The Best Film on TV…Ever?

Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks)

There are good films. There are great films. There are chef d’oeuvres. And then there are cinematic works that belong in their own category of gorgeousness, forged with the stars in immaculate alignment. These movies straddle the art/entertainment divide and EVERY scene is a standout: Citizen Kane, Rear Window, The Godfather, Céline et Julie vont en Bateau, Jaws, GoodFellas… I’m sure you can add your own to the list.

Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo is, of course, one such jewel. For those who don’t know much about Hawks, it would appear he was something of an egocentric bullshitter, rather too fond of telling self-aggrandising tall tales. He was also comfortably one of the best American directors of all time. Scan Hawks’ filmography and it seems like the man only dealt in masterworks: Scarface, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River… It’s ridiculous. Just one of those flicks would be enough to seal any director’s reputation as a moviemaking god.

Yes, Rio Bravo is a western and I know that’s a problem for many people. The genre has gone from perennial to occasional. Back in the 50s, both on TV and at the pictures, you couldn’t move for cowboy stories. Of course most are by-the-numbers, but occasionally an artist like Hawks transcends genre and conjures up greatness.

I could go on at length about the rolling Rio Bravo… I could attempt to go into detail about the grace of the performances by John Wayne (yes, that John Wayne), Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, and Ricky Nelson. I could try, as many others have, to describe the elegant simplicity of Hawks’ unobtrusive camera style. I could tell you that I know of no other film as consistently funny and moving as this one. I could tell you that it’s just so damn entertaining. But really it’s like trying to describe the smile playing on the Mona Lisa’s lips; great works of art are beyond the descriptive powers of prose. All I would say is this: I recommend that you watch Rio Bravo, and cherish that we live in the age of the motion picture.

Rio Bravo is showing today, Sunday 20th September, 4.55pm ITV4

Sam Bowles