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Soundtrack review: Rio Bravo (Dimitri Tiomkin – 1959, 2015)

BravoAnim

My earliest memories of going to the cinema include “Rio Bravo”. My dad took me to see it when I was very small and it made quite an impression. Both John Wayne’s performance and the movie itself were something I hadn’t experienced before and my young mind made a permanent bookmark of it. I remember when I was 7 or 8 I took on the monster task of compiling my list of top 100 movies even if I don’t know if I had even seen 100 movies by then. I remembered I wanted to make the list especially to legitimize the impression “Rio Bravo” had made on me. I felt proud to know such a serious movie and to have seen it. (Note: Please know that when I compile best of lists now I use more objective criteria, too many to detail here). “Rio Bravo” is the story of a sheriff (John Wayne) who arrests the brother o a powerful rancher and then has to defend against the rancher’s gang. I didn’t remember the music from way back when but I am glad that Intrada released this gem. I want to discover more of the golden age composers and Dimitri Tiomkin is one of the most respected.

I admit I was a little worried before listening to “Rio Bravo” when I saw that the release was 111 minutes long. My worries disappeared from the first 10 minutes as I just made myself more comfortable in my chair, enjoyed the music and never looked back. There’s something about this score that fits like a good siesta after a large meal.

The main title is nugget of nostalgia. This laid back melodic western tune with its Mexicana sound and harmonica and the clanking horse like sound in the background makes me feel the dust in my throat and see the sun o a lazy afternoon in the Wild West. It’s interesting because even if my go to Western scores have a different, more action oriented and emotional sound than this one I can enjoy the music of “Rio Bravo” just as much. As this score progresses I feel the pleasure of discovering a composition from 55 years ago. It’s different and it’s precious and a very welcomed break from the current modern sound.

“Wagon train” just makes me close my eyes and dream. It’s still laid back but so smooth and beautiful it makes me want to be there. Nothing seems to disturb the atmosphere of this score and it’s unlike any Western composition I’ve heard. Dimitri Tiomkin is a master at this kind of sound and the music is a thin veil with painted arid landscapes on it that drops all around us and instantly transport us back in time. I feel such joy listening to “Rio Bravo” because it’s sensible and almost fragile and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Yes, I am talking about the score for one of the most famous Western movies ever, but this is the legacy of a truly great composer: the ability to do something different and unique for a well know subject. Just listen to the sweeping lullabies “The package” or “Night”. You wouldn’t expect to hear them and yet there they are with an appeal comparable to that of a night spend in open air by a camp fire with someone you love.

Speaking of love, one of the more memorable themes in “Rio Bravo” is the love theme, a quiet and gentle piece, not at all dramatic but playful and innocent. It spills into “Apology” which keeps the same lush mood and is this really a Western score I am hearing? Yes it is because there’s that something that Dimitri Tiomkin sprinkles in the music that never lets you forget.

“Excitement”, as it should, brings the first alert moments of the score and even if the cue still gets back to slow mode you will remember that opening. “Gunfight” is another surprise because it’s more suspenseful than violent. “Riders” feels more like an ancestor of a cue from “Lord o the rings”.

“De Guella” is one of the most famous pieces from “Rio Bravo”. It has that trumpet / Mexicana sound that never fails in a western, it’s very melodic and it’s the closer to the usual sound you would expect. Still, this being “Rio Bravo” it moves at that slow pace we’ve gotten used to and doesn’t disrupt the lazy flow of the score. It comes in many variations on this release and they are all interesting. My favorite is “De Guella no. 2”. It sounds the most inspirational and it makes me think of a cool invincible hero. I guess I am more drawn to the “De Guella” cues because I am more attached to the classical western sound.

“My rifle, my pony and me” is another special composition in the style of the salon piano tunes. I think it underlines the comedic moments of the movie because there are some of those as well. Just fire this cue up and grab a whiskey because you are there. The vocal version is pure wonderful melancholy. It’s a friendly, whistely and melody taken from the Western gems manual.

The Intrada release includes everything a collector or a fan of Dimitri Tiomkin’s music could wish for. All the variations of the themes, the trailer music, everything is here. Fans of regular Western scores will be in for a surprise but they will not regret getting this one. It’s a beautiful lazy Mexicana score, a fiesta of good music and a good place to start (re)discovering the classics.

Cue rating: 86 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 53 / 111

Album excellence: 48%

Highlights:

Rio Bravo (Main Title)

04 Wagon Train

05 Rio Bravo

06 The Package

07 Night

08 Rio Bravo

09 Love Theme

10 Apology

15 Love Theme

16 Riders

18 De Guella No. 1

20 De Guella No. 2

01 De Guella No. 4

05 De Guella No. 5

08 That Girl

12 De Guella

14 Trailer

15 Trailer

16 Rio Bravo

19 Rio Bravo

21 De Guella No. 3

My Rifle, My Pony And Me (End Title Alt 2)

30 My Rifle, My Pony And Me

33 My Rifle, My Pony And Me

34 Rio Bravo

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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