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Howard Hawks
John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, John Russell, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez
Writing Credits:
B.H. McCampbell (short story), Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett

John Wayne stars as the sheriff of a small western town who arrests a murderer and then must contend with the aggressive efforts of the killer's brother to free him before the state marshall arrives. Surrounding the town, the villains make repeated runs at the tiny jailhouse where their comrade is incarcerated. The sheriff is left to defend the territory almost single-handedly - his only aid being a rag-tag crew of misfits, including a drunk, an old cripple, a saloon woman, and a singing teenager. The plot's tensions build to one of the most explosive finales in cinema history.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 141 min.
Price: $20.97
Release Date: 5/22/2007

• Audio Commentary with Filmmaker John Carpenter and Critic/Film Historian Richard Schickel
• “Commemoration: Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo” Featurette
• “Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked” Featurette
• “The Men Who Made Movies: Howard Hawks” Documentary
• John Wayne Trailer Gallery
• Collectible Behind the Scenes Photo Set


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Rio Bravo: Special Edition (1959)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 15, 2007)

My gradual education in the films of John Wayne continues with 1959’s Rio Bravo. Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) arrests Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) after the psycho kills a man in cold blood during a bar fight. This doesn’t sit well with Joe’s brother Nathan (John Russell), and he causes tension in the town that puts Chance on guard.

Chance deputizes alcoholic gunslinger Dude (Dean Martin) and elderly coot Stumpy (Walter Brennan); they’re about the best he can do on short notice. They prepare for an inevitable attempt by Nathan and company to break out Joe. Wagon master Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond) offers the services of his men, but Chance declines since he thinks the amateurs will get in the way – except for young hotshot Colorado (Ricky Nelson), who becomes part of the posse after tragedy strikes. A woman with a shady past (Angie Dickinson) starts to fall for Chance, and she also joins their group. They try to hold out against attempts to free Joe Burdette.

Although this DVD offered my first screening of Bravo, I didn’t go into it blind. 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13 - and by association, its recent remake - liberally borrowed from Bravo. They updated the story and put it in a different setting, but the basics remained the same.

Of those three, the original certainly seems to be the best. The Assault remake was a stinker, while Carpenter’s version was an iffy pleasure. Actually, I liked it in most ways, but its low budget, amateurish origins made it less than satisfying at times.

None of those issues mar Bravo. In know way could I call the production “amateurish”, as it boasted fine production values and many other strong elements. Obviously Bravo comes with the best director via the legendary Howard Hawks, and the acting talent also stands out as a positive.

I must admit that factor surprised me. I respect Wayne as an icon but have my doubts about his performance skills. He provides a terrific turn as Chance, though. The Duke offers nice depth to his character. He presents strength and honor but doesn’t turn Chance into a cardboard, stoic stud. Wayne also makes sure we see the role’s fear and uncertainty; this is a rounded performance that makes the character memorable.

The supporting cast also does well, with another surprising positive from Martin. I think of him as a comedic presence, not a dramatic actor, so his rich work as Dude is a revelation. Martin doesn’t rely on cheap drunken gimmicks. He lets us see his flawed character’s pros and cons in a fine manner and adds real heart to the flick.

I might complain that Hawks takes quite a while to move along the story. At 141 minutes, this is a long movie for a pretty basic story, and it starts to drag at times. Nonetheless, Hawks occupies our attention well enough so that the slow spots don’t linger. Bravo boasts good natural character development. It allows for the personalities to grow and change in a believable manner. The film also dollops out exposition in a realistic way and evolves naturally.

The first half suffers somewhat from a paucity of action, though Hawks makes sure it’s not just talk. We get a smattering of livelier scenes to maintain our attention before the long climactic battle sequence. This factor allows the tension to grow ala something like High Noon. We know what’s coming, so the movie toys with us and makes us wait for it.

All of these factors turn Rio Bravo into a memorable western. An involving tale filled with interesting characters, it creates a good little action piece. The movie keeps us with it despite some slow spots and ends up as a winner.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Rio Bravo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film came with a pretty average transfer.

While “average” doesn’t mean “bad”, I must admit that the image looked worse than I’d expected based on current standards. Source flaws were one moderate concern. Grain could be a bit heavy, and I noticed a mix of specks and marks through the flick. Though these weren’t prominent, I thought they seemed more noticeable than expected.

Sharpness also demonstrated some issues. Definition usually seemed fine, but the shots could turn somewhat soft at times. I didn’t think these tendencies became terribly distracting, but they left us with a less than concise image at times. Jagged edges weren’t a problem, but a little shimmering occurred and I noticed some edge haloes on occasion.

