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Dean Martin Starred in 11 Westerns, But This One Is His Best

Dean Martin Starred in 11 Westerns, But This One Is His Best


  • Dean Martin’s performance in Rio Bravo is unforgettable, portraying a multi-layered character that adds depth and relevance to the narrative.
  • The dynamic between Martin and John Wayne in Rio Bravo is unparalleled, showcasing an on-screen chemistry that enhances the film’s impact.
  • Despite Wayne’s star power, Martin’s role in Rio Bravo shines, solidifying the film as one of the greatest Westerns of all time.

Dean Martin is one of the greatest actors in history and perhaps one of the most underrated entertainers of the mid-twentieth century. During his three-decade career, he acted in over 60 films, including some phenomenal Westerns, like Something Big, Rough Night in Jericho, and The Sons of Katie Elder.

Despite his numerous roles, the actor is perhaps best recognized for his one Western character, who is not even the movie’s protagonist but has made a lasting impression on viewers’ minds. His remarkable acting talents are on full display in this Western, which exquisitely illustrates Dean Martin’s various emotions as well as performance ranges. So, here’s why we believe Rio Bravo is the best Western Dean Martin has ever appeared in.

What is Rio Bravo About?

Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo

Release Date
April 4, 1959

Howard Hawks

John Wayne , Dean Martin , Ricky Nelson , Angie Dickinson , Walter Brennan

141 Minutes

Jules Furthman , Leigh Brackett , B.H. McCampbell

Rio Bravo, released in 1959, is one of the most underappreciated Westerns of all time, masterfully directed by Howard Hawks. The premise is relatively simple — John Wayne’s sheriff is determined to keep the brother of the Burdette Clan’s gang leader in prison since he is due for execution for the crimes he committed in the town. Chance (John Wayne) only receives help from a drunkard (Dean Martin), a rookie gunslinger (Ricky Nelson), a disabled man (Walter Brennan), and Feathers (Angie Dickinson), a lady on the run.

While the gang is adamant about upholding justice by making sure the culprit is executed, members of the Burdette Clan use every means possible to free him, resulting in a series of confrontations that cement this Western as one of the most memorable films in history. The film, which was released in English and Spanish, grossed $5.75 million on a $1.2 million budget. Additionally, Rio Bravo received a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 46 critics giving favorable reviews. It’s no surprise that Rio Bravo is regarded as one of the greatest Westerns of all time, but what makes it Dean Martin’s best Western to date?

Martin Delivers a Multi-Layered, Iconic Performance

While John Wayne famously had one of his career’s best performances in Rio Bravo, Martin simply steals the show with his multi-layered portrayal as a drunken and tormented figure known as “Dude.” His character in the film is rather difficult, as he plays a drunken nobody in a small town while being burdened to make an impact in the narrative. However, as the story progresses, Martin’s Dude rebuilds himself as a man, overcoming the most daunting challenges a man can face.

In fact, his courageous interpretation of the character adds accurate subtlety and depth, inspiring many real-life people in similar situations. However, this isn’t the only reason why Rio Bravo brought out the best in Dean Martin. Martin was a one-production wonder prior to this epic Western feature, as he was not as well-known in the film industry without Jerry Lewis. Thanks to his unique role in Rio Bravo, the actor went on to play other similar roles in subsequent projects, which propelled him to become one of the greatest actors of all time.


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Martin’s Dynamic With John Wayne Is Unparalleled

When stars such as John Wayne appear in a Western, they almost always steal the show by just being on the screen. Furthermore, John Wayne had an underlying motivation for starring in Rio Bravo: he despised the classic Western film High Noon, much as Howard Hawkins did. They both believed High Noon was the most un-American thing they’d seen in a while since it portrayed the townspeople as cowards.

For this reason, John Wayne went above and beyond in his portrayal as Sheriff John T. Chance. This kind of circumstance is certainly not ideal for the other important characters, particularly Dean Martin, who has ventured into a whole new production, since they are quite likely to be overshadowed by Wayne. However, Dean Martin’s performance as Dude not only left an everlasting impression on the audience, but it also flawlessly complemented Wayne’s persona. As a recovering alcoholic, Dude is set up as a tragic figure who, by the film’s conclusion, transcends to a glorious fate after overcoming a series of hurdles, which are largely influenced by Wayne’s Chance.

The dynamic between them is established from the start, as Duke’s arrival draws the duo together on a journey of brotherhood, which becomes the focal point later on in the film. Apparently, the two became friends off-screen, which further added depth to their characters and improved their on-screen chemistry, making Rio Bravo one of their finest works. In fact, the way both of their characters, alongside Ricky Nelson’s Ryan, Angie Dickinson’s Feathers, and Walter Brennan’s Stumpy, take part in embracing the lively times despite the impending danger while singing ‘my rifle, pony, and me,’ is a testament to the well-written dynamic.


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Ultimately, neither John Wayne nor Dean Martin’s extravagant performances overwhelmed the crowd. Instead, they delivered a linear action extravaganza with a masterful blend of humor and drama. With that said, Rio Bravo is arguably Dean Martin’s best Western film, mainly due to his character’s significance to the overarching story and the impact he left despite playing a unique role. Rio Bravo is available for rent on Prime Video, Apple TV+, and YouTube.

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