Sorry for the hiatus, 32 regular readers. I’ve been busy with the World Cup/ shenanigans.
The film’s focus is on maintaining order. John T. Chance (John Wayne) is middle management, the Sheriff of Presidio County, Texas. He arrests a murder suspect and does his best to keep the latter in a jail cell for six days when the Marhsall comes and takes the prisoner into a larger penitentiary. To have a John Wayne character have so much trust on slow government bureaucracy is a rare thing to watch. You’d just expect him to shoot the guy. But then again, he tries to convince the town that he can run the town by himself, so tough guy’s still there.
As Hawksian film go, the supporting characters do not believe that Chance can do it by himself. In an inspired human resources strategy, Chance reluctantly hires Dude (Dean Martin), a junior driven to alcoholism by a girl, Colorado Ryan, a young buck out to avenge his old master’s assassination and, unofficially, a histrionic ex-stripper named Feathers (Angie Dickinson). One of the main plots concern Chance’s relationship with Dude, the former not deriding the latter but actually hopes that Dude goes back to his old form. During the screening, I saw this team as the manifestation of old values, that it was easier to get a job or a second chance those days even for a drunk. Now I also realize that most of Chance’s associates asserted and fought for a place in his circle, definitely a capitalist move for those characters.
There’s a slight presence of music felt in “Rio Bravo” as in some classic Westerns. The characters in the sheriff’s office can hear the trumpets blaring the same tune played by the Mexicans who invaded the Alamo. Also and most importantly is Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson’s musical number. There are many readings of music sequences like this. To relieve tension before the final showdown. To show how civilized the sheriff/hero is. To show a growing culture in the early days of America. All of those apply to “Rio Bravo.”
This film might also be the gayest John Wayne will ever be in front of the camera. Howard Hawks is all about the bromance, after all, and John Wayne has that sense of humour about himself that nobody expects. Almost trying on red pantyhose while Feathers walks in. Kissing his crippled jail guard in the forehead. Dude being jealous, thinking Chance has replaced him with a younger gun. Making the most beautiful woman in the world wait for Chance while he’s ‘stuck at work.’ Gay. In a more serious note, Chance is a character with a homosocial bond with his fragile deputy, treating the latter like a son, which is exactly what both need and they won’t shy away from that.
There’s also Feathers as a character, who is superficially more of a whore than a mother, but she’s more complex than that. For contrast, a man in “Rio Bravo” are carte blanche. One man is wronged by a woman while another is somebody’s son, but there’s no real history of the man beyond that. They might as well be born in and by the desert. Feathers, on the other hand has traversed from city to city, from being a gambling accomplice to singing songs in her stockings. She came from somewhere, has a deeper past, the bearer and mother of old America’s past sins. Yet she came to Presidio to eventually settle down and fortunately found a man willing to overlook her past. She’s shocked and even mad at him for overlooking the fact that she’s ‘that kind of woman.’ He likes you for who you are, girl, just take him. And yes, the age difference is kinda unrealistically creepy, but they eventually find a compromise.
Rio Bravo is showing on AMC at July 1 and 2, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you again.