This weekend we went with most of my husband’s family to a resort in the Poconos paid for generously by my mother-in-law on her 75th birthday. Saturday night was ‘Hoedown Night’. Cowboy hats and kerchiefs provided by the lodge. My husband put on a hat and wore the kerchief bank robber style. A few thoughts came to mind. First, my husband is super hot. Second, it is nearly impossible to play “dangerous bank robber ala Robert Redford and shy schoolmarm ala Kathryn Ross” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with a five-year-old underfoot. Third, I love westerns.
My favorite western isn’t the typical riding the range kind it’s Rio Bravo (1959, directed by Howard Hawks) starting John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and Ricky Nelson. (And – a supporting role by one of the Kings of the Westerns – Ward Bond.)
The film has the feel of a stage play with majority of the action taking place in the jail between the main characters mostly taking to each other: John Wayne, the sheriff (and former gunslinger) Chance; Walter Brennan, the cranky, “crippled”, old codger deputy who calls ‘em as he sees ‘em Stumpy; Dean Martin, the deputy with a drinking problem Dude; and, Ricky Nelson, the hot-shot kid gunslinger-for-hire Colorado Kid.
Within the first few minutes, Wayne’s, character Chance arrests the no-good brother (played by Claude Atkins) of a ruthless, wealthy rancher. The drama then becomes what will happen to this rag tag group lead by Chance when the brother sends an army of gunslingers to free his kin.
Wayne is the star of this film but the story to watch is Dean Martin’s. His character Dude is a drunk who because of his drinking puts things into motion and because of his stopping drinking helps put things right. His is the redemption story. (I don’t need redemption in a film but when it is done well it sticks with you. This stuck.)
As the four wait for the inevitable show down with the hired guns and as tension and fear builds the men talk a lot about what stuff means in this world – this is also called ‘character development’ which I miss in films now days. A Hawks strong suit, given free reign here – are that thoughts and emotions can be conveyed with just looks and other subtle human actions. (The pain on Wayne’s face as he watches Dude struggle to regain his tattered dignity.)
The men – three of them old friends – know they only have themselves to rely on in this mess. To kill the time as they wait – they clean and sing songs (thanks to the talents of Martin and Nelson). They look out for each other, they talk about their feelings, life philosophies. They rag on each other. In other words, they care about each other. I think Hawks threw the sexy girl character Feathers in played by Angie Dickinson solely as a catalyst for these men to talk about love and honor and respect.
It is a talky for a western. But, I like that. The only thing sexier than my husband dressed as a cowboy is when my husband tells me what he thinks and feels.
And, don’t worry there are plenty of kick ass scenes of the shoot-em-up-kind. Each of them gets their licks in and it is awesome.