Rio Bravo, the Ultimate Collector's Edition
One of the great westerns of all time, Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo has been released in a new package that includes so much extra stuff it could almost seem excessive.
Meant as kind of an "anti-High Noon," Rio Bravo is the tale of Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne), his burned out drunk of a friend and deputy, Dude (Dean Martin) and deputy-sidekick Stumpy (Walter Brennan), along with hotshot new kid/fast draw in town Colorado (Ricky Nelson), as they wait for the other boot to drop after Chance arrests for gunning down an unarmed man the no good brother of a no good Bigwig.
Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) is a small time low life, but blood is blood and so brother Nathan (John Russell) wants to keep him from the gallows. And he has plenty of time: Chance is holding him in a cell at his sheriff's office, waiting for the federal Marshall to show up a few days down the road. And Nathan has plenty of resources, so he basically lays siege to the town, all the while sending in hired killers to, if not spring Joe, at least to make life as difficult as possible for the town and its Sheriff.
It's a great story, though it does tend to meander along at a leisurely pace – between outbursts of violence. Rio Bravo is filled also with a creeping dread, and yet there are moments of surprising tenderness – such as when Chance picks up potential girlfriend "Feathers" (Angie Dickinson), who fell asleep while staying on guard to let him get some much-needed sleep, and takes her up to bed. There's also some good-natured humor, mostly between the four protagonists holed up in the Sheriff's office but also between Chance and some of the townsfolk.
It's also a movie about redemption, or at least potential redemption (for those who haven't yet seen this classic), as Dude struggles to become relevant again and as Feathers tries to find some new meaning in her life.
Wayne's character is a strong, reasonable man who epitomizes professionalism, and The Duke wears it like a well-tailored suit. Martin's Dude is a has been working at becoming an "is now" once more, but it isn't easy drying out. Nelson's Colorado is a fresh faced kid who's fast with a gun but short on experience, and Brennan's Stumpy is kind of a broadly drawn "wife" character to Chance, keeping the home fires burning and he's filled with gruff and grumpy opinions about how Chance should be running things – but he's always there when needed.
Dickinson provides some nice softness, though her character also has steel beneath her surface – and the rest of the eclectic supporting cast is nothing short of splendid.
It's really a heckuva a film.
The new DVD presentation is also one heckuva, but it could have been better. Oh, you get more stuff in this boxed, two disc set than you can shake a stick at, and it's pretty neat, but we would have loved a better presentation of the movie itself.
According to the box, Rio Bravo has been given newly restored video and audio, but if that's true other versions must have been really lousy. The new picture is, thankfully, presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, but it isn't nearly as clean as many other restorations we've seen. The colors are fine, and the detail is good, but overall it really needs to have the grain scrubbed away to give it a new lease on life.
The audio is okay. We don't expect much from old soundtracks such as this one, though sometimes we're pleasantly surprised. Here, we get Dolby Digital mono and it works.
Then Warners piles on the extras.
First up among the "conventional extras" is a running commentary track with director John Carpenter (whose "Assault on Precinct 13" was apparently inspired by Rio Bravo) and film critic/historian Richard Schickel. Schickel is back on disc two as the creative force behind "The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks", a fascinating look at the producer/director and his body of work. It's about an hour long, and is very interesting stuff.
There's also a selection of John Wayne movie trailers, a commemoration of Rio Bravo and "Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked", a look at the old West town location used by this and other movies over the years.
Then there's the other stuff in the box, which runs the gamut from a 16 page reproduction of the original press book, 8 color reproductions of movie theater lobby cards, and even a full color, 32 page reproduction of Dell's 1959 Rio Bravo comic book.
It's neat stuff, but we'd have given it all for a cleaner version of the movie. On the other hand, maybe this is as clean as they could get it; we have no way of telling.
But a less than perfect Rio Bravo is still a title worth having, especially if you like the classics.
Rio Bravo, the Ultimate Collector's Edition, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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