The sheriff of a small town in southwest Texas must keep custody of a murderer whose brother, a powerful rancher, is trying to help him escape. After a friend is killed trying to muster support for him, he and his deputies - a disgraced drunk and a cantankerous old cripple - must find a way to hold out against the rancher's hired guns until the marshal arrives. In the meantime, matters are complicated by the presence of a young gunslinger - and a mysterious beauty who just came in on the last stagecoach.
The good outweighs the bad in Hawks macho movie. Filmed by Howard Hawks as a response to what he saw as none macho cinema in Gary Cooper's acclaimed High Noon, Rio Bravo has moments of brilliance that are sadly coupled with failings that are not Hawksian peccadilloes. The macho plot is simple but wholly effective as our heavily out numbered heroes (John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan & Ricky Nelson) defend a jail house against a marauding mob trying to release an incarcerated friend. This alone sounds grand but the truth is, is that it takes the film nigh on close to 100 minutes to get to the adrenalin rush of the siege and even allowing for fine character development, the film is ponderous and even at times dangerously close to being self indulgent. The casting of Ricky Nelson was (as is widely regarded now) one of the worst of its kind in the history of cinema, he was there purely as a marketing ploy to garner the teen audience who were bopping to his pop tunes way back then. In fairness to Hawks, though, he saw straight away that this was out of Nelson's league and promptly (and cutely) gave him few lines of note to speak of. Also a big negative in the film is Angie Dickinson as the Female interest, she is raw and fresh out of water, and it shows, just like sushi on your plate. The bonuses with the film however keep the film talked about for ever more, Wayne is magnetic and believable, whilst Martin comes into his own as the drunk trying to do right, a superlative performance from him and one would think that is really down to Hawks' direction. The action sequences are of a high standard, while the tight intimate feel of the town is precious - and who can resist an ending that makes you want to go fire yer guns in the air? A very good film, but not a Western masterpiece by a long shot. 7/10