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RIO BRAVO
1959 - Howard Hawks
United States
19
Opening Shot

The opening sequence to Rio Bravo is brilliance in all of it's skill and strangeness. The scene is staged in a bar and is almost completely without dialogue up until John Wayne enters the second bar to arrest the outlaw and set the plot (as well as the films subplots) in motion.

The Film

Picking one single film from the incredible and diverse filmography of the Howard Hawks may be the most difficult of any filmmaker simply becuase he made so many great films (of different types). So I will stick with one of his most definitive and purely entertaining works - Rio Bravo. The Howard Hawks trademarks themes have never been clearer then are here with Rio Bravo, one of his most beloved and most purely entertaining films of his incredible filmography. There really are very few flaws to this film, which tells it's story directly and without force or flashy style and technique. As always, Hawks finely crafts the film and the characters at his own leisurely pace blending elements of action, comedy, and romance within the western setting. This was Hawks return to filmmaking after a 4-year hiatus. He opens the film with an equally dazzling and bizarre action sequence that is almost completely without dialogue. This sets the pace for the rhythmic flow of the film and sets up the characters who are gradually developed further as several subplots submerge into a beautiful film of morals and values that define Hawks as a filmmaker. The cast is perfect, with the great John Wayne leading the way in a role he was more then capable of handling. Here as Sheriff John T. Chance he plays the trademark hero figure. His chemistry with the cast is exceptional, especially Angie Dickinson who here is playing the quintessential Hawksian female in the way she mixes it up with the guys. Together Wayne and Dickinson capture that magical wit and charm of Hawks screwball romantic comedies. Of course not to forget is the supporting performance given by Walter Brennan, one of the greatest "character" actors in American film. In Rio Bravo, Brennan seems to be a recycling of his other roles with Hawks, but you really can never get enough of him. Rio Bravo is one of the truly definitive Howard Hawks films. At the center of just about every Hawks film lies characters that must rely on or believe in each other. This is clearly defined here, in a film that is pure old-fashioned Hollywood filmmaking at its best.

The Filmmaker

Howard Hawks is one of the (if not the!) greatest filmmakers of the Hollywood Studio era (perhaps only rivaled by Alfred Hitchcock). Hawks was a master in every sense. Maybe not the poetic or artistic visionary such as Hitchcock, Orson Welles, or John Ford, but Hawks is the great master of narrative and perhaps the best "storyteller" in American cinema history. His versatility is matched by almost no one and it further establishes Hawks mastery of narrative and character. Simply put, his films are straight-forward, flawlessly paced, and well told films that could easily be placed within genres… and Hawks made them all! In fact, he is responsible for some of the very best in each genre: screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, Monkey Business); western (Red River, Rio Bravo); noir (The Big Sleep); musicals (Gentleman Prefer Blondes); romance (To Have and Have Not); adventure (Only Angels Have Wings); gangster (Scarface); war (Sergeant York). Though he made straight-forward genre films, Hawks was not a hired studio director on these films, as they were his films and made the way he wanted (he usually produced and control the script writing), which ultimately was not to fit within the conventions of the studio. Perhaps that is the reason each of his films are so classic and timeless. His other gift with narrative came in his ability to adapt literature on film. For this ability, Hawks was occasionally offered to assist other directors and writers with their films. Without the visual style of many of his peers of the era, and with heavy-focus on narrative, Hawks still made films with a strong artistic and personal expression, much of what can be discovered underneath the surfaces of his narratives. There is a sense of adventure and energy that emerge from Hawks' detailed examination of his characters decisions. Hawks characters tend to hide their true feelings either through silence or endless talking (such is the case in the non-stop dialogue of his screwball comedies). The center of most of Hawks narratives are characters that need or grow and believe in one another, and Hawks' films follow this development through both feeling and thought. Above all, Hawks simply makes great films of all kinds, that each can be endeared or even examined over time. He truly was the master of the studio era. Amazingly, Hawks was never honored with an Academy Award (he was only nominated for Best Director once- 1942's Sergeant York). He did receive an Honorary Achievement Award in 1975 (two years prior to his death).

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