After watching two of the worst Westerns I’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing, a sense of morbid curiosity forced me to do some research on them (i.e. read the Wikipedia articles). To my surprise, these two movies are directly related. And not simply because they both suck ass.
In 1952, High Noon (starring Gary Cooper and directed by Fred Zinneman) was released. Everybody hated it, and it only became a “classic” to film-fags looking at it in hind-sight. Contemporary people saw it as an allegory for the Red Scare in the U.S., and was deemed “un-American”. After all, any dissent against the government is un-American and therefore COMMUNISM. At least some things haven’t changed. But I digress… High Noon pissed off enough people that John Wayne and Howard Hawks decided they would make an argument against it, and that came in the form of Rio Bravo which was released in 1959.
High Noon pissed me off, too, not because it was un-American, but because it is fucking boring and moves along at a goddamn snail’s pace. I was too busy struggling against an impending coma to notice all the un-American stuff.
The movie begins with a whiny song about a guy who will be deemed a coward unless he shoots “Frank Miller dead.” If you are going to watch this movie, I hope you like this song, because you’ll be hearing it a lot. I counted it being played 10 times. And when it wasn’t being played directly, variations of it were incorporated into the rest of the soundtrack. Couldn’t they afford more music?
The next thing we see is a kindly grandfather giving away his granddaughter at her wedding — no, wait a second — the old dude is getting married to the young girl. He must be 30 years older than her. It’s fucking gross. I know this kind of thing happens in Hollywood like with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, but it’s just as creepy in the movie as it is in real life.
The wife is played by Grace Kelly, and she speaks with a really fucking annoying accent. It’s the kind you see in lots of movies from this era. It’s like an American/British hybrid. It doesn’t actually exist anywhere in reality, and it’s obvious whomever is using it is doing so intentionally. They do it to sound more refined or cultured, but just come across as a pretentious asshole.
The plot of the movie is really straight-forward. Five years earlier, Marshal William Kane sent outlaw Frank Miller to jail. Now, he’s been pardoned and set free. The first thing he wants to do is get revenge on Kane. He tells his gang to wait for him at the town’s train station, and when he arrives at noon, they’ll kill Kane. The hook of the movie is that Kane is retiring this day (proving the cliche of the cop who is “getting too old for this shit” was around a lot longer than anyone cares to remember), and now he has to stay and fight. Nobody is willing to help him. Time is running out, because at noon, he is going to die.
High Noon uses a gimmick of portraying events in “real time.” The amount of time that elapses from when the movie begins to when the train arrives is the same in movie-time and in reality. This device is meant to create a growing sense of dread and build tension as noon gets closer and closer. Unfortunately, High Noon doesn’t have any tension whatsoever. Kane goes from person to person, asking for help, but not in any particular hurry. It’s almost like they thought just showing the clocks counting down would be enough to build tension. And they show the clocks a fuckload of times. Every five seconds you see a clock somewhere. The filmmakers didn’t realize that a countdown itself isn’t dramatic. The human element has to be just as riveting in order for there to be any tension. And they totally missed the boat.
Kane tries to enlist help from the townspeople, but doesn’t get any traction. The thing is, he’s a holier-than-thou turd. People actually do try to help him out, but if they don’t meet his ridiculously high moral standards, he doesn’t want their help. His deputy (played by Lloyd Bridges) tries to extort him into recommending him for Marshal. Another guy, Herb, agrees to help as long as there are a few guys along for the ride. An old dude with an eyepatch offers to help, but Kane just tells him to go get a drink at the saloon instead. A teenage kid tells him he’ll fight, but Kane won’t get him involved because he’s too young. If he had let these people help him, then there would have been 4 good guys against Miller’s 4 outlaws; a fair fight. But since Kane’s an idiot, he has to go against the outlaws solo.
A lot of characters refuse to help him because they are idiots. When Kane goes to a church to ask for help, 6 guys immediately join him. They change their minds 2 seconds later when people protest. The arguments they make are: 1) Miller has a personal vendetta against Kane and it has nothing to do with the town, and 2) If they get involved in a shootout, then nearby entrepreneurs won’t invest in the town. That second argument is completely retarded. Everyone knows full well Kane isn’t leaving town, and a shootout is inevitable. So, what would look worse to potential investors, a town that gathered together to fight off criminals, or a town where the bad guys killed the only lawman, leaving it unsafe for investments? They should have just helped him out instead of acting like a bunch of morons.
To make them look even dumber, people are actually excited about Miller coming to town. Everyone in the saloon is super pumped that this outlaw and his gang are going to be back soon. Except the problem is, Miller is going to utterly wreck the town. Someone even says that when Miller was around, a “decent woman couldn’t walk down the street.” So, it seems that these people want to be terrorized, doesn’t it?
