Rio Bravo Reconsidered:
Rio Bravo was never one of my favorite westerns but, but after reading Haunted by the Memory of Her Song: Fifty Years of 'Rio Bravo', I may have to see it again. Here is how it begins:
Exquisitely crafted, but never ostentatious. Pleasantly mellow, but never lazy. Thematically rich, but never preachy. Respectful of tradition, but never stolid. Deeply compassionate, but never descending into schmaltz. Five decades ago, a group of men now long-dead (and, it must be said, one smokin'-hot woman, still-living) followed an aged veteran director into the Arizona desert to make a humble, heartfelt western based firmly on quintessentially American notions of courage, decency, and good humor. The result of their collaboration, Rio Bravo (1959), remains one of the great visceral pleasures of cinema.I found this point particularly interesting:
Howard Hawks' masterpiece stemmed from his disgust with the joyless anti-heroics of uptight, melodramatic westerns like Fred Zinnemann's High Noon (1952) and Delmer Daves' 3:10 to Yuma (1957) — dark "message movies" that seemed to revel in smugly depicting small-town Americans as cynics and cowards. The man behind such classics as Scarface (1932), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), To Have and Have Not (1944), Red River (1948), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was in his early sixties in 1958, his career winding down after decades of constant production. He had interned for Famous Players-Lasky way back in 1916, and directed his first features in the mid-1920s. Thirty years later he was old and tired, and his last film, Land of the Pharaohs (1955), had been a disheartening flop. Since then, the previously prolific director hadn't helmed a picture in three years, an unheard-of period of self-exile for a man who had cranked out movies regularly for decades. But the brazen slap across the face that High Noon had given America's western mythology had bothered him. "I made Rio Bravo," he later told an interviewer, "because I didn't like High Noon. Neither did Duke. I didn't think a good town marshal was going to run around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking everyone to help. And who saves him? His Quaker wife. That isn't my idea of a good western."
Most crucially, it was director Hawks who crafted John Wayne's character into a master not only of action but of reaction, in the process establishing an overriding feeling of camaraderie that makes the film endlessly rewatchable. "John Wayne represents more force, more power than anyone else on screen," Hawks claimed, and yet by dint of directorial will the star of Rio Bravo becomes everyone else's straight man. During the course of the plot the Duke gets socked by Dean Martin (twice!), is verbally out-dueled by the precocious Ricky Nelson, suffers the outrageous behavior of Walter Brennan, is relentlessly teased by the ever-flirtatious Angie Dickinson, and is continuously rescued by all of the above. "You give everybody else the fireworks," Wayne grumbled to Hawks at one point, "but I have to carry the damn thing."While on the subject of John Wayne, consider this: Guess Who's the Third Most Popular Movie Star in America Today?
And yet Hawks knew that, with a universe of talents at his disposal, Wayne's secret weapon was always his generosity and humility as an actor, his penchant for binding himself and his ego to the needs of a picture. He was unparalleled in his ability to lend his potent movie-star glow to others in a scene, holding up the entire business like a grizzled, enduring Atlas. For Rio Bravo, the breakthrough came during one of Dean Martin's many set-pieces, while Wayne was standing aside and watching glumly as Martin got to once again chew up the scenery with his performance. "What do I do while he's playing all of these good scenes?" he finally asked Hawks in frustration.
"Well," Hawks replied, "you look at him as a friend."
Suddenly everything Hawks had been striving for, the entire emotional spectrum he was meticulously constructing, became clear. And throughout the finished Rio Bravo, you can go to any point and see the spectacular results of Wayne embracing Hawks' perceptive direction. Watch, for instance, the scene after Walter Brennan's character Stumpy has almost killed Dean Martin by carelessly shooting at him through the jailhouse door. Wayne stands by as Brennan, one of the all-time great scene-stealing character actors, goes through an entire blabbering monologue of words and emotions that covers denial, mortification, and finally a resigned acceptance of responsibility. It's all great stuff, hugely entertaining — but look closely at Wayne. Not a word spoken, not a single word. And yet his pitch-perfect reactions to each of Brennan's lines gives the scene its touching pathos and power.
Wayne spends virtually the entire film loaning his star power to others in this fashion, not acting so much as reacting, and using those reactions to give his co-stars a much brighter spotlight in which to shine. Indisputably, we have Howard Hawks to thank for that. The Duke was known to sometimes distrust and argue with lesser directors, but along with John Ford only Howard Hawks commanded his absolute respect. "Hawks I trust with my life," he once declared, a sentiment amply proven by the fearless bigheartedness of his performance in Rio Bravo. Both star and director were so happy with the way their collaboration went (only their second time working together after Red River eleven years before) that they more or less remade the same plot twice more in later years, as El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970). The relationship was a special one. Long after both Hawks and Wayne had died, Peter Bogdanovich (who knew both) recalled in an interview that "The last times I saw both Cary Grant and John Wayne, they both talked about Howard, about missing him."
No, it's not any of those celebrities we're told are stars. DiCaprio and George Clooney didn't even make the top 10. Neither did Ashton Kutcher, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Seth Rogen, Matt Damon, Will Farrell, or Tom Cruise.
Every year for about 15 years now, Harris Interactive has conducted a nationwide poll and asked a very simple question: "Who is your favorite movie star?" And every year since the taking of the poll one particular individual has placed in the top ten — 13 of those years in the top 3.
This year, 2,388 U.S. adults were surveyed and this star rose three places to tie Will Smith for third. Only Denzel Washington and Clint Eastwood rank as more popular.
One last hint before the reveal: This star is the only actor in the history of the poll to rank posthumously: