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Warner Home Video presents
"'Sorry' don't get it done, Dude."
DVD ReviewThe DVD Review and Extras Review are by Jon Danziger.
Howard Hawks has long been the auteurists' darling—and auteur theory actually can be a great help with his films, and finding the common sensibility in screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby, gangster pictures like the original Scarface, and noir like The Big Sleep. There's no such thing as a Hawks signature film, then, but he made more than his fair share of Westerns, and Rio Bravo is something of a capstone to a great career. Plus, he got nuance and depth out of his leading man, John Wayne, in ways that I think eluded even John Ford, who was much more interested in Wayne the icon than Wayne the actor. But even if you've seen none of the above, this is a fine old time at the movies, and, like so many Westerns and Hawks pictures, is principally about the bonds of brotherhood.
The film opens with a sequence without dialogue, and it plays out almost like a ballet, when a feller gets gunned down in a saloon—it's almost like Hawks is going to walk us through the history of movies by starting us with a silent picture, and it works just beautifully. Wayne stars as John T. Chance, the sheriff 'round these parts—he's a laconic man of action, but he's not a loner. Dean Martin plays Dude, a onetime crackerjack deputy who's been done wrong by a woman just in off the stagecoach, and now he finds solace at the bottom of barrel—he's become the town drunk, more of an embarrassment to himself than to anyone else, and Martin is kind of great in the role. You sense that Hawks found a way to get the actor to bring his easygoing nightclub sensibility to the role—Martin never had great range on screen, but he taps right into Dude's vulnerability, his desire for a second chance and for Chance's approval. And if Dude is the prodigal son, Western standard Walter Brennan is functionally Chance's wife—he plays Stumpy, the old coot at the jail who's always nattering on about this or that. If Stumpy ever stopped complaining, you'd worry that he didn't love you anymore. Rounding out the little unspoken family is Ricky Nelson as Colorado, the up and comer, the little brother—he's wet behind the ears but he's a sharpshooter, and is pestering the coach to put him into the game.
To prove their mettle, of course, our merry band has to take on some bad guys, who quite literally wear the black hats. Claude Akins plays Joe Burdette, the murderer of the opening sequence; John Russell plays his brother, Nathan, who wants to break Joe out of jail. Hawks is masterful in building the tale to its necessary climactic shootout, and his story is filled with tension and good humor throughout. What hasn't held up as well is some of the comedy, much of which comes at the expense of the Mexicans in town—Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez with his wonderful hiccup of a name is the local innkeeper, and his interactions with Chance, intended as comic relief, play out as vaguely patronizing and flat.
And, inevitably, there is the girl. Angie Dickinson is the young lass who threatens to do to Chance what the last pretty face off of the stage did to Dude; and we are to believe that Wayne's Chance is a feral animal of such sexual magnetism that Angie swoons for him, a man easily twice his age, at first sight. In some respects it's clearly Hawks' attempt to bring way out West what Bogie and Bacall brought to The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, but you sense that the Duke's heart isn't really in it, that he'd rather be shooting 'em up with the boys. And you sort of sense that Hawks feels the same way. The only other element that's kind of disturbing from our vantage point is the manner in which Chance and the gang finally smoke out the bad guys, with an overpowering arsenal that smacks of David Koresh and Waco. But you're best off rooting for the good guys, hissing the bad ones, and leaving that sort of book learnin' for another day.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The transfer is a bit disappointing. While the Technicolor hues pop right off the screen with exceptional vividness, black levels and shadow detail are rather plugged up and shades of grey tend to get lost in the blackness. The film has heavy grain, and in exteriors it has a tendency to be a bit sparkly. Edge enhancement is visible at times, with gaudy haloes around the cacti in a sunset shot as Martin rides past them. The heat is palpable from the sunburned, sweaty skin of the leads, though, giving the picture a nice visceral flair. The opening credits are a bit flickery, but that may be residue of the opticals for the main titles.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The English mono DD+ tracks are reasonably faithful,down to the modest hiss audible in quieter moments. The dialogue is clear enough, though the dubbed-in lines stick out like a sore thumb. Dmitri Tiomkin's memorable score is presented well enough, though it is unsurprisingly stuck with the original limited range and depth. The reports of pistols and rifles are sharp, piercing and attention-grabbing.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 41 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Big Stampede, Haunted Gold, Somewhere in Sonora, The Man from Monterey
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Carpenter and film historian Richard Schickel
Extras Review: None of the extras are presented in HD. A Wayne trailer gallery is presented along with a commentary track from critic Richard Schickel and filmmaker John Carpenter. The two were recorded separately, which is unfortunate, as things can get a little dry. As you might expect, Carpenter focuses more on filmmaking technique, and Schickel on cultural context, discussing the actors and the Western's migration to television—even with two of them, though, there's plenty of dead air on the track.
The documentaries begin with the installment (:55m) on Hawks from The Men Who Made the Movies—it was produced by Schickel and is narrated by Sydney Pollack, and is a fine overview of the director's career. (Hawks obsessives, dedicated auteurists and dOc completists may recall that the same documentary appears on the second disc of the Bringing Up Baby set.) Commemoration: Howard Hawks' Red River (33m:21s) has lots of Hawks on audiotape, chats with film historians, interviews with filmmakers like Carpenter, Peter Bogdanovich and Walter Hill, and new footage of Angie Dickinson, giving a pretty fair look at the making of the film. And the movie's principal location is the focus of Old Tucson: Where the Legends Walked (08m:33s), a featurette that even comes with its own tour guide. The skimpy photo gallery from the standard DVD has gone missing.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAn iconic Western with the greatest actor in the history of the genre, and a culmination of sorts of the career of the great Howard Hawks.
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