There is a lady in town named Helen Ramirez (played by Katy Jurado) who owns the saloon. She’s banging the deputy, but before that she was banging Kane, and before that she was banging Miller. She really gets around. The only purpose she serves is to impart wisdom onto Kane’s wife that she should assist him. Kane’s wife replies that guns and fighting are evil, and “there has to be a better way for people to live.” Thanks for the preachy speech, lady. That’s just what people watching a Western want to hear, a lesson about how shooting people is wrong. That scene in particular was oustanding as Jurado and Kelly trade lines with the worst acting I’ve seen in a long time. It was like they were having a contest to see who could better portray a piece of driftwood.
My favorite part of the film was the scene where Bridges and Cooper fight. It’s hilarious to watch the old man beat the crap out of his much younger deputy. There’s no way in hell Cooper would actually take out anyone in a fight at his age. He’d crap in his Depends before he’d land a punch. At least that scene was good for a few laughs. By the time the climax comes around, Kane, assisted by his wife, manages to kill the bad guys with only a few minor injuries. The townspeople rush out to meet him, he throws his badge onto the ground in disgust, and he and his wife ride off on their wagon.
I can see where the Red Scare allegory comes in. Miller is a stand-in for McCarthyism, and Kane is a guy who has become blacklisted. He searches high and low for assistance, but nobody is willing to help him. Obviously, the film doesn’t work if everybody rushes out to support him. It’s supposed to show the psychological torment Kane is going through, knowing his death is impending. Unfortunately, the execution was horrible. Nobody acted intelligently, there is very little suspense, it’s boring, and the acting sucked. Gary Cooper did a good job, but everyone else was terrible.
Rio Bravo, will be forever linked to High Noon because it was a direct statement against that film, and also because both movies are insufferably shitty. At least with High Noon they were going in a different direction for a Western. It had a darker edge and a more realistic bend to it. Rio Bravo is just business-as-usual hokey Hollywood bullshit. It has no imagination, no uniqueness, no excitement, and nothing in it is worth watching.
At first, I thought it was going to be cool. The opening scene takes place in a bar and there is a rumble, and most surprising of all, there was no dialog. Unique and interesting, right? But after that, it’s all down hill. I swear to god, after the first 5 minutes of the movie elapsed, I fell asleep. As soon as the interesting shit was over, Rio Bravo is so fucking boring, it instantaneously put me to sleep. After I woke up forty minutes later, I skipped back to the point where I had fallen asleep and gave it another try. Guess what? I fell asleep again! Two minutes later! They should market this movie as a miracle cure for insomnia or something. When I woke up again, about forty minutes later, I said, “Fuck it” and just kept watching from that point on. If anything really awesome happened between minutes 5 and 40, I missed it. But something tells me the only things I missed were jack and shit.
The movie is incredibly fucking boring because of how lethargically everyone acts. When people recite their lines, they do it as calmly and flatly as possible. There is no passion, no tension, no feeling in any of the lines. It’s like they weren’t even acting. They were saying the lines like they had taken five Xanax just before filming. The whole movie is like this, too. It has this dawdling pace with no sense of urgency, no need to move things along. It’s like the movie’s normal speed is set to slow-motion. Considering the fact that the goddamn plot is about a town under seige by bandits, you’d think at least one fucking person would be nervous or angry or something. SHOW SOME FUCKING EMOTIONS PEOPLE, WHAT ARE YOU A BUNCH OF GODDAMN ROBOTS?! Maybe they were trying to set the groundwork for that sci-fi movie WestWorld where all the cowboys were actually robots or something, I don’t know.
Despite the atrocious acting from the majority of the cast (seriously, Keanu Reeves looks like Daniel Day-Lewis compared to these fuckos), one person tries to do some acting. That would be Dean Martin playing the role of Town Drunk. Oh, but guess what, he’s also the town’s Deputy. Nothing says security like black-outs and withdrawal seizures. He goes around, withdrawing and shaking, and asking everybody, “What can a man do with hands like this?” and he holds his palms up like he wants to grab someone’s balls. It’s a pretty hilarious attempt at acting, and the fact he does it over and over becomes an unintentional running gag.
It’s also funny because Dean Martin must have been playing himself in that role. It’s also nice that John Wayne (the Sheriff character) feeds Town Drunk’s alcohol habit by giving him beers even though he knows he’s trying to get sober. He also doesn’t seem to care when Town Drunk slaps him and hits him over the head with a stick for no discernible reason. Clearly, Wayne’s character is totally complacent, and has no idea how to keep law and order in his town. If he did, then his Deputy wouldn’t be constantly assaulting him.
Also playing himself is Ricky Nelson, the son of the famous Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. He grew up in a Hollywood family, spending his whole life in the spotlight, working on a music career, and you know he probably would have ended up like Michael Jackson if not for dying in a plane crash in 1985. So, Nelson plays a young cowboy who is quick on the draw but not battle tested. And, oh good, he fucking sings, too. After casting him, I imagine the producers must have said, “LOL HEY GUYS LETS SHOEHORN IN SOME CHEESY SINGING BECAUSE THE STAR IS A SINGER AND MAYBE WE CAN GET SOME OF HIS GROUPIES TO COME SEE THIS MOVIE LOL!” Naturally, he has a fucking duet with Dean Martin. They sing, whistle, and play guitar in one of the worst, most romanticized bullshit cowboy-type of songs you could only find in the 1950s (The same kind of thing they parodied in Three Amigos). Afterwards, they do ANOTHER FUCKING SONG, and this time the other Deputy, Stumpy, joins in with his harmonica.
Stumpy is a moronic caricature. His voice sounds exactly like the cliche of an old-timey prospector. That type of character was already a tired cliche in 1959, and they continued to use it because this whole goddamn movie is a tribute to stupid fucking cliches. The highlight of his character is in the big shootout in the finale when he throws sticks of dynamite and asks, “How do you like them apples?” Sigh.
The shootout takes place between John Wayne, Ricky Nelson, Town Drunk, and Stumpy vs. the Bad Guys, who happen to include a guy who looks fucking exactly like M. Night Shyamalan. So, the Good Guys fight the Bad Guys in a scene that runs 6 minutes. All the Good Guys shoot in roughly the same position, and the Bad Guys return fire while running out in the open like a bunch of fucktards. Eventually, they kill all the Bad Guys in the least exciting gunfight I’ve ever seen in a Western. And just like all the other cheesy, shitty, romanticized Westerns this movie is paying tribute to, none of the Good Guys get a scratch on them.
The final scene in the movie is this ultra-bizarre conversation where John Wayne meets The Love Interest in her bedroom. She’s all dressed up like a whore, and Wayne doesn’t tell her to change into something more appropriate. This upsets her because she’s really fucked up in the head. So, Wayne, obviously wanting to get laid, tells her what she wants to hear: namely, she shouldn’t wear something so revealing. She tells him that she now knows he really loves her and they can have sex. Um? Personality disorder much? Jesus Christ, what a weird bitch.
My favorite part of the whole movie actually comes from the theatrical trailer. They replay the singing scene again, (OH GOD WHY) and immediately afterwards Ricky Nelson turns to the camera and says that this is “one of the few peaceful scenes” in the movie. That’s a fucking hilarious joke because the whole movie is nothing but peaceful scenes. There are only 6 minutes of action, and it’s incredibly boring action, too. Those 6 minutes did not make up for the other 2 hours and 14 minutes of boring, hokey, stupid, lazy bullshit. Rio Bravo is terrible, and stands as an example of what you should not do if you want to make a good movie.
With these two shitty Westerns forever linked, which one is worse? Let’s find out.
Boringness - High Noon clocks in at an hour shorter than Rio Bravo, so I didn’t want to kill myself out of boredom quite as much. Loser: Rio Bravo
Stupidity - Every single character in High Noon acts like a complete imbecile. The people in Rio Bravo weren’t much smarter, but at least they had some semblance of intelligence. Loser: High Noon
Acting - The acting is fucking horrendous in both. It is downright irritating in High Noon, and so bad it’s hilarious in Rio Bravo. So, it’s kind of a wash. Loser: a tie
Cliche Shit - From the dialog to the premise to the reliance on stock character tropes, Rio Bravo overtakes High Noon by a landslide. Loser: Rio Bravo
Creepily Mismatched Love Interests - We have 90-year old Gary Cooper in love with just-passed puberty Grace Kelly in High Noon. And then we have Rio Bravo, with somber John Wayne and a crazy-as-Hell, needy, showgirl/bar owner. Both are pretty weird pairings, but only one gave me the creeps. Loser: High Noon
Writing - High Noon is a darker film and more grounded in reality. The topic certainly is one that hadn’t been explored previously. Rio Bravo is as far opposite from original as you can get. All it does it pay homage to the hokiest, cheesiest Westerns of a forgettable era. Loser: Rio Bravo
Terrible Songs - The theme song for High Noon is terrible, and the fact you hear it on a non-stop loop for 90 minutes made me want to kill myself. The two back-to-back songs in Rio Bravo are equally shitty, but at least it’s only a brief interlude. Loser: High Noon
Directing - Each movie is directed in very different styles, however, they are similar in one respect: both suck. With High Noon it’s the fact that they think showing 10,000 clocks will somehow make the audience nervous, even though the characters aren’t too concerned. With Rio Bravo, the plodding pace and lethargy of the characters make it a struggle to even stay awake to watch this damn movie. Loser: a tie
How Much it Pissed Me Off - They both pissed me off a lot. If one of them were going to be used as a form of torture, it would have to be Rio Bravo. It pissed me off with way more stupid, lazy, cheesy shit than High Noon. Loser: Rio Bravo
Final Score - High Noon: 3; Rio Bravo: 4
Winner/Loser of the Battle of the Most Boring Western: Rio Bravo
High Noon – Shitty
Rio Bravo – Shitty
Which is Worse? – Rio Bravo
Check out these other entries in the Classically Shitty series: