A western with both Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in it might not seem authentic, but such an assessment would be dead wrong. Rio Bravo is a true classic. John Wayne is Sheriff John T. Chance. In his employ are Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and Dude (Dean Martin), a cripple and a drunk, respectively. Soon into the movie, the Ward Bond character, a close friend of Chance, is shot in the back. Joe Burdette is taken to the local jail, but it is anybody's guess as to whether or not he can be held. His brother, Nathan, is the most influential presence in Presidio County, TX. The Burdette gang, moreover, is powerful. The odds are stacked in its favor. And an ample amount of fifty dollar gold pieces seem readily available to pay for killings.
Feathers (Angie Dickinson) is an itinerant card sharp. Even though she does not cheat, a circulating handbill states as much, so Chance wants to put her on the stagecoach to anywhere else. So many stars and as many subplots keep this film moving. Not only its characters, but the way in which it is shot is also of interest. There is something thrilling about the way Dude, who seems to have eyes behind his head, moves just so and shoots a bad hombre in the saloon. The camerawork is kind of hard to describe and simply must be seen to be appreciated. Howard Hawks, director, has everything going for him in this film: acting, dialogue, story, and camera. According to auteurist Andrew Sarris, Hawksian heroes are defined in terms of professionalism rather than traditionalism, the signature trait of John Ford's counterparts. True enough, the town's lawmen are all gainfully employed, and take their jobs seriously.
Mood is yet another factor. This is especially evident during the playing of the Deguello song, loosely translated as "cut throat". Its funereal tone adds to the tension. Ultimately, the good guys prove themselves against the bad guys. Things might have been expected to unfold in this manner, but it is entertaining to see how it happens. The pacing is on the slow side, and in this case, it helps. When the time comes, the intermittent action gets quite a bit of attention.
There is no such thing as a work of art that is above and beyond criticism, and Rio Bravo can be subjected to all sorts of critical slings and arrows. But why spoil the fun? The movie has too many assets to dwell on its liabilities. In the Sheriff's office, Dean Martin sings a western ballad while Ricky Nelson strums a guitar. As Stumpy, Walter Brennan has never been better. He provides a lot of comic relief. Without teeth, he looks so seedy, and he complains constantly while limping about. But he is good with a rifle and does not hesitate to use it. He is definitely tough enough, as seen in the final balletic shootout.