Aug 272011

John Wayne and Angie Dickinson in Rio BravoA blu ray film review of the region free Warner edition of Rio Bravo.

The sets on Rio Bravo were built at 7/8 to scale so the performers would look larger than life.

Howard Hawks and John Wayne made Rio Bravo as a counterpoint to High Noon, they felt the film was un-American and an allegory to blacklisting, at the time it was made there was much political upheaval and paranoia in Hollywood with the House Of Un-American Activities Committee blacklisting many decent and honest people including the screenwriter of High Noon, Carl Foreman. Wayne and Hawks both thought that a real lawman would not want nor need to ask for help in handling a problem like Cooper's character did in High Noon.

John Wayne did actually pick up the best actor Oscar on behalf of Gary Cooper and said that he wished they had offered him the part instead, although he said if they did he would have made it more like one of his westerns.

This was the 22nd and final movie that John Wayne made with fellow actor Ward Bond.

Gary Cooper had actually visited the set of Rio Bravo as he was filming a movie called The Hanging Tree near by, on a later viewing of the film he said "so phony, nobody believes in it."

John Wayne was nervous about the love scenes between him and his co-star Angie Dickinson, she was only 26 at the time and Wayne was 51.

Montgomery Clift who had worked so well with Wayne, Hawks and Walter Brennan on Red River turned down the role of Dude, the part went to Dean Martin after Hawks was impressed that he had done a show in Las Vegas till midnight and then flew to meet him at 9.30am in the morning.

Quentin Tarentino once said that before he enters into a relationship he shows the woman Rio Bravo, if she doesn't like it then the relationship ends right there and then.

There is an inside joke on the movie. When Chance (Wayne) wants to make Colorado a deputy he asks Stumpy (who is off camera) where he keeps the badges, while Chance is looking for the badges, Stumpy (Walter Brennan) who is still off camera tells him to look after his own props, this joke refers to how Wayne started off in movies as a prop man and was known to get annoyed if the props were not where they were supposed to be kept.

As a publicity stunt for the film, Angie Dickinson's legs were insured by Lloyds of London.

John Carpenter was influenced to make Assault On Precinct 13 after viewing Rio Bravo, he also provides an audio commentary on the blu ray with film critic Richard Schickel.

Elvis Presley was first choice for the role of Colorado. Presley was keen on the film but his manager, Col. Tom Parker wanted too much money and top billing, the part went to Ricky Nelson.

Film Plot

A powerful rancher's brother thinks he can kill a man and get away with it but he reckoned wrong, Sheriff John T. Chance arrests him and vows to hold him until the Marshal arrives but its going to be a long wait and the rancher's hired guns are only too willing to shoot a man in the back for a gold coin.

The Sheriff must hold his prisoner and all he has for help are a crippled old man, a drunk and a young gunfighter, he also has more than just a little interest coming his way from a woman called Feathers. Can Chance hold out or will he die trying. Time is running out through bullet holes at Rio Bravo.


John Wayne with a gun in Howard Hawks film western, Rio BravoJohn Wayne can do these types of roles in his sleep and he puts in another good performance here, i enjoyed some of his lines of dialogue such as "You better hope your friends don't catch up with me, 'cause you'll be the first man to die." and i think you really could not pick a better director for this film than Howard Hawks, Wayne and Hawks worked together on what i consider the best western of all time, Red River, they would also go on to make two remakes of this film with El Dorado and Rio Lobo, but this is the original and best version of the film.

Dean Martin was perfectly cast, in real life he loved to party and drink and playing a drunk is not a stretch for him, he plays the character easily but he also has the perfect look for the part, let me go on record now and say that i think Mr Martin could act and he had charisma in abundance, he has a great scene in this film where he and Wayne go after a bad guy who is hiding out somewhere in the saloon, he plays this scene to perfection.

Howard Hawks as a director could be hit and miss with his film projects, but when he was firing on all cylinders, then you got something special, he made some truly great classic movies that are timeless and its acknowledged by director Christian Nyby that Hawks was a guiding hand on the set of The Thing From Another World, i consider Rio Bravo to be his last great film.


I have seen this film many times before but never in high definition though, on this particular viewing i must admit that at times i felt Walter Brennan's character was ever so slightly annoying, at times he could be amusing too but this time i did feel he was a little bit annoying, not a major criticism i must add, he was okay most of the time, i also feel some modern viewers who are used to fast paced action films may find the slow and deliberate pacing of this film off putting, it may bore some people who are used to watching a modern film which is edited at a much faster pace, now i will add that it does not in any way bore me, i enjoyed it, but i think it may be too slow for some modern audiences to take.

