Rio Bravo (1959): Cinematic Overture and Closure; Band of Outsiders

Unlike most Westerns (and most films), Rio Bravo begins with a nearly silent, dialogue free sequence, which introduced the two main characters, played by John Wayne and Dean Martin.


Joe Burdette, the spoiled younger brother of wealthy land baron Nathan Burdette, teases and then taunts the town drunk Dude (Dean Martin) by tossing money into a spitoon.

The sheriff, John T. Chance (John Wayne), prevents Dude from degrading himself by stopping Dude from reaching into the spittoon.  His act prompts Dude to lash out and knock Chance unconscious, thus showing that his weak, but not completely out of control (and devoid of manliness).

Joe starts to beat Dude for fun, shooting and killing an unarmed bystander who attempts to stop him.

After recovering, Chance follows Joe into Nathan’s personal saloon, and, with help from a penitent Dude, overcomes Nathan’s men and arrests Joe for murder.


Chance gives Dude back some clothes and guns that he had left behind when he became a drunkard, thus helping him restore his lost masculinity.

Further on the road to “clean” normalcy, Dude gets a haircut and shave, trying to get a fresh start, physically and mentally.

Unfortunately, Stumpy doesn’t recognize Dude when he returns, and shoots at him, shattering Dude’s nerves.

The next day, Dude is still shaky and finds himself ambushed by Burdette’s men, who threaten to kill him unless Chance lets Joe go. Colorado and Feathers distract the men long enough for Chance to get his rifle, and he and Colorado shoot down the men and free Dude.

Real Men Don’t Quit

Dude thinks about quitting and letting Colorado take his place, but when he hears “El Degüello” being played, he resolves to see the thing through to the end.

Dude and Chance return to the hotel so Dude can take a bath (another step in his restoration).  But Burdette’s men capture Carlos’ wife Consuelo and use her to lure Chance into a trap.

Dude tells Chance to take the men to the jail, under pretext that Stumpy would let Joe out. However, Stumpy opens fire, as Dude secretly predicted. In the chaos, some men drag Dude off to Nathan, who demands a trade—Dude for Joe. Chance agrees, and he brings Colorado as backup.

Dude and Joe brawl during the trade, and a firefight ensues. Stumpy throws some sticks of dynamite from the wagons into the warehouse where Burdette and his men are holed up, and Chance detonates them with his rifle, abruptly ending the fight.

With both Burdettes and their surviving gunmen in jail, Chance is able to finally spend some time with Feathers and admit his feelings for her.

Colorado volunteers to guard the jail, allowing Stumpy and Dude to enjoy a night out in the town.

In the very last scene, the old man and the former drunk, now relaxed and relieved, take a friendly walk, during which they observe Angie Dickinson’s black lingerie gets thrown out of the window above them.

In Rio Bravo, Chance is surrounded by a group of allies, each of whom is deficient in some ways, or “lacks” the attributes that are associated with heroic action.

Chance, a tough and honest deputy who is brave and good with a gun, is surrounded by Dude, a man recovering from alcoholism, Colorado, a young untried but self-assured gunfighter, Stumpy, a limping “crippled” old man who is doggedly loyal, a Mexican innkeeper (Carlos), his wife (Consuelo), and Feathers, an attractive young woman and former singer, who lacks direction (or future) and might be in the wrong place.

Yet each one of them, when tested and needed, rises for the occasion and proves himself/herself.  While Chance, initially and repeatedly, turns down aid from anyone he does not think is capable of helping him, ultimately, he does need and get help, manifest in the final shootout.

“Who’ll turn up next?” Wayne’s Chance asks amid the gunfire, to which Colorado replies: “Maybe the girl with another flower pot,” referring to what Feathers has done earlier, when she had guarded Chance.