Howard Hawks made a number of westerns in his life, none of which had the intense impact on us the way Rio Bravo did. The tension coming from its brilliantly simple—or simply brilliant?—premise is quite remarkable. The good guys are a bunch of likable, honest but oh so imperfect people thrown into a violent, bloody situation simply because of the fact they have principles, which makes them extremely easy for the audience to relate to, feel their anxiety and fear, admire their courage and resolve, nervously hoping for them to dodge every single corrupt and vengeful bullet that comes their way. The wonderful Leigh Brackett co-wrote the script with Jules Furthman, laying the foundation for Rio Bravo‘s truly stellar cast to shine in all its glory. Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and Ricky Nelson play their roles very charmingly, and there’s no need to comment on the performance of the genre’s epitome, charismatic and authoritative John Wayne. Brackett would later go on to write El Dorado and Rio Lobo for Hawks, both of which also starred Wayne, which would make Rio Bravo the beginning of an informal trilogy. The film’s score was written by Dimitri Tiomkin, and he did it in a way that a few years later Sergio Leone asked Ennio Morricone to write some “Dimitri Tiomkin music” for A Fistful of Dollars. Not only was the music inspiring: Rio Bravo itself served as a major source of inspiration for John Carpenter’s classic Assault on Precinct 13. Now, this might be dismissed as childish subjectivity, but the moment when the gang starts playing and singing ‘My Rifle, My Pony and Me,’ enjoying a brief moment of joy and relaxation in a night that just might turn out to be their last, is remembered here at C&B as one of the greatest cinematic moments of all time. A priceless film.
A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter, read Leigh Brackett & Jules Furthman’s screenplay for Rio Bravo [PDF]. Also, here’s Leigh Brackett’s screenplay for El Dorado [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). Leigh Brackett was one of the best there ever was. As long as we live, we’ll cherish her name. The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
In many ways, Leigh Brackett was the archetypal Howard Hawks woman. She was energetic, stubborn, self-sufficient, and self-deprecating, as were many of the female (and for that matter, male) characters in her scripts for Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1967), and Rio Lobo (1970), as well as for Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973). Besides being one of the few successful women screenwriters, she was one of the earliest successful women science-fiction writers, having entered the field professionally in 1939. Her best-known character is the larger-than-life swashbuckling hero Eric John Stark, who first appeared in the pages of Planet Stories in the 1940s and who returned in a series of novels she wrote for Ballantine Books. Brackett was married to the well-known science-fiction writer Edmond Hamilton, and they lived in Kinsman, Ohio, where, according to her husband, she spent her time “at a typewriter under the eaves of our old farmhouse, writing science fiction and mysteries, with frequent interruptions to run a tractor, clear paths in the woods, and spray the orchard.” She also edited a collection of her husband’s stories, titled The Best of Edmond Hamilton. This interview by Steve Swires was conducted several years before her death and the post-humous release of The Empire Strikes Back, her final screen credit.
I wrote the best script I have ever written and Howard liked it, the studio liked it, Wayne liked it, and I was delighted. We didn’t make it, because he decided to go back and do Rio Bravo over again. It could have been called The Son of Rio Bravo Rides Again. I wasn’t happy, but I did the best I could to make it a little different. Amazingly enough, very few people, except film buffs, caught the resemblance. I thought, my god! The critics will clobber us, because we did this before, practically word for word. The scene where Jimmy Caan threw himself in front of the horses we had done in Rio Bravo, but it was cut out of the final print because the final print was overlength. I said: ‘Howard, you can’t do that. Warner Brothers owns it.’ He said: ‘All right, I’ll buy the rights back.’ So what can you do? —Leigh Brackett: Journeyman Plumber
“I made Rio Bravo with John Wayne, it worked out pretty well and we both liked it, so a few years later we decided to make it again. Worked out pretty good that time, too. So now I’m preparing Rio Lobo. I called up Duke and asked him if he wanted to be in it. Sure, he said, he’d do it with me. I asked him if he wanted me to send the script over. ‘Hell, Howard,’ he said, ‘I’ve already done the goddamned script two times.’” —In Memory: Howard Hawks by Roger Ebert
Hawks speaks quietly and forcefully. He laughs often, interrupts often, listens intently and asks few questions. He is a curious mixture of taciturnity and loquaciousness. He seems to be a strong silent type and yet he talks almost continuously. During lunch we were perversely enchanted as we found ourselves hanging batedly on every scabrous John Wayne anecdote. ‘If I want to have fun at a party,’ said the master over his chef’s salad, ‘I’ll tell the Duke, ‘See that guy over there? He’s a Red!’ Later in the day we asked Hawks for a private interview. He agreed without hesitation. Nancy Reeves scheduled us for the following morning at ten. —Howard Hawks on film, politics, and childrearing
Listen to the audio interview with Howard Hawks (MP3 format, approximately 107 minutes). The Hawks interview was in his home in Palm Springs, California, in February of 1975. Interview conducted by Tony Macklin.
Part of the documentary series The Men Who Made the Movies. Directed by film critic Richard Schickel. Narrated by legendary filmmaker Sydney Pollack.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo © Warner Bros., Armada Productions.
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