Ricky Nelson was okay for most of the time but i could see he was not really an actor, i wish they had got Elvis Presley for the part, he could act and with his personality and charisma he would have been a real force opposite a big character such as John Wayne, anyway i do think Nelson does okay in the scenes required of him, he is just a little bit lightweight for me when it comes to the talking parts, director Hawks knew this and kept the dialogue for Nelson to a minimum.

Image Quality

Angie Dickinson plays the part of feathers in Rio BravoI thought the image was mostly film like but a number of scenes have had some digital noise reduction applied.  I particularly felt the outdoor night scenes had grain reduction applied, its not disastrous but it does remove a little of the treasured film look and no doubt some detail too, i also noticed some artifacts during some of the night time scenes, thats noticeable when Wayne goes after one of the bad guys into a barn, i also thought a couple of scenes of John Wayne's face looked almost like the solarization effect you get in photoshop although to a much lower level, i feel these issues are minor and are because of Warners incredibly dumb decision to keep the bitrates as low as possible, sometimes the bitrate falls below 13mbp/s and there is simply no need for this when they have an additional 20GB of disc space to play with, now the reason they did it is because they decided to do a one encode fits all for the HD DVD and Blu Ray editions of the film, note this came out in 2008 when HD DVD was still an active and supported format.

I mention grain reduction in some scenes, the good news is that it does not affect the entire transfer, some scenes not affected are scenes of John Wayne and Angie Dickinson talking in her room, thats just one example and there are other moments like that,  Its just a pity they did not re-encode the film for blu ray and take advantage of the additional disc space and they could have then left all the film grain intact and upped the bitrate accordingly and the image would have benefited from this.

I should add that detail can vary shot to shot, sometimes a person on one side of the frame is in focus but on the other side is a little out of focus, i believe this is intentional or is simply a limitation of the camera lenses used at the time of filming, maybe a little of both. There are quite a few onscreen artifacts which you can see between the 37 minute mark and the 39 minute mark, this is the barn scene i have already mentioned and there is a lot of grain reduction also evident in that scene.

I also thought i saw some chromatic abberation in places, this resulted in some halo's being visible around objects and people, it was not something which bothered me and i could tell it was chromatic abberation because the edges had a purple colour to them, this was not edge enhancement. I think that the artifacts i saw would have all but gone and detail during both night and day scenes would have been improved if Warner had delivered a nice high bitrate transfer.

Sound Quality

This is a Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack, its only 192kbp/s and its a shame Warner didn't provide this mono track in lossless form but that would likely have meant the disc exceeding HD DVD's capacity and this encode which was made in 2008 was intended for both that format and Blu Ray, in that respect i cannot blame them for using a lower bitrate for a mono channel but at the same time i feel separate encodes should have been done to optimize for both formats.

You obviously do not get any surround sound with a mono track but i found it acceptable for this film, source elements seem to be in great shape and i didn't detect any hiss, just 1 brief audio dropout and no other noticeable issues, speech was clear and concise and, much to my surprise, gunshots had a decent amount of low end to them, all in all this was a perfectly reasonable mono track from a 1950's movie, it does the job required of it and thats all you can really ask of it.

Final Thoughts

Dean Martin in Rio BravoWayne is known for the western genre but he made a lot of other types of films, watch him in The Sands Of Iwo Jima, Wake Of The Red Witch, Flying Tigers or The Quiet Man and you will see he could act and was not just a cowboy figure. He actually started out in silent films before making the move into talkies and it was Stagecoach directed by John Ford that propelled him into the big league of movie stars. He would have been a success regardless of that film as he was hard working and had the right attitude to succeed.

I just wish Warner had treated this catalogue title better, obviously they decided to do one encode fits all and had to bring this in under 30GB because it was coming out on HD DVD in 2008 as well as Blu Ray as already discussed above but i would like to see Warner re-release this with a new encode and a nice high bitrate transfer, i feel the improvements would be worth it and image quality which is lacking in a number of scenes would be improved. Its probably not going to happen though, Warner will likely use the same encode for future re-releases.

I am looking forward to Red River which is supposedly in the works for 2012 and may be released on the Criterion label.