Rio Bravo: Dimitri Tiomkin’s Score, Ricky Nelson and the Three Songs in the Western

The musical score was composed by the famous composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who ironically had won an Oscar for Zinnemann’s 1952 Western High Noon. Tiomkin’s score includes the hauntingly ominous “El Degüello” theme, which is heard throughout the film.

Colorado identifies the tune as “The Cutthroat Song,” since this song was played on the orders of General Antonio López de Santa Anna to the Texans holed up in the Alamo, to signify that no quarter would be given to them.  Wayne then makes sure that the viewers get the message by stating that the song means “no mercy for the losers.”

The tune was again used in 1960 over the opening credits of John Wayne’s film, The Alamo, which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Years later, Composer Ennio Morricone recalled that Italian director Sergio Leone had asked him to write sort of “Dimitri Tiomkin music” for A Fistful of Dollars, his Western starring Clint Eastwood. Indeed, the trumpet theme in that film is similar to Tiomkin’s “Degüello” Incidentally, the Italian title of Rio Bravo is Un dollaro d’onore, A Dollar of Honor.

Because the film starred a legendary singer, Dean Martin, and a teen idol, Ricky Nelson, Hawks decided to include three songs in the soundtrack.  The placement of the songs in the narrative is significant.  The first one occurs just before the big showdown, in the jail house, when Dean Martin sings “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” (which contained new lyrics to a Tiomkin tune that had appeared in Hawks 1948 Western, Red River) accompanied by Nelson.  After that, Nelson sings a brief version of “Get Along Home, Cindy,” accompanied by Martin and Brennan.

And at the end, over the closing credits, Martin, backed by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, sings a specially composed song, “Rio Bravo,” written by Tiomkin with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.

Ricky Nelson later paid homage to both the film and his character Colorado by including the song “Restless Kid” on his 1959 LP, Ricky Sings Again.