Colors were decent. The movie came with a rather brown tone much of the time, and this could make the result somewhat drab. Still, the hues usually seemed fine within the cinematic constraints of the setting. Blacks were appropriately dark and dense, while shadows showed nice delineation. At all times, the transfer appeared perfectly watchable, but it lacked the spark I anticipated.

As for the monaural audio of Rio Bravo, it appeared fine for a nearly 50-year-old flick. Speech could be a little thin, but the lines showed reasonable warmth and never suffered from any form of defects. Music lacked great dimensionality as well, but the score showed acceptable clarity and definition. Effects came along the same lines, as they were clean and without distortion but they failed to present much range. Some light background noise cropped up at times. This was a competent track for its age.

For this “Two-Disc Special Edition”, we get a broad collection of supplements. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from filmmaker John Carpenter and critic/film historian Richard Schickel. Both provide separate running, screen-specific tracks edited into one piece. They discuss cast and crew, story, characters and themes, sets and locations, music, and Hawks’ style as a director.

When we hear from Carpenter or Schickel, they offer some fine information. Schickel provides the majority of the material and he even presents some criticism of Bravo, a welcome choice given the preponderance of praise usually found in commentaries. We find nice insights into Hawks’ preferences in terms of visuals and story, his self-plagiarism, and the impact of his dislike of High Noon on Bravo.

Too bad we encounter so much dead air during this commentary. This doesn’t turn into a problem during the movie’s first third or so, but after that, we find lots and lots of gaps. Given the presence of two participants, this becomes a real drag. I think the track’s informative enough to overcome the flaws, but the problems make it less impressive than it could have been.

We discover a collection of promos in the John Wayne Trailer Gallery. It gives us the ads for Bravo as well as The Big Stampede, Haunted Gold, Somewhere in Sonora, and The Man from Monterey.

Over on DVD Two, we begin with two new featurettes. Commemoration: Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo runs 33 minutes, 15 seconds as it blends movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Carpenter, filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich and Walter Hill, UCLA Department of Film and Television’s Jonathan Kuntz and Steven Mamber, Howard Hawks Papers’ curator James D’Arc, and actor Angie Dickinson. We also find some old taped comments from Howard Hawks.

“Commemoration” looks at how Bravo acted as a personal reflection on Hawks and where it fit into his career at the time. The program lets us know of TV’s influence, the period popularity of westerns, and how these affected Bravo. In addition, we learn about casting and performances, the script, shooting the flick and related subjects, Hawks’ tendencies and their role in Bravo, some censorship issues, and the movie’s reception.

Only one modest problem occurs during “Commemoration”: repeated information from the commentary. Of course, if you skipped that track, this isn’t an issue, and it’s not a major concern either way. Despite some repetition, “Commemoration” offers a rich, incisive piece. It covers the nuts and bolts of the film well and also digs into various forms of subtext. I find a lot to like in this tight program.

Next we find the eight and a half minute Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked. It features Kuntz, Old Tucson Studios tour guide Dan Schneider, Old Tucson Studios former owner Rob Shelton, and Old Tucson Studios entertainment manager Mark Kadow. We get info about Old Tucson Studios with an emphasis on its use in Bravo. The short piece gives us a nice examination of the locations.

For a look at the director, we shift to The Men Who Made Movies: Howard Hawks. Narrated by filmmaker Sydney Pollack, it lasts 54 minutes, 47 seconds and includes comments from Hawks across various years. Presented in chronological order, “Hawks” looks at career highlights. We find out things like the development of the director’s signature dialogue style as well as specific elements of certain flicks.

Also found on the 2005 Bringing Up Baby DVD, “Hawks” mainly acts as a compilation of movie clips. The majority of the show focuses on those. Pollack’s narration fills in some gaps and Hawks’ anecdotes tell us some details about the productions. The latter are good but they pop up too infrequently. The show becomes acceptably informative, but I’d prefer something with fewer film snippets and more behind the scenes details.

Finally, the set includes a Collectible Behind the Scenes Photo Set. It presents eight black and white photos from the film’s shoot. I don’t know how “collectible” these are, but they’re a nice touch.

Despite its length and casual pacing, Rio Bravo deserves its status as a classic flick. The movie involves us with its simple but powerful story, lively dialogue and interesting characters. The DVD comes with acceptable picture and audio plus some pretty good extras. No one will mistake this for a great DVD, but it serves its movie fairly well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7575 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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