The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Texas sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne, gracious, wonderfully complex) stands against wealth, power, inhumanity, embodied by land baron Nathan Burdette, who wants to spring from jail his brother, being held for murder, and who terrorizes the town. Chance turns down help from townfolk, to spare them reprisals from Burdette, and confronts Burdette and his swarm of hired guns with three allies: his two deputies, alcoholic Dude and old, crippled Stumpy (Walter Brennan, brilliantly funny), and a teenaged fast gun, Colorado.
Howard Hawks’s greatest western was a response to scenarist Carl Foreman’s High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952), in which Marshal Kane begs townfolk for deputies to assist him in standing up against a killer just out of prison. After every adult man turns him down, Kane faces Frank Miller and his men alone—except for his Quaker wife, who violates her religious principles by shooting Miller in the back. Kane may be described as a whining hero; Chance, as a man doing his job—and someone, however anxious, more at ease with himself than Kane.
The film begins with a nearly silent prologue that establishes two things: the plot (we witness the barroom murder); the relationship between Chance and Dude. Whereas High Noon’s characters are thinly conceived, those in Rio Bravo are richly human. Kane is fully formed, if along conventional lines; but Chance is still learning about life—as we see from his romance with Feathers, a younger gal with a past and, it turns out, an unwarranted bad reputation, and his exchanges with Carlos (Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, marvelous), the Mexican-American proprietor of the hotel in town.
Chance and Dude’s nighttime walks, to ensure the town’s peace and safety, occasion passages of the utmost suspense and visual beauty—and a sense of pressing professional obligation: Hawks’s American faith.
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