El Dorado

El-Dorado-rev El Dorado  (1967)    Paramount/Western    RT: 126 minutes    No MPAA rating (western violence, mild language, alcohol abuse)    Director: Howard Hawks    Screenplay: Leigh Brackett    Music: Nelson Riddle    Cinematography: Harold Rosson    Release date: June 7, 1967 (US)    Cast: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicut, Michele Carey, R.G. Armstrong, Ed Asner, Christopher George, Marina Ghane, Robert Donner, John Gabriel, Johnny Crawford, Robert Rothwell, Jim Davis, Adam Roarke, John Mitchum, Chuck Roberson, Don Collier, Olaf Wieghorst.    Box Office: $12.9 million (US)


 I LOVE westerns! For my money, Clint Eastwood is and always will be the biggest bad ass to strap on a six-shooter. But you know, John Wayne is no slouch either. I’ve developed a real appreciation for his movies over the past decade. I’ve watched the biggies- i.e. Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and True Grit- but there are still many yet to see.

 If you’re on my personal FaceBook page, then you know I like to post movie quotes to see how many people know where it’s from. Sometimes my friends challenge me. Recently, my friend Bob C. posted a quote I didn’t recognize. I actually had to Google it. It turns out it came from El Dorado, the 1967 oater starring The Duke as a gun-for-fire caught up in a range war. I heard of it but never saw it. I next checked out its IMDb page. It sounded pretty good. What really sealed the deal was the amazing cast. Wayne’s co-stars in El Dorado include Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicut, R.G. Armstrong, Ed Asner and Christopher George (one of my favorite character actors). I was sold. Yesterday, I sat down and watched it. It’s GREAT!

 Ieldoradon this near (but not quite) remake of 1959’s Rio Bravo, Wayne plays Cole Thornton, a gunslinger who comes to the town of El Dorado to work for a wealthy rancher, Bart Jason (Asner, Lou Grant). The local sheriff, J.P. Harrah (Mitchum, Out of the Past), an old friend of Cole’s, tells him what Bart is really about. He’s trying to snatch water rights from another rancher, Kevin McDonald (Armstrong, Predator), which would pit the two old friends against either. Cole decides to turn down the job offer. On the way back from Bart’s, he accidentally kills McDonald’s youngest son (it was self defense). He explains his actions to the elder McDonald who seems to understand it was all a terrible accident. His daughter Joey (Carey, Dirty Dingus Magee), on the other hand, isn’t so understanding. She lies in wait for Cole and shoots him in the back causing a spinal injury that occasionally renders him partially paralyzed.

 He leaves town to take another job but returns several months later to find Harrah has turned into a drunk after a bad romance. By Cole’s side is Mississippi (Caan, The Godfather), a young gambler who just completed his mission of revenge against the four men that killed his friend and mentor. The last guy happens to be in the employ of Nelson McLeod (George, Enter the Ninja), a rival gun-for-hire headed to El Dorado to work for Bart. Along with elderly deputy and former Indian fighter Bull Harris (Hunnicut, The Big Sky), Cole and Mississippi work to get Harrah sober so he can aid in the fight against Bart and his thugs. The situation worsens when Bart is arrested for murder and held in jail until the marshal arrives in a few days. His men intend to get him out of jail somehow so the foursome has to keep constant watch and be ready for an attack on the sheriff’s office.

 El Dorado contains many of the clichés associated with westerns. It has shoot-outs, fights, horses, saloons and beautiful women. One of them, saloon owner Maudie (Holt, Red Line 7000), falls in love with Cole. There’s a scene where Cole teaches Mississippi how to shoot. He admits freely to being a lousy shot; he prefers to use a knife he keeps concealed behind his back. El Dorado has many wonderful touches like this. It’s a thoroughly entertaining cowboy flick, filled with action and humor. Director Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo) plays it straight but still keeps it light-hearted and fun. There’s a certain satisfaction to seeing The Duke ride tall in the saddle and make laconic comments in that customary drawl we all know and love.

 The whole cast does a phenomenal job in El Dorado. It’s kind of awesome to see two iconic actors like Wayne and Mitchum work side-by-side. Mitchum makes a smart choice in not making his character a tragic figure. Yes, he’s lost the respect of the people he swore to protect but all is not lost for him. He can get it back if he cleans himself up but he has to want to. Cole and the others make sure he wants to. There’s a nice running joke about Harrah’s having no idea who Caan’s character is. He asks “who is this guy?” many times. Asner makes a great villain but George just about steals the show as the gunfighter who’s determined to find out if he can beat Cole. Caan is terrific in one of his earliest roles. Hunnicut provides comic relief as the deputy who keeps reminding everybody of his days as an “Injun fighter”.

 El Dorado is a well-crafted piece. While it doesn’t have quite the vast visual splendor of a John Ford western, it is beautifully filmed. The action scenes are well-orchestrated. There’s one scene where our heroes enter a saloon looking for the guy who shot one of McDonald’s sons in the street. Mitchum’s character forgoes shooting the piano player and shoots the piano instead. It’s a nice nudge in the ribs for fans of the genre. El Dorado is humorous in parts. Like I said, