Friday, August 03, 2007

A new observation on Rio Bravo

I love love love Rio Bravo. It's one of the best Westerns ever made, and it's one of my favorite films (in fact, it's part of a future post I've been compiling about my favorite movies to rewatch). I just bought the special edition DVD, and on watching it again, something occurred to me that never had before.

See, one thing that always kind of bugged me about Rio Bravo is what I perceived as the casual sexism of denying Angie Dickinson's character a proper name. She is known only as "Feathers," owing to the fact that she wears a feather boa. (And only Dean Martin calls her by that nickname, maybe two or three times; literally nobody else calls her by any name at all.) Well, that's just the '50s, I thought (the movie was made in 1959); the men making the movie didn't even care if their lead actress had a real name in the movie.

But here's what occurred to me on this viewing: most of the leading men don't have names, either. Dean Martin is known at first as Borachón, the Spanish word for "drunk," because, well, he's a drunk. Later, he's simply called Dude (which makes for great levity when other characters say things like, "Thanks, Dude"). Ricky Nelson is known as Colorado. And Walter Brennan, the old man with the limp, is called Stumpy.

So it's not just Angie Dickinson. All the heroes lack a real name! Except for John Wayne, whose character has, by contrast, an oddly specific name: John T. Chance. Not just John Chance -- John T. Chance. I'm guessing that that specificity, setting him even farther apart from his sidekicks and love interest, was deliberate.

I had never noticed that before. And it struck me as incredibly interesting and clever. And it's just another reason to love Rio Bravo.

Additional note: there is a possibility that Colorado may be Ricky Nelson's character's actual first name, rather than a nickname. We learn that his last name is Ryan; he's the son of an old friend of John T. Chance, who was named Rocky Ryan. Maybe Rocky was a nickname, too, or maybe the family has a penchant for wacky Christian names. I'm going to assume it's a nickname until someone proves otherwise.

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