Lately I’ve spent some time reading different posts and articles about writing characters—how to write them to make them come alive for readers.
All that reading led me to thinking about one of my favorite movies. It’s a favorite because not only is it a Western, but it also has a subplot with a wonderful character study in it. Rio Bravo, from 1958, stars John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and Ricky Nelson. The plot revolves around Sheriff Chance (John Wayne) defending his town of Rio Bravo against gunslingers intent on springing one of their number out of jail. Dean Martin and Walter Brennan play his deputies. Ricky Nelson plays a young man itching to prove himself by joining the deputies.
The character study centers on Dean Martin’s deputy, who’s been drinking to excess ever since a break-up with his girl. Known to everyone around as the town drunk, the deputy encounters ridicule everywhere he goes. As the days go by and tension in the town increases with the impending arrival of the gang of outlaws, the deputy wages his own private battle with alcohol. At first, the alcohol seems to be winning. There is a long scene in which the camera shows the deputy struggling with the “shakes” of withdrawal. Eventually the deputy overcomes his enemy, just in time to lay his life on the line to defend the town.
I’ve watched a lot of movies with a lot of characters in them, but only Rio Bravo sticks out to me as having scenes I could call a “character study”—scenes which focus on one particular character and show the changes the character goes through.
Here’s a question for moviegoers: Any movie stick out to you in that way?