For “Rio Bravo,” the third time is the charm. Or so says Ned Price, a Warner Bros. VP who has headed up work on no fewer than three restorations of Howard Hawks’ 1959 classic “Rio Bravo,” starring John Wayne.
Together with “Hondo,” this newly remastered Western about a sheriff who takes on the ranching establishment unspools at Cannes to honor the Duke’s centennial on May 26.
“It’s an important film,” Price says of “Rio Bravo.” “John Wayne is very much associated with the identity of Warner Bros.; he helped build the studio. It is our responsibility to show his films in their best possible light.”
That was not the case with two previous restorations of the film, says the tech-operations exec: Previously, “I tried to complete restoration from the faded camera negative, and was never satisfied with the results. We artificially pumped the color that was missing, and got artificial-looking results.”
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“Rio Bravo” was originally filmed with “fairly early single-strip color photography, which had poor color stability,” explains Price, and the original camera negative had faded to the point that Warners couldn’t salvage the color using traditional photochemical restoration processes. However, for the 2007 restoration, Price and his team were able to use new digital tools “to mine the color information that remained in the camera negative, restoring the color image back to its natural balance.”
In that respect, Price is happy to be finished with the Wayne/Hawks masterpiece. “Now I can put it in the vault and walk away with a clear conscience,” he says.
Although “Rio Bravo” won Hawks a DGA nomination, the film was completely snubbed by the Academy Awards, which seven years earlier gave Fred Zinnemann’s highly acclaimed oater “High Noon” no fewer than seven noms, including one for picture. Most film historians now rate Hawks’ Western higher than Zinnemann’s. According to “Howard Hawks: the Grey Fox of Hollywood,” by Variety senior film critic Todd McCarthy, “‘Rio Bravo’ was born out of Hawks’ visceral abhorrence of that earlier film.”
As Hawks told the story, “I didn’t think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him.”
Hawks instead pushed his hero, the Wayne character, to adopt “a real professional viewpoint … the exact opposite of what annoyed me in ‘High Noon’ and it worked, and people liked it,” he said.