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THE SHORTEST LONG WESTERN: RIO BRAVO

by Peter Bogdanovich
February 21, 2011 8:40 AM
11 Comments
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Supposedly, when Quentin Tarantino was dating he used to run his own 35mm print

of Rio Bravo for each new girlfriend, and if she didn’t like it, he stopped dating her. This

may be apocryphal but it indicates Quentin’s passion for that John Wayne-Dean Martin-

Ricky Nelson-Howard Hawks Western first released in 1959. I share it---to me, Rio Bravo
is the most entertaining Western ever made, as well as the shortest long Western (2 hrs. 20

min.)---it just flashes by. Tom Petty feels the same way, and Westerns are his favorite kind

of pictures.

Back in 2007, I wrote a long piece on Rio Bravo for Peter Kaplan’s The New York

Observer, and they have it on their website. Peter loves Rio Bravo too. If you want to read

the full article, click here. And way, way back when the picture originally opened, I saw a

press screening of it at what used to be Loew’s 72nd Street Theater, and fell in love. I didn’t

yet know the work of Howard Hawks, but started looking into his filmography and realized

that four of my favorite pictures from the age of ten were directed by Howard Hawks:

Red River, I Was A Male War Bride, Sergeant York, and To Have and Have Not.

Three years later, in the summer of 1962, N.Y.’s Museum of Modern Art did the first Hawks

retrospective in the U.S., having been suggested and curated by me; the Museum also

published the first monograph on Hawks in America, “The Cinema of Howard Hawks,”

which consisted mainly of a long interview I conducted with Mister Hawks, which was the

beginning of a friendship with the director that lasted until his death in 1977.

And it all started with Rio Bravo, about which I wrote for Ivy Magazine (a short-

lived Ivy League publication) in 1959 that the picture was like a long , comfortable, vastly

enjoyable visit with some old friends. And it still is…..

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11 Comments

  • Andrew | March 2, 2011 11:54 AMReply

    This has nothing to do with "Rio Bravo," but I finally saw "Targets" and have to thank Peter for making it. Instantly, I added it to my "Best Films About L.A." list. You capture the dark side of this city and this country.

    You gave Boris Karloff the last role worthy of his talents, and I was very moved when you revealed the applause he got from the crew after many years of silence.

  • Donald | March 2, 2011 4:40 AMReply

    This is for dads (or moms) out there who plan to introduce their children to "Rio Bravo." Do not make the same mistake I did. Because of the length, I broke up the film in what I thought would be more manageable chunks for my preteen. Unfortunately, the stops and starts only served to frustrate him and it tempered his enthusiasm for the film. You can only see "Rio Bravo" for the first time once, and I ruined the experience. I will never forgive myself.

  • fung0 | March 1, 2011 11:17 AMReply

    ROFL... I just followed the link to the full Observer article, and discovered that Mr. Bogdanovitch and I are apparently of one mind as far as this film is concerned. - almost down to our exact choice of words. Guess I should have said I hated it... we'll never get a lively debate going this way!

  • fung0 | March 1, 2011 10:38 AMReply

    My favorite Hawks work will always be Only Angels Have Wings - a near-perfect film that successfully elevates cliche to the level of archetype. Rio Bravo doesn't quite have the deep mythic resonance of that earlier film... but then it's more lighthearted, and more endlessly re-watchable for that. It's one of those few movies that I can never resist watching, even if I happen across it half-over while channel surfing.

  • mike schlesinger | February 27, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    It's one of my three favorite films, and I've sung its virtues to anyone who'll listen. Oh, how I wish you had done the DVD commentary, Peter; the one we did get--by Richard Schickel--is beyond horrendous.

  • PB | February 27, 2011 7:03 AMReply

    Thanks for all your comments, everyone; I'm glad to feel such warmth for
    this beautiful picture. And especially, thanks to Blake for your always
    insightful observations---here on my blog---and whenever you write.
    Very encouraging and inspiring too.

  • Christopher Stilley | February 27, 2011 12:15 AMReply

    ..and so the "Lounge" Western was born.

  • Blake Lucas | February 26, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    I can't really add anything profound to what's already been said in your fine Observer article (did read this one when you first wrote it too) or to the other comments, with all of which I completely agree.
    So I guess I just want to say I love it too.

    Really, would life be quite as good without Rio Bravo? I've been seeing it for over fifty years now (first time at a matinee opening weekend when I was 14--big crowd, lots of teenagers who came partly to see Ricky Nelson, and everyone loved everything in it though I guess no one walked out and said "That's what the art of the cinema is" even though we should have) and it has lifted my spirit so many times. Sometimes, it just comes into my mind and I hear Dean singing "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" and kind of start quietly singing along even though of course I don't sing like Dean or Ricky! But it makes me happy just to think of that movie.

    Hawks' story about taking some time off was always interesting to me. I don't completely agree with him about his earlier 50s movies after The Thing (and aren't there four, rather than three?). I adore The Big Sky, a sublime Western though perhaps more quietly so, and consider Monkey Business one of the best 50s comedies. But I don't understand the appeal of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes--and it's well-known now that Hawks let Jack Cole do the musical numbers, which are smoothly and imaginatively done but lack the spontaneity of the musical sequences Hawks himself directed in other movies. As for Land of the Pharoahs, of course it makes no sense for him to have done this, and yet it's kind of fascinating in a way, not what you'd call a success but it has a strange appeal if you're in the mood for it.

    Still, I think that break was plainly really good, and although we don't think of Hawks as much given to self-reflection, it feels like there was more to it than even the things he himself said. He seems to have really thought a lot about what things he cared about, what kinds of things he wanted to express in the relationships, what his strengths really were in concise expression of the scenes (for as long as the movie indeed is, the reason it feels short is that it has a relaxed ambiance--and so much humor!--but is never for a moment really slack; everything counts) and in getting the kinds of things he did from actors. Because there just isn't anything he doesn't do well in Rio Bravo, the script and casting already ideal and just made more so by his moment to moment creativity.

    Hawks has more than his share of great movies, but for me he's long had two especially at the very top--Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo. Made 20 years apart, they have things in common, as well as differences. Style in Hollywood had inevitably changed a lot and Hawks' own style always evolved within this, so Rio Bravo wouldn't have that rich black-and-white atmosphere of Only Angels. And yet, it's beautiful on its own terms, and personally, I love Westerns more than anything, especially if they are this good, so if I ever had to choose (though, as John T. Chance said so memorably "I'd hate to have to live on the difference), I'd have to say for me Rio Bravo is his masterpiece.

    Can anyone miss the excellent timing of Rio Bravo as Picture of the Week here? For this is Academy Awards week, something people make so much of and yet it means so little, and in truth, in terms of what great movies are all about, it means nothing, nada, zero, zip. I'm not saying that no picture ever won (or any director or other contributor) that I myself love--it happens sometimes. But what if they hadn't? Would they be any less? This is one of the most glaring examples ever--not a single nomination and no Oscars (the failure to acknowledge Westerns in their peak period of 1946-1962 is a whole other subject) and yet what movie ever deserved them more?

    But it doesn't matter. It's the same movie we love. And really, at that point, I think it was more important for Hawks to have a popular success anyway.

  • Steve Lanigan | February 25, 2011 12:01 AMReply

    One of the best pictures ever made (and not just in the western genre). The reason I keep coming back to watch this is purely to see so many actors actually enjoying themselves in a film. Andrew Willis` post hits the nail on the head - It`s a wonderfully lazy film, perfect for a lazy day.

  • Andrew Willis | February 24, 2011 5:05 AMReply

    I love Rio Bravo too. There are few things better than crashing on the couch on a cool autum day watching Rio Bravo. I am interested in what it is about Rio Bravo that you love so much. Is it the performances or the script or the direction. I would like to know what is it about these things that really sets Rio Bravo apart from other westerns or even other films in general.

  • Shaun Smull | February 24, 2011 3:43 AMReply

    You're right it's the shortest long western because I always thought the movie was only 90 minutes. It moves so fast that I didn't realize it was 2 hours and 20 minutes. I guess time flies when you watch great movies.
    And by the way does anybody know where can I watch The Criminal Code, I want to see it so bad.

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