Rio Bravo was Hawks’ response on the other western High Moon by Fred Zinnemann. Hawks accused Zinnemann’s sheriff of being weak and unprofessional. Thus, he created his own version of the story, presenting “the most detailed and elegant expression of his typical concerns – self-respect, self-control, the interdependence of select chosen friends” (McCarthy 565).
Thus, the main concern of the film was relationship between the main characters. Wood calls that relationship a family relationship, where Chance is “Father”, “the master of the “home” but with the freedom to move outside”; Stumpy is “Mother”, who almost never leaves “the home/jail”; Dude and Colorado are “the occasionally troublesome sons” (Wood xxii).
Wood stresses that this close relationship is very strong and committed, because “family members are bound” not by blood, but “by personal loyalty and mutual respect” (Wood xxii). Thus, limited settings of the film only contribute to the creation of such intimacy. Hawks creates a small community where such close family relationship is transparent. The small town keeps the main characters together. Hawks deliberately restricts the area to concentrate on the relation.
It is very interesting, that though Rio Bravo is a western, it is more focused on the relationship rather than on the action. Single area setting enables Hawks to create the necessary background for relationship development and characters’ personality development depiction.
As stated above the film is focused on the interrelations and personality development. Thus, each of the characters goes his/her own path to find something inside of oneself and become better. From the very beginning of the film Dude is trying to go this path, and. Finally, he succeeds.
From the very first scene of the film Dude receives the necessary impact to change oneself, overcome his weakness and become a good, strong and reliable person. This impact is actually the key event of the story, event which provokes the whole story. First, the viewers meet a miserable drunk Dude, and then they get to know that this drunk was once a respected man.
Finally, in the course of the film Dude becomes positive and respectful. It is worth mentioning that Hawks doesn’t deprive Dude from being human, and he yields to his weakness and gets drunk, he shows his weakness. But it does not mean he is again that miserable drunk. It only proves that Dude is a strong man who is ready to give his life for his friends and the right deeds.
Another figure that is changing during the film is Chance. This sheriff is very strong and confident; he understands and accepts his responsibility for the order in his town. He doesn’t want and doesn’t afford to accept help from non-professionals. He rejects the help of people of his town, motivating that by the fact that these “helpers” will be only easy targets for the bad guys. Chance is very confident is really like a father, a bit superior and responsible for his family. This is vividly revealed in the scene when they sing a song in the jail, all are involved: Dude, Colorado, and Stumpy.
Only Chance is a little bit apart, watching them, smiling as if at his lovely kids. But he changes and accepts their help, after he sees them to be professionals. For instance, in the scene when they change Dude for Burdette Chance is sure in Dudes ability to win Burdette. Chance finally admits that his “children” are grown-up and can help him. It is worth mentioning that Chance has changed not only in his attitude to his friends.
He also changes his attitude towards women by saying Feathers he loves her. He is ready to quit his lonely life and he is ready for romantic relationship. Chance is not that tough emotionless guy that he used to be; now he is open to new emotional experiences.
It is also very interesting to see the change of the character considering Feather. Being a female character in a western, as Wood suggests, means to be an entertainment part of it; females are often deprived of some independent actions, they are a kind of entourage, though they are also indispensible (Wood xxiii). However, this film reveals Feathers as a strong character who “trains Chance”, trains him “for a relationship of spiritual equals” (Wood 48). Apart from changing Chance, Feather also changes her relationship with herself and her life. She is also changing during the film.
From the salon entertainer she turns into a strong and committed personality, she does not go with the stream anymore; she is ready to take control of her life. One of the pivotal moments of this change can be regarded the scene when Feather talks to Colorado, she admits that her life is different from that it is to be. It may be the moment when she understands that changes are necessary. One more crucial moment for her is when Chance asks her to stop wearing feathers, thus, stop leading the life she led.
Then Chance says he loves her, and that can be the final impact that changes Feather into a respectful woman, who respects herself. Thus, all these characters became better due to interrelation with each other, their help, attention, respect and support made all of them capable to become better.
Apart from creating the atmosphere of intimacy which was to stress the characters’ relationship and personal development, Hawks still succeeded in creating a good western with action, guns and shooting. Hawks was a real professional. One of his best findings was the creation of the affect of suspense. From the very first scenes of the film there is suspense of Burdette’s attack.
After the killer imprisonment the viewer is waiting for the great fight of bad guys and good guys. Everyone in the town is waiting for it, sheriff and his deputies are getting prepared. Focusing on the characters interrelations Hawks never stops reminding the viewer about the coming attack.
Characters dialogues are full of this suspense. One of the ways to enhance the suspense is music. The scene when Burdette pays Mexicans for playing that specific tune. And from that moment the tune never stops, Colorado explains that this is a sign, the sign that the prisoner will be saved. Thus, this continuing melody keeps the viewer aware of the fact that the fight is inevitable.
In conclusion it is necessary to add that Rio Bravo became one of the best examples of westerns due to its originality and preciseness. Not many westerns are as much concerned with relationship and such important issues as professionalism, friendship and responsibility. Thus, Rio Bravo is still watched and praised since, on one hand, it reveals a great example of how to make a good film, on the other hand, it represents classic western with deep insight into the nature of people relationship.
McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
Wood, Robin. Howard Hawks. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2006.