AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Rio Bravo
Alternate Title: A Bull by the Tail
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
Release Date:   4 Apr 1959
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 18 Mar 1959
Production Date:   early May--mid-Jul 1958
Duration (in mins):   140-141
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Cast:   John Wayne (Sheriff John T. Chance)  
    Dean Martin (Dude)  
    Ricky Nelson (Colorado)  
    Angie Dickinson (Feathers)  
    Walter Brennan (Stumpy)  
    Ward Bond (Pat Wheeler)  
    John Russell (Nathan Burdette)  
    Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez (Carlos)  
    Estelita Rodriguez (Consuelo)  
    Claude Akins (Joe Burdette)  
    Malcolm Atterbury (Jake)  
    Harry Carey, Jr. (Harold)  
    Bob Steele (Matt Harris)  
    Myron Healy (Man who throws silver dollar into cuspidor)  
    Fred Graham (Burdette's henchman who asks for town doctor)  
    James B. Leong (Burt, Chinese townsman)  
    Bob Terhune    
    Nesdon Booth    
    Ted White    
    George Bruggeman    

Summary: At the Texas border town of Rio Bravo, Joe Burdette, the brother of wealthy rancher Nathan Burdette, shoots and kills an unarmed man. Sheriff John T. Chance arrests him with the help of his former deputy, the alcoholic Dude. To prevent Chance from taking Joe to the Presidio to stand trial, Nathan hires a small army of professional gunmen to bottle up the town. Although Chance expects that it will take several days for help to arrive, he requests assistance from the U.S. marshal by sending a message via stagecoach. When Chance’s friend Pat Wheeler arrives in town to deliver a shipment of explosives, he describes Chance’s situation as having “a bull by the tail.” Seeing that Chance’s only professional help is the crippled and elderly deputy, Stumpy, and the shaky Dude, whom the townsmen ridicule and call Borrachón , which means “drunk,” Wheeler offers his services, but Chance refuses, unwilling to risk the lives of “well-meaning amateurs.” Chance tells Wheeler that Dude had been an excellent deputy, until a failed romance with Feathers, a female gambler, caused him to take up the bottle two years earlier. Wheeler suggests that Chance hire his new guard, the young Colorado, and praises his intelligence and gunmanship. However, Colorado declines the job, saying that he is better at “minding his own business,” thus earning Chance’s respect because he feels no need to prove himself. To protect Dude, Chance orders Feathers, who has just returned to town, to leave on the next morning’s stagecoach. Feathers takes a room for the night at the Alamo Hotel, which is run by married couple Carlos and Consuelo, and is also where Chance boards. That evening, when Chance sees Feathers winning at the card table using a deck missing three cards, Chance confronts her with an official notice reporting that a man, wanted for cheating at cards, is working with a woman who fits her description. She admits that the notice is referring to her and explains that her husband was cheating without her knowledge and then abandoned her. Weary of dodging her bad reputation, she suggests Chance search her for the missing cards. The tension is broken by Colorado, who suspects that a different player is cheating, prompting Chance and Colorado to search the man. After they find the missing cards up the man’s sleeve, Chance, acknowledging Feather’s innocence, says he will clear her name with the authorities; however, he still insists that she leave town. When a gunman shoots Wheeler in the back, Chance assumes that his friend was killed for supporting him against Nathan. Chance and Dude investigate the stable from where the shot originated and roust Wheeler's killer, who then runs to a nearby saloon. While suffering the derision of the saloon patrons, Dude discovers the murderer hiding in the saloon’s loft and outshoots him. During the night, Feathers, who is attracted to Chance’s reserved charms, and Carlos worry about the sheriff’s safety and, while he sleeps, Feathers stands guard outside his room without his knowledge. The next day, Nathan rides into town and demands to speak to Joe. Chance allows Nathan to enter the jailhouse, but threatens Joe with an “accident” if there are any attempts to storm the jail. After refusing to leave town, Feathers declares her feelings for Chance, who admits that he might return her interest if the situations with Dude and the Burdettes were less complicated. That night at the jail, Dude, noticing the burgeoning romance, reminds Chance that he once warned Dude about Feathers. When Chance and his colleagues notice that musicians have been playing the same song all day, Colorado states that the song is "El Deguelo," the “cutthroat song” played nightly by Mexicans to the men besieged at the Alamo, adding that he heard Nathan pay the musicians to play it as a signal to Joe. After Chance re-deputizes Dude, who has abstained from drinking for several days, Dude celebrates by shaving and taking a bath at the hotel. During the night, Chance discovers Feathers asleep outside his room and carries her in. In the morning, Dude, suffering delirium tremens, is captured by Nathan’s men. Soon after, three men ride into town claiming to need a doctor, and when they encounter Chance, they train their guns on him. Feathers, instructed by Colorado, distracts them by throwing a flower pot through the hotel window, allowing Chance and Colorado to shoot the men dead and rescue Dude. Afterward, Feathers, who is upset by Chance’s near death, drinks too much and drunkenly declares frustration with her unrequited love, to which Chance responds that he is glad that she stayed. His confidence lost, Dude resigns as deputy and is tempted to resume drinking. To Stumpy’s dismay, Chance gives Dude a bottle of liquor and taunts him about his past humiliations, believing that treating Dude “rough” works better than sympathy. Colorado has changed his mind about accepting the job of deputy and as Colorado is being deputized, Dude discovers that his “shakes” have subsided, passes on the liquor and takes his place with the other two deputies. Observing that Nathan has caused trouble only when they are outside the jail, Chance decides they should take refuge inside it, using Joe as a hostage until the marshal arrives. Dude and Chance then go to the hotel for supplies, unaware that Nathan’s men have already overtaken it. After capturing Chance and Dude, Nathan orders Chance to fetch Joe, who will be traded for Dude. Escorted by three gunmen, Chance returns to the jail, but he, Colorado and Stumpy outwit and overcome them. Upon returning to the hotel, they find that Nathan and his men have departed with Dude and left behind instructions for Chance to meet him with Joe at the edge of town. Colorado points out that Nathan cannot allow Chance and Dude to live, because their testimony in court regarding the murders will result in Joe being hanged. After ordering the less agile Stumpy to remain at the jail, Chance and Colorado take Joe to Nathan. As the prisoners are exchanged, Dude tackles Joe and knocks him unconscious, inciting a gunfight. When Nathan’s men attempt to surround them, Stumpy arrives and shoots them. After Colorado warns that Stumpy is standing next to a wagon full of dynamite, the older man retrieves a box of explosives and joins Chance. Working together, Stumpy throws sticks of dynamite toward the building sheltering Nathan and his men as Chance ignites each stick with a gunshot, causing an explosion. When the building erupts in fire, Nathan surrenders. Later, Dude, who no longer desires alcohol or his lost love, sends Chance to Feathers.
 

Production Company: Armada Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Howard Hawks (Dir)
  Paul Helmick (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Hawks (Prod)
Writer: Jules Furthman (Scr)
  Leigh Brackett (Scr)
Photography: Russell Harlan (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter (Art dir)
Film Editor: Folmar Blangsted (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Ralph S. Hurst (Set dec)
Costumes: Marjorie Best (Cost des)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus comp and cond)
Sound: Robert B. Lee (Sd)
  Wally Haynes (Sd ed)
  Seth Larsen (Sd ed)
  Billy Mauch (Sd ed)
Make Up: Gordon Bau (Makeup supv)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "El Deguelo," traditional, arr. by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Songs: "Rio Bravo" and "My Rifle, My Pony and Me," music by Dimitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster; "Cindy," traditional.
Composer: Paul Francis Webster
  Dimitri Tiomkin
Source Text: Based on the short story "A Bull by the Tail" by B. H. McCampbell (publication undetermined).
Authors: B. H. McCampbell

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Armada Productions, Inc. 4/4/1959 dd/mm/yyyy LP16295

PCA NO: 19034
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound Recording
  col: Technicolor

 
Genre: Western
Sub-Genre: with songs
 
Subjects (Major): Deputies
  Friendship
  Loyalty
  Reputation
  Sheriffs
  Sieges
 
Subjects (Minor): Adolescents
  Aged men
  Alcoholism
  Arrests
  Brothers
  "El Deguelo" (Song)
  Delirium tremens
  Dynamite
  False accusations
  Gambling
  Hired killers
  Hostages
  Hotels
  Jails
  Mexicans
  Murder
  Regeneration
  Romance
  Ruses
  Saloons
  Songs
  Texas

Note: The working title of the film was A Bull by the Tail . According to HR news items and a Filmfacts review, portions of the film were shot on location in and around Tucson, AZ. As noted in the HR review, the character "Nathan Burdette" hires a Mexican orchestra to play "El Deguelo," the "cutthroat song," to "keep the beseiged sheriff aware of the doom closing in around him." As mentioned in the film, the song was played at the Alamo by the Mexican attackers to signal "no mercy" to the Alamo defenders, and the name of the hotel in the story was The Alamo. The HR review described composer Dimitri Tiomkin's scoring of a "bullfight trumpet" playing “El Deguelo” as "one of the film's most vital elements of suspense."
       Although actor Ward Bond appeared in a cameo in the film Alias Jesse James (see entry above), Rio Bravo marked his final major film role. Although, according to a Mar 1958 LAT news item, director Howard Hawks negotiated for Frank Sinatra to co-star with John Wayne, Sinatra did not appear in the film. Although their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed, contemporary HR news items add the following to the cast: Walter Barnes, Dick LaMarr, Albert Cavens, Jon Fritz, Jay Gerard, Bernie Gozier and Bing Russell. A news item also adds Sheb Wooley to the cast, but he was not identifiable in the print viewed. Modern sources add Eugene Iglesius, Tom Monroe and Riley Hill to the cast.
       Actress Angie Dickinson's role was compared in several reviews to the role played by Lauren Bacall in another film directed by Howard Hawks, To Have and Have Not (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). The NYHT described Rio Bravo as "a satire on violence in the Western manner...the happy variety and hearty manner of [the villians'] execution....keeps the picture bumping along so merrily." The Var review reported that the film "gets off at one of the fastest slam-bang openings on record. Within 90 seconds, Wayne...is clubbed, another man knocked out and a third murdered.” On the number of deaths in the film, the LAT review stated that "the speed with which men bite the dust is not real enough to suggest the presence of death."
       Rio Bravo was the only film made under Hawks's Armada Productions banner and was the first collaboration between Hawks and Wayne since Red River (1948, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). Hawks and Wayne went on to make three more films together, the 1962 Paramount production, Hatari! , and two westerns that are considered companion pieces to Rio Bravo , the 1966 El Dorado and the 1970 Rio Lobo (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). In later years, Rio Bravo gained critical and popular appeal and, in 1978, the Village Voice named it as one of twenty-five most memorable cult films. In 1976, John Carpenter wrote and directed Assault on Precinct 13 , a modern story based on the theme of lawmen besieged by outlaws, and Jean-François Richet directed a 2005 remake, bearing the same name.  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Apr 59   pp. 224-25, 251.
Box Office   23 Feb 1959.   
Box Office   2 Mar 1959.   
Daily Variety   17 Feb 59   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Feb 59   p. 6.
Filmfacts   1959.   pp. 65-66.
Hollywood Citizen-News   11 Feb 1959.   
Hollywood Reporter   17 Mar 1958   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   1 May 1958   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   2 May 1958   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Jun 1958   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 1958   p. 10, 13.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Jun 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jun 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Jul 1958   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jul 1958   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jul 1958   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jul 1958   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jul 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Jul 1958   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Sep 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Feb 59   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Feb 1959.   
Life   17 Nov 1958.   
Los Angeles Examiner   19 Mar 1959.   
LA MIrror-News   12 Feb 1959.   
LA MIrror-News   19 Mar 1959.   
Los Angeles Times   17 Mar 1958.   
Los Angeles Times   19 Mar 1959.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   21 Feb 59   p. 164.
New York Times   19 Mar 59   p. 40.
Newsweek   30 Mar 1959.   
Saturday Review   14 Mar 1959.   
Time   6 Apr 1959.   
Variety   18 Feb 59   p. 6.
Village Voice   18 Feb 1978.   

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