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The Religion of ‘Rio Bravo’ — And Other Great Movies

The Religion of 'Rio Bravo' -- And Other Great Movies

Just about anyone who’s seen “Rio Bravo” would agree: it’s one of the greatest Westerns — if not one of the greatest American films — of all time. But at Observations on Film Art earlier this week, David Bordwell went even further. He called “Rio Bravo” “the Sacred Text,” “The Way,” and the “true path.” His is the religion of “Rio Bravo.”

Bordwell analyzes “The Tao of ‘Rio Bravo’” from every imaginable angle, and then from a couple unimaginable ones. My favorite part is when he delves deeply into the spiritual significance of the characters’ names:

“Far from being an accident, the names in the Sacred Text are there to impel the Initiate into deeper mysteries. Is, for instance, Stumpy The Elder called Stumpy because of his lameness—always a sign of grace in sacred texts? Because of his inertness (as stiff as a stump)? Or because a tree, even though harvested, retains its attachment to the earth by remaining rooted? Perhaps He Who Is Called Stumpy is “grounded,” as the current saying has it.”

I would add more to Bordwell’s assessment, but there’s nothing to add. It is, like the Sacred Text itself, perfect.

It’s perfection, however, made me wonder: what movies make up my personal religion? I love “Rio Bravo” and have seen it many times, but I came to it relatively late in life. I’m not quite a Born Again Hawksian; I don’t pray to the Holy Trinity of my rifle, my pony, and me. There are movies, though, that have inspired my personal, metaphysical growth. Here’s a few of them, along with their relevant lessons:

“The Sting” (1975, George Roy Hill):

-You can’t trust everything you hear on the radio.
-A sink full of ice to the face makes a handy hangover cure.
-The world is full of cheaters.  The only way to beat them is to outcheat them.

“Taxi Driver” (1976, Martin Scorsese):

-Do not engage in conversation with a New York City cab driver.
-Always remain skeptical of men with very long fingernails.
-“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

“Ghostbusters” (1984, Ivan Reitman):

-Career tragedies are destiny’s way of putting us on the right path.
-Never, under any circumstances, attend a party hosted by an accountant.
-When life gives you giant marshmallows, roast them.

While I go off and ponder the many similarities between “Ghostbusters” and “Rio Bravo,” it’s your turn to chime in: what movies have inspired your own religious epiphanies?

Read more of David Bordwell’s “The Tao of ‘Rio Bravo;’ Or a Yakky Way of Knowledge.’

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