Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo (1958)
Warner Home Video
Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Career Profile, Trailer Gallery

Understandably, Westerns are sadly still somewhat of a rare commodity on the fledgling high definition formats and as such every entry is truly welcome. As part of the celebration of John Wayne's 100th Birthday, Warner Home Video has prepared a high definition version of one of his most beloved films, "Rio Bravo."

The life in the Wild West was a rough one and after a bar brawl, local bully Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) is arrested for shooting an unarmed man. Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) is locking the snotty young man up in order to keep his town nice and quiet. But Joe comes from an influential and powerful family. His brother Nathan (John Russell) is a wealthy landowner in the region and he is determined to spring his little-brother from jail, and teaching the Sheriff a lesson.

When diplomatic procedures fail – not that he tried really hard – he brings in his own henchmen and hires some additional gunslingers. They begin infiltrating the little town, making for an atmosphere that is very tense, trying to bully Chance into deliverance.

But Chance decides to take his chances and wait for the Marshall to arrive and take care of his prisoner. With the help of his deputies, Dude (Dean Martin), a down-on-his-luck drunkard, and Stumpy (Walter Brennan) an old man who would be more than happy to blast Joe to Kingdom Come, he bides his time, careful not to take any unnecessary chances.

The pressure mounts and Chance and his men are grossly outnumbered by the opposition when help arrives in the form of Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond), an old friend of the Sheriff's who has just pulled into town with his trek and a few men who can lend a gun to the situation. And yet, the gangsters try to break Joe out of prison but come up empty-handed every time. Their luck seems to change in their favor though, when they manage to kidnap Dude and use him as a hostage for an exchange with the prisoner.

"Rio Bravo" is a fun-filled, gung-ho Western that is much better than its successors, "El Dorado" and "Rio Lobo." John Wayne, now a little older, is settling in his familiar role, giving us a great performance that is complemented by a great supporting cast that includes Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and a gorgeous, young Angie Dickinson. Despite its 140-minute running length, the movie is always entertaining and moves along at a brisk pace, and before you even know it, comes to its conclusion. Romanticized, featuring great, iconoclastic photography and ever-blue skies, "Rio Bravo" is one of the films that burn themselves into your mind and create an immediate association with the genre. The film's visual vocabulary, the story and the characters are so stereotypic that they have become the genre, and ever since seeing this – and many other films like – it as a boy the Wild West has taken on a certain shape in my mind that is perfectly captured in "Rio Bravo."

"Rio Bravo" marks Howard Hawks' return to movies after a temporary 4-year sabbatical and yet he is clearly at the top of his game. Creating a suspenseful story with intense characters that viewers can side with, sprinkling a little romance on top, showcasing a loosened-up John Wayne and delivering some funny moments and social observations, "Rio Bravo" is one of Hawks' best loved films. His cast and the performances he gets out of his players are absolutely wonderful while he works his own magic behind the camera.

Warner Home Video has prepared a 1080p high definition transfer for this release that makes sure you will enjoy every minute of this classic movie. While not quite in the same league as "The Searchers", the transfer is clean and clear and holds a good level of detail. Restoring the movie's 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio the transfer is mostly free of grain and blemishes and offers up vibrant colors that nicely reproduce the warm look of the movie. The transfer holds a good level of detail but always feels a bit rough. Very fine image details are typically lost, giving the picture a somewhat dated look with soft edges. Black levels are solid and deep, visually rooting the image but at the same time being responsible for some of the lack of detail as the harsh contrasts in the image prevent fine textures to come across in all their detail. Regardless of this "Rio Bravo" is a great-looking addition to Warner's high definition library.

The release contains the movie's original monaural audio track in a Dolby Digital presentation. It has been re-mastered and has a corrected frequency response with some added bass extension. The result is a track that doesn't sounds as harsh as it used to on earlier releases. While still clearly showing its age, the track nicely complements the images on the screen and always remains understandable and clear.

As extras you find a commentary track on the release, featuring film historian Richard Schickel and director John Carpenter. The track is chockfull of information coming from both participants. It is a bit hard to discern at time which remarks come from whom but the amount of content and information delivered here is truly remarkable, offering a good glimpse into the making of the film and its context in time.

Also included is the featurette "Commemoration: Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo" exploring this defining film in Hawks' career. The featurette contains interviews with Angie Dickinson, John Carpenter, Peter Bogdanovich and many others, including Howard Hawks himself. It truly gives viewers an understanding how this film came together, how Hawks and Wayne got together to turn both their careers around and how it ultimately ended up becoming one of their best films.

"Old Tucson: Where The Legends Walked" is another featurette on the disc, giving you a look at the locations that were used in movies – and in Rio Bravo" in particular to create the signature look of the Wild West. Sadly all featurettes are presented in 480p standard definition only.

A Howard Hawks "Career Profile" is also included as well as a trailer gallery of John Wayne movies.

"Rio Bravo" is a wonderful film that was tailor made for John Wayne and allowed him to redefine his coolness. With a stellar cast, a great story and a masterful director to put it all on the big screen, this is classic Hollywood Western magic at its best. Celebrate the Duke's birthday and commemorate his incredible body of work by popping in "Rio Bravo" in your HD-DVD player. You won't be disappointed.