha, this was so funny and fun to read! You’ve definitely piqued my interest as well, not much of a western fan either, but you can’t go wrong with Dean. (And Angie Dickinson).

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a great cast in this film, and some terrific lines, too. (Angie Dickinson practically steals every scene from John Wayne, which couldn’t have been an easy thing to do.) I hope you get a chance to see it!


  4. I grew up on Westerns, especially the John Ford/John Wayne cavalry films, and Rio Bravo was always a favourite in our house.
    Watching it again quite recently Dean Martin’s performance absolutely destroyed me. His heartbroken, spirit-broken, pride-broken man, battling all the demons that swim within the booze he swills down, is absolutely the heart and soul of the movie. He gives a terrific, soulful performance, and you highlighted the film’s best scene for me, where croons the lonesome lullaby, “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me”.
    Oh, and Angie Dickinson was absolutely gorgeous in this!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yup, you nailed it – and I loved your description of the character’s demons. Dean Martin is the heart and soul of this film, as you put it, and he gives a fairly raw performance, wouldn’t you say? There’s a lot more going on in this film than it’s sometimes given credit for, in my opinion.


  5. Many people have these feelings about westerns; 99% of western films are incredible, ranging from pulp action to high art. Those initial feelings you described are now taught in film schools, and you can hear the same words coming out of different faces. The western is a powerhouse genre, and has room for literally every theme and treatment in fiction.

    Dean & co. rock it hard in this one. Great fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right about Westerns, and I liked your description “powerhouse genre”. It really is. I’ve started watching more Anthony Mann westerns and asking “Where have these films been all my life?”


  6. Always three cheers when Dean pours the whisky back into the bottle without spilling a drop!

    I’m so glad you included that YT clip. I love that “Rifle” song, And while the Mexican song “De Guello” is so spine-chilling, I think it’s one of the prettiest trumpet pieces ever.

    Thanks for this post 🙂


  7. I’m not much of a Western fan, admittedly (with a few exceptions), but I’ll have to give this one a try. Besides, Dean Martin is always enjoyable. Thanks for recommending it!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fantastic Blog! I have a weak point for Westerns. Along with Rio Bravo, I fondly remember Dean Martin from one of my childhood Super 8 movies called “Something Big” which wasn’t the best movie but was good fun (I think, haven’t seen it since way back then)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t seen any Dean Martin movies, but I always thought of him as more of a comedian than anything. Obviously I am quite mistaken. This sounds like a wonderful character study, and I can see why you were drawn to him. I will have to watch this one. I have always felt the same way about Westerns. They just don’t really appeal to me, but I will give them a chance after reading your post, Ruth!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yay for restored Dean! This film is so good! I watched it with my grandparents and we loved the perfect mix of comedy and typical western action. Great post!
    Thanks for co-hosting this great event!

    Liked by 1 person

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