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:
- Costumes are unimaginative.
- Characters (especially women) are one dimensional.
- Dialogue is not clever.
- Plots are uninteresting.
- 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.
One of the most interesting characters in the film, and one on whom we immediately developed a crush, is played by Dean Martin.
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.
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.