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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Jan. 11, 2005 | 11:09 PM

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Howard Hawks? Three of a Kind

... from those wonderful people out there in the dark.
FILMRADAR presents a series of thoughts and essays by esteemed members of the film community.

Howard Hawks’ Three of a Kind by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
BO: This time it ain?t no John Wayne and Dean Martin shootin? bad guys in El Dorado.
CHILI: That was Rio Bravo. Robert Mitchum played the drunk in El Dorado,? Dean Martin played the drunk in Rio Bravo.  Basically it was the same plot. Now, John Wayne, he did the same in both ? he played John Wayne.
BO: Man, I can?t wait for you to be dead.
So goes the dialogue between Delroy Lindo and John Travolta in Scott Frank?s screenplay for the film version of Elmore Leonard?s novel, Get Shorty. The confusion between the two films is common enough, and there are even some who remember them as being one in the same. And why not? Both were directed by Howard Hawks, both were written by Leigh Brackett, both starred John Wayne, and as Chili says, ?basically it was the same plot.?
The difference is that Rio Bravo is the film that invariably comes up when the cinema geeks get together to proclaim which western should be considered filmdom?s greatest. The ring is commonly shared with John Ford?s 1956 The Searchers, as well as another Hawk?s western, 1948?s Red River. The fact that any number of Ford?s films get mentioned is not surprising (he made over 45 of them), whereas for Hawks to have two films in the running is quite an achievement given that he only ever made a total of seven films in the western genre*.
Of those seven, only three have Spanish titles, and those particular three are what make up the curious ‘Hawks’ Western Trilogy’: 1959?s Rio Bravo, 1966?s El Dorado and 1970?s Rio Lobo.
In Rio Bravo, John Wayne Stars as Sherriff Chance, Dean Martin plays recovering alcoholic Dude, and Ricky Nelson plays greenhorn upstart Colorado. Character actor Walter Brennan is the silly old-timer Stumpy. While you will see western fixture Harry Carey, Jr.?s name in the credits when you watch this film, you will not see Carey himself in this film ? seems Carey (who at the time was a real recovering alcoholic) called Mr. Hawks by his first name early in the production and was promptly fired from what would have been his fourth film for the director. His name is in the credits because his contract demanded it.
Rio Bravo is a crafty blend of western adventure and comedy, and is Hollywood at its finest. Especially when Ricky Nelson breaks out the guitar and starts playing the instrumental theme to Red River. Only now it has lyrics (sung by Dino) and is called ?My Rifle, My Pony and Me.?
The advertisements for the film claimed ?There will never be another like Rio Bravo?.
Yet seven years later, in 1966, something very much like Rio Bravo was released: El Dorado. Certainly not promoted as the second part of a trilogy (sure it?s commonplace now, but no one really did that before Star Wars), it?s not really a sequel either. Bravo was made by Warner Bros, whereas Paramount footed the bill for Dorado ? and switching studios is not something that usually happens in the world of sequels. The Duke is back; Robert Mitchum plays the Dean Martin part; a young James Caan plays ?Missouri? as opposed to Rick Nelson?s ?Colorado,? and character actor Arthur Hunnicutt picks up Walter Brennan?s ?silly old-timer? part.
El Dorado actually plays more like a remake than a sequel, yet somehow seems to be as much of both. It?s definitely something of an abnormality. To put it into a modern perspective, imagine Spielberg today remaking his hit of seven years ago, Saving Private Ryan, with Tom Hanks playing the same part, but with John Corbett instead of Edward Burns, Charlie Sheen in the Tom Sizemore role, and Mark Wahlberg as the Matt Damon character.
So, is El Dorado a sequel to, or a remake of, Rio Bravo? You could try and call it both, only we don?t have a term here in Hollywood to identify such an anomaly. Kind of like when Faye Dunwaye tries to explain to Jack Nicholson that Belinda Palmer was both her sister and her daughter in Chinatown. Both answers are wrong at the same time. And then you get the living daylights slapped out of you.
Then, four years after that, Hawks made another film that seems like a backyard cousin to Rio Bravo: 1970?s Rio Lobo. Again the setting is Hollywood?s version of Texas** and the guys boil down to the same familiar bunch: John Wayne as the lead, Jorge Rivero as the sassy young guy, and Jack Elam as a combination of both the drunk and the silly old-timer. The story is a little different, but the same things still happen. And yeah, while it?s fun, it?s not quite as good as El Dorado, which in turn was not quite as good as Rio Bravo, but then again, what do you expect?
To make things even more weird, Rio Bravo was remade again six years later by Hawks-worshipper John Carpenter as Assault on Precinct 13. As can be expected, Carpenter amps up the pace and violence, throws in some cues from Romero?s Night of the Living Dead and somehow pulls off a decent film. Whether or not Jean-Fran?ois Richet will be able to pull anything off in his upcoming remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (starring Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke) remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Rio Bravo, the first part of this casual trilogy, will be playing on the Egyptian Theatre?s huge screen in Hollywood (as the first half of a double bill with Red River) on Friday, October 1 as the shoot-off to the American Cinematheque?s premier Western Festival. Like most films, if you haven?t seen it on the big screen, then you haven?t really seen it. And if you?ve never seen it, then go and see what the fuss is all about.
*Hawks is in fact one of the few directors to make a classic film in each of six major Hollywood genres: the Gangster Picture (Scarface), the Western (Red River), the Screwball Comedy (Bringing Up Baby), the Musical (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), the Film Noir (The Big Sleep) and Science-Fiction (The Thing From Another World).
**More than once I have visited the location where these three films were made, which is in Tucson, Arizona. Arizona and northwestern Mexico are the only places in the world where the Saguaro cactus grows naturally, and they can be seen in all three of these Texas-based films.