Opening on an old, tired-looking caravan of budding settlers, Rio Bravo captures the iconography of the hardened old west values within seconds. Its harmonica-clad soundtrack brings life to the dusty hills and sprawling, empty fields that were soon to be farmed and built upon. As John Wayne storms his way onto the screen, he is promptly beaten and knocked unconscious with a flimsy plank of wood. Such is life, director Howard Hawks wishes for his audience to expect the unexpected, and by opening with Sheriff John Chance taking a beating almost immediately, he sets down a tone of unpredictable natures and unlikely scenarios.
Hawks presents the usual tones of a Hollywood western, the slightly brown and murky atmosphere that comes from the dust, dirt and sand. Extending far beyond that of their surroundings, characters are draped in pastel colours, light smatterings of whites and creams. Wayne and his lightly defined clothing are as recognisable as you would expect them to be, Rio Bravo relies on his steady hand and biting wit often. He and Dean Martin make for a striking duo, the old school western values meet the hot-headed, risqué attitudes of the future. Chance and Dude share a respect of the town and the west, but their approach to upholding the law differ tremendously. Martin in particular is superbly commanding, he has more than a few scenes at the forefront, laying down the law on unruly cowboys and vagabonds.
Each tavern they rumble appears to be full of seedy creatures of a far-off land, full of scum and wretched intent. Weeding these individuals out, Hawks crafts a great number of exceptional scenes, as a small handful of struggling, decrepit sheriffs and deputies hold out until reinforcements can arrive. Painting the town as a hateful place full of mockery and controversy, the deputies fall to the illnesses that has corrupted weaker men than they, Rio Bravo conducts its story under the pretence that no man or woman is innocent. Providing this style with forthright solidity, the film manages to include notions of big ranchers and money buying their way out of problematic scenarios, and the unwavering lawmakers that try to put an end to it. Wayne provides these moments well, through well-addressed speeches and exceptional writing.
With a stoic appearance and a less-than-emotional process of thought, Chance tries his luck from time to time with meticulous victories. Making a quick pitstop for a random musical interlude, even the corniest of Rio Bravo make for engaging fun. A great story, told with a steady hand and a slow-burning passion to get it right, Hawks, Wayne and Martin hold steady and handle supporting narratives well, even when they fail to make much of an impact. All of it comes together well, the old west comes to life with a friendly, if cold and cautious style. Usual happy endings, underlying tropes and the dusty towns of the cowboy-stuffed saloons, Rio Bravo comes together well, and with that, has no real desire to disgust or strike fear into its audience. A sad shame, it could have been so much more.