In last night’s “Four Ain’t Enough” thread, “Bob Hightower” trotted out the old “anyone who prefers High Noon to Rio Bravo doesn’t really like Westerns” line.
I tapped out a pretty good Rio Bravo vs. High Noon piece 13 years ago, but here’s another go, written this morning and mostly freshly phrased.
I like Rio Bravo enough to own the Bluray and re-watch it every two or three years, but it’s mostly a laid-back, hang-out, easy-does-it thang by way of the lore of Hollywood westerns.
On top of being an anti-High Noon argument piece, of course — a refutation of the Carl Foreman idea that when push comes to shove, fair-weather friends (or 95% of those who behave as if they like and care about you, especially at parties) aren’t worth a damn, and when things get tough you’ve only yourself to rely upon. Which is precisely how I feel about life anyway.
The best westerns aren’t just about genre conventions and cliches, but about the human condition…right?
From the ’07 piece: “You know from the get-go that High Noon is going to say something hard and fundamental about who and what we are. It’s not going to just poke along some dusty trail and go yippie-ki-yay and twirl a six-gun. It’s going to look you in the eye and say what’s what, and not just about the political and moral climate in some small western town that Gary Cooper‘s Will Kane is the sheriff of.”
Rio Bravo is not really invested in the “uh-oh, the bad guys are coming to break Joe Burdette out of jail and kill us in the bargain” situation or even in the characters except for Dean Martin’s broken-down alky. Sweat, nerves, tremors of seal-loathing — 100% believable.
The best scene, of course, is that dialogue-free beginning in the saloon, although it never made a lick of sense that Martin would bash Wayne on the head with a wooden club simply because Wayne has given him a look of well-deserved disgust when Martin is about to reach into a spittoon to retrieve a silver dollar, which is course is par for the course for the town drunk.
It also makes no sense that Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) would casually shoot Bing Russell in the stomach at close range, as there’s been no real provocation. It’s almost on the level of “aaah, I’m bored, here’s a bullet.”
On top of which Ricky Nelson’s high-register, pipsqueak speaking voice is too late ‘50s, too eighth-grade, too malt shop, too “Be-Bop Baby”…it lassos Howard Hawks’ studiously self-conscious, movie-ish western and sends you right back to Ozzie and Harriet-ville every time he opens his mouth.
And that sing-along jailhouse scene (“My Rifle, My Pony, and Me”, which uses the same Dimitri Tiomkin melody that was heard over and over in Red River but with new lyrics) is a real curiosity. It was thrown in to placate Nelson’s and Martin’s fans, but it stopped the movie cold, of course, especially when Walter Brennan‘s “Stumpy” joins in on “Get Along Home, Cindy Cindy”.
You know what would’ve been cool? If Hawks had cut away to Joe Burdette in his jail cell, smiling and quietly humming along.
Also from ’07: “Does Rio Bravo have a sequence that equals the gripping metronomic ticking-clock montage near the end of High Noon? Is the dialogue in Rio Bravo up to the better passages in Zinneman’s film? No. (There’s nothing close to the scene between Cooper and Lon Chaney, Jr., or the brief one between Cooper and Katy Jurado.) Is there a moment in Rio Bravo that comes close to Cooper throwing his tin star into the dust at the end? Is there a “yes!” payoff moment in Rio Bravo as good as the one in High Noon when Grace Kelly, playing a Quaker who abhors violence, drills one of the bad guys in the back?”
And don’t forget my “Tarantino’s Once Is Kin To Rio Bravo” piece from last July.