Westerns are sadly still somewhat of a rare commodity on DVD. Although a number of films have been released, compared to other genres, Westerns still dwell a living on the sidelines. Fortunately things seem to be changing a bit and apart form some previous releases, Warner Home Video now brings us "Rio Bravo," a classic Howard Hawks film starring the inimitable Duke himself, John Wayne. It had been a while since I had last seen the film and the DVD was a very welcome addition to my DVD diet, making for an utterly enjoyable viewing experience.
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 has an influential and powerful family. His brother Nathan (John Russell) is a wealthy landowner in the region, dead set on springing 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 Chace into deliverance.
But Chace 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.
Slowly the pressure mounts and Chace and his men are grossly outnumbered by the opposition, but 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 still, the gangsters try to break Joe out of prison, yet come up empty handed every time. Their luck seem to change in their favor though, when they manage to kidnap Dude and use him as a hostage for 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 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 Angie Dickinson. Despite its 140-minute running length, the movie is always entertaining and moves along at a great 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."
Warner Home Video has created a good-looking anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film for this dual-layer DVD, restoring the movie’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer itself is mostly clean and clear, without distracting blemishes or other deficiencies for the most part. There seem to be a few color-timing problems with the print however, and in a number of instances, frames appear incorrectly exposed just before splices occur. Although not as remarkable as some of the fully restored releases of classic films we have seen in recent times, "Rio Bravo" is a beautiful transfer the decries the film’s age. The level of detail is general good, although edges appear a bit soft at times. The color reproduction of this presentation is very good, brining these pictures to vivid life, much better than any other version I have seen. Although a bit inconsistent, colors are typically faithfully rendered and skin tones look natural.
The transfer features deep blacks that don’t break up, and shadows that always maintain a good level of definition. The slightest signs of dot-crawl is evident in some of the dimly lit scenes and a hint of grain is evident in a few shots. The compression is very good and no artifacting will take away any of the pleasure that is to watch this fun movie on this DVD.
The DVD contains the movie’s original monaural audio track in a Dolby Digital presentation. The audio is nicely presented, although the track’s limited frequency response gives away the film’s age. Harsh sounding dialogues and the lack of bottom end are simply an indication of the technical limitations that plagued film productions in general at the time. The track is free of hiss or crackles, and is free of sibilance or distortion, making for an effective presentation.
Warner Home Video has included the movie’s theatrical trailer, as well as some cast and filmmaker profiles on the disc, but they are the only supplements available.
Once again, Warner Home Video is bringing us a cool film that was long overdue to make its DVD debut. The presentation on this DVD is beautiful, making watching the movie all the more fun, creating an almost nostalgic aura as you enjoy the thrills and fun of this great flick. Check out this DVD if you’re in the mood for something more "vintage" for a change.