If someone mentions John Wayne to me, this is the movie I go to. Happily, it’s the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Searchers. Starring Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson, this, to me, is Howard Hawks best western.
Wayne stars as small-town sheriff, John T. Chance, who enlists the help of a drunk, Borachon or Dude (Martin, no typecasting there I’m sure), a cranky old cripple, Stumpy (Brennan) and a young gunfighter, Colorado Ryan (Nelson) to keep a local murderer, Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) in jail. Not as easy as it sounds, because his meaner brother, Nathan (John Russell) will stop at nothing to break his brother out.
Dude, despite his penchant for too much drink is fast with his gun, and when he can be relied on, is invaluable to Chance, but it’s not going to be enough.
The script balances some fine action, drama, more than a healthy dose of humour, and some great characters. The small-town serves as an expansive backdrop of all of the above, and consequently makes the film even stronger.
As Feathers (Dickinson) throws a romantic wrench into Chance’s plans while Nathan, and his men begin to hire guns to aim for Chance and Dude. Our heroes are more than up to the task of taking on Burdette’s men, but the town may be caught in the middle.
The romantic subplot with Feathers and Chance is nice, but the really entertaining side story is with Carlos (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez) who runs the local hotel. He gets some wonderfully humorous moments.
The script has its fair share of lighter moments for everyone. The story takes its time, and develops its characters, slowly playing up the tension, and allowing the actors to explore their roles, fleshing them out into three dimensional characters that by film’s end you truly care about.
At the centre of the film, is the friendship between Chance and Dude. You can see that the two of them have been through a lot together, and that Chance has stood by Dude through all of his problems, not judging him, just hoping that his friend finds his way through his alcoholic haze back to the man he was. There’s a sense of history there and Chance, despite his gruffness, cares deeply for Dude and the rest of his friends.
And of course a film with two singers, Martin and Nelson, is going to have to feature a couple of musical interludes, but they actually work as part of the film. It’s a relaxing moment for our heroes, and they sing a couple of songs as they temporarily forget their troubles.
The interlude doesn’t last long, and the film races to its confrontational climax, and it entertains every step of the way! This one remains a classic, and one of my favourite westerns.