Rio Bravo DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

A great movie that comes with solid extras to flesh out its themes.
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
A great movie that comes with solid extras to flesh out its themes.
I wish the DVD was tucked into its vinyl covering a bit more snugly.
With John Wayne as Sheriff John Chance, Dean Martin as Dude, Ricky Nelson as the young upstart Colorado Ryan, Angie Dickinson as Feathers and Walter Brennan as Stumpy, Rio Bravo is a simple story about a group of good guys (Wayne and Co.), trying to stop some bad men from coming into town and springing their murdering friend from jail. Off the bat, this might sound like your run of the mill episode from Gunsmoke (which is a great show, by the way), but in the capable hands of all the actors and Director Howard Hawks, this movie is about as good as a western gets.

It's a classic tale, good guys get prepared as bad guys set their sites on their peaceful province. There is so much nuance, so many themes, so much ritual that goes into the art of defending your world and Howard Hawks captures all the bare essence of it. From the vast land of the old west, to the facial expressions of the entire cast, to those quiet moments when we realize just how solid each and every one of these performers is.

Rio Bravo is the kind of movie that in it's own way, every time you play it, celebrates why we love movies in the first place.
Commentary Tracks

John Carpenter and Historian Richard Schickel handle the commentary track on this release. They discuss things like the advent of TV changing the narrative in moving pictures (something I never thought about), Carpenter declares that Rio Bravo is his favorite movie, and there is talk of how Hawks consciously went back to his earlier values with this film. Carpenter offers interesting insights into how Hawks broke down the geography of his scenes and there's even talk about how this master auteur would borrow from himself.

Commemoration: Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo

The Man Who Made Movies: Howard Hawks

I loved this. In fact, had there not been any other featurettes on this release except this one, I would have been very excited. I have always wanted to know a lot more about this director. This featurette examines some of his best known films like Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and The Big Sleep. One of my favorite parts about this was listening to this cinematic maestro explain how some of the most well known scenes in his movies were merely done on a whim.

Old Tucson: Where Legends Walked

This is a historical look at the set where many legendary western productions were lensed. We get to see some nicely rendered pictures of this location, and we also hear about how studios used Old Tucson for 60 years. Historians talk about this place in regards to Rio Bravo as well as other films. While I think including this segment is a tad overboard, I will say that the super-duper western fans will surely get a lot out of what this offers.
Widescreen Version. Presented in a "Matted" widescreen format preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TVs. This is one of the best looking Standard DVDs I have ever seen. There is an almost auburn look to a lot of the interior shots, and the exteriors have a rich bluish, yellow quality about them. Also, Hawks always seems to have something going on in every single frame of his films. There is never any dead space. Even though it seems like he followed a particular structure, at all times this movie feels as fluid as possible.
Dolby Digital. English and French Mono. The audio for this movie is big (like a lot of the westerns) but it isn't obtrusive. It plays perfectly with the images we are seeing on the TV screen. It is very full and it seems to guide certain aspects of this film (creating foreboding moments, etc.), but none of that gets in the way. It could be because the western genre is known for following certain story plots, but I didn't find that I minded knowing what was going to happen. I already felt so invested on the character level that even the well crafted story seemed to come second.
Wayne, Martin and Nelson are presented on this front cover with a gold-like tint over their pictures. Below them is a shot of the characters with their guns and rifles drawn. The back features another shot of them brandishing their weapons, there is a description of what this movie is about, a large Special Features list, a cast list and technical specs. Both discs in this Special Edition come neatly stored in two separate trays in this amaray case. In addition to that, there also some very interesting and collectible production photos inside. This release comes with a vinyl cardboard cover (that is identical to the one it is covering) around it.
Westerns aren't made much any more and I think that that is a shame. Perhaps we live in a time when things are too ironic? Maybe two men sitting by a camp fire talking about their lives, couldn't be seen in any other way except as being homosexual? Revisionist film history tends to go back and reexamine those and other themes in movies like Rio Bravo. However, if you were to ask Howard Hawks (and he talks about this in his featurette), he simply did what he wanted to do in his films. He put people, actors and scenes together and didn't seem to waste a whole lot of time musing on it. I tend to think that over time, so many filmmakers have been influenced by film criticism that they feel they need to artificially insert those things into their films. I am not saying one is better than the other, but I think there's something to be said for keeping things simple.

With it's rich textures, vibrant colors, stirring performances and strong pacing, Rio Bravo is the kind of movie that deserves to not only be watched again, but be studied and then forgotten until it is rediscovered.

Do you like this review?