Howard Hawks’s finest western (1959), and perhaps his finest film—but who wants to quibble on this level? John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan hole up in a sheriff’s office, there to protect a prisoner from a band of hired guns outside. But the subtly stylized setting soon becomes an arena for a moral battle, as the characters discover and test their resources of trust, skill, and courage, values poised against encroaching chaos. It’s American filmmaking at its finest—clean, clear, and direct—and it’s also the most optimistic masterpiece on film, valiantly shoring fragments against human ruin. Superb in every respect, from Wayne’s performance to Russell Harlan’s brilliant night photography. With Angie Dickinson.
NR • 2 hours 21 min • 1959