Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days Of Courage: John Wayne, Dean Martin And The Fabulous Rio Bravo

I thought I’d have a little fun with today’s post and do a quasi-movie review of a family favorite: Rio Bravo.  I picked this movie because of its big hero, John Wayne, and the other smaller heroes in the film: Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson (gorgeous!) and the inimitable Walter Brennan.
Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and John Wayne in Director Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo

Movies, especially westerns, have a way of lifting us out of the everyday with their bigger than life characters.  Courage is almost always at the heart of every wonderful western, and the demarcation between hero and coward is often drawn in dark black lines. 

In this particular story Dean Martin plays Dude, a once proud lawman turned alcoholic. The picture opens with one of the requisite western bullies, Nathan Burdette, throwing a coin into a saloon spittoon, where the inebriated Dude is just about ready to stick his hand in to retrieve the money for his next drink. 

Enter John Wayne.  Enough said.

Well, OK, I guess I should explain a bit.

Playing the character of John T. Chance, sheriff of this two bit outpost, The Duke kicks the spittoon away from Dude in disgust.  A scuffle ensues, and the nasty Burdette ends up killing an unarmed man.  (Note the cowardice).  Sheriff Chance takes Dude back to the local jail guarded by Stumpy, an old, crusty, crippled deputy with a hysterical voice and a penchant for saying exactly what’s on his mind…with no tact.  But he’s a brave little whippersnapper, as are all the folks in this unlikely band of good guys, willing to stand up against the corrupt and rotten Burdette gang to bring justice to the town of Rio Bravo. 

In the middle of this mess, John T. Chance deputizes Dude, giving his ruined soul a chance at redemption.  It’s a shaky withdrawal process and a rocky road. 

In the meantime, Ricky Nelson, very young but handy with gun and guitar, finds himself in the thick of something he didn't sign up for. He is added to the ranks of John Wayne's mismatched band of brothers. And of course you have to have the pretty lady, “Feathers”, who loves John T. Chance but has a bit of a sordid past in the gambling department.  She too sticks her neck out, and both she and Colorado Ryan (the Ricky Nelson cowboy) put the others before themselves deploying various acts of courage.

At one point one of the less important characters in the movie asks John Wayne about his motley crew, all messed up in one way or another:  a recovering drunk, a man too young, a man too old and crippled, a woman with a strange past.  The question is: “Is that all you got?”  And the bravest man in movies replies in his completely unsentimental way: “That’s what I got.”

I wonder if that’s what our Great Hero says about us…proud of us, even in all our weakness.  When that dastardly enemy of the souls of men who has no joy and no humor says to God “That’s all you got?” perhaps our Fearless Leader says in reply, (as if He owes anyone an explanation) “That’s what I got”. 

I don’t know, but I love to imagine.

In Rio Bravo’s final showdown, the once self- doubting Dude risks all for his friends.  Stumpy and Chance bring the enemy to their knees with a barrel full of firepower.  Colorado proves for certain that youth is no detraction to valor.  And of course, the girl doesn't leave on the stage coach and there’s the proverbial happy ending.  So I've kind of given a lot of the movie away, but it’s so great, watch it anyway.

Movies inspire courage.  This is fiction for sure, but it’s marvelous to have heroes of stage and screen and literature to give us a shot in the arm for the little bit of everyday courage we need.  Or maybe for a lot of it.  One thing’s for sure.  Like the characters in Rio Bravo, the whole of us is most assuredly greater than the sum of our parts.

We are a motley crew for sure.

But we’re “what He’s got.”

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


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