There are John Ford people, and there are Howard Hawks people. Me, I’m more of a Howard Hawks guy. A workmanlike director who came from a screenwriting background, Hawks
made stories that were less interested in myth-making than in the quirks of human interaction. From the gangster drama Scarface to the classic screwball comedy of His Girl Friday, Hawks made a bewilderingly wide range of movies that feature some of the most memorable characters in cinema. And of course they include a few excursions into the Wild West…
Rio Lobo (1970)
This was Hawks’ last movie and well into the third act of John Wayne’s career. So it’s no surprise that both seem to be resting on their laurels in this movie that mashes together elements of both Rio Bravo and El Dorado. The Duke plays a determined Union colonel, vowing revenge on the Confederates who hijack the train was guarding… How it all plays it may not exactly surprise you, but even when the Duke and Hawks are in second gear, they’re still easy to enjoy.
El Dorado (1967)
John Wayne and Robert Mitchum team up for this redux of Rio Bravo (see below).
While Mitchum takes on the drunk-deputy role made memorable by Dean
Martin in the original, James Caan fills in the boots of Ricky Martin’s
gunslinger. But there are some crucial differences! Ricky Martin’s
character from Rio Bravo was called Colorado and James Caan’s from El Dorado is called Mississippi! Totally different. Luckily, this adventure yarn is still a lark the second time around.
Rio Bravo (1959)
As you surely notice, Hawks had a fondness for using other movies as jumping off points for his own. Red River is an on-the-trails version of Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty, while Rio Bravo is a kinetic retort to the moral impotence of High Noon. A favorite of Quentin Tarantino (who used it as a litmus test for prospective girlfriends), Rio Bravo pairs John Wayne up with a motley crew to rout the local outlaws and establish
justice. If you only have time for one Hawks Western, let this one be it.
The Big Sky (1952)
the tried and true
Western trek! Can brave men such as Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin make
it upriver through hostile Indian territory? As with most Hawks
scenarios, the real area of interest here isn’t the pair’s quest —
something about fur trading — but the relationship between the two
frontiersmen. This one’s really for the already-converted though: The
movie clocks in at a whopping 140 minutes.
Red River (1948)
was the movie that showed John Wayne could act — and hold his own
against tempestuous young Method actors like Montgomery Clift. (Even
if, in the movie’s generational conflict, it’s Clift that comes out on
top.) As the two butt heads on a cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail, Red River just gets bleaker, showcasing the grimmest side of America’s favorite cowboy yet seen. If not for Rio Bravo‘s supremacy, Red River would probably be considered his best work in the genre.
The Outlaw (1943)
Jane Russell’s decolletage is the true star of this steamy Western.
Controversial for its time, the movie was shelved for years
before being finally released to big business at the box office. While mogul
Howard Hughes is credited as director (as well as designing Russell’s
push-up bra), Hawks shot a fair amount of footage before leaving the
project. The movie’s decadent atmosphere and tawdry tale of a bad girl
caught between Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday make this one essential viewing.