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Of the films that legendary western star John Wayne made for director Howard Hawks RIO BRAVO ($20) is quite possibly the best. In this classic oater, Wayne stars as Sheriff John T. Chance, the tough, no nonsense lawman of a small western town. However, the situation in the town turns deadly after Chance arrests Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) for murder. Soon after the arrest, Chance discovers that the jail is being watched by hired guns on the payroll of the wealthy Nathan Burdette (John Russell), who wants to get his brother out of jail. Unfortunately, Chance's only support is his crippled deputy Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and former deputy Dude (Dean Martin), a terrible drunk, who has been on the wagon for only a matter of hours. As the time draws closer to turn his charge over to the US marshals, Chance finds that he and his deputies have to face Burdette's paid killers in an inevitable showdown.

While the plot of RIO BRAVO may sound like typical western fodder, the film is anything but. All of the characters are sharply drawn and the performances are rock solid. As usual, Wayne underplays the heroism of his character, something that worked very well during his entire career. The biggest surprise in RIO BRAVO is Dean Martin's wonderful performance as the lawman recovering from his alcoholic stupor during a crisis. Martin usually appeared in lightweight material, but in RIO BRAVO he shows himself to be an actor capable of real emotional depth. As expected, the ever-reliable Walter Brennan brings much-needed comic relief to the proceedings, without ever diminishing the intensity of the story. Howard Hawks' direction is straightforward and the pacing of the film very tight. Thanks to Hawks, there is no flab here- RIO BRAVO is western entertainment, pure and simple. The cast of RIO BRAVO also includes Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson and Ward Bond.

Warner Home Video has made RIO BRAVO available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. The transfer is a very good, very clean rendering of an older film. RIO BRAVO is nowhere as crisp looking as a brand new film, but the image is pretty sharp and offers reasonably good definition. Colors are rendered at a realistic level of saturation and the palette seems to favor earthen tones, which works very when one considers the western setting. Flesh tones look pretty natural, without the made up appearance found in older films. All of the colors remain pretty stable, without the more intense hues showing any significant signs of smearing. Blacks are accurate and the level of shadow detail is on the money for a 1959 film release. Contrast is pretty smooth and the picture provides good depth. The film element used for the transfer displays only minor blemishes, none of which distracts one from the presentation. Some film grain does crop up from time to time, but its nothing that can't be easily ignored. Clean dual layer authoring conceals any evidence of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free from audible distortion and sounds good for its age. Frequency limitation keep the sound effects and music from having the immediacy that one finds in new films, but is still quite effective. Dimitri Tiomkin was one of the great film composers of Hollywood's golden age and his score sounds just fine on this DVD. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and fully intelligible. In addition, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson's voices sound especially melodious during the song that has been worked into this horse opera. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer and filmographies.

RIO BRAVO is a great western that genre fans and fans of "The Duke" will want to own. Warner's DVD looks and sounds mighty nice, making this disc a worthwhile acquisition.


 Rio Bravo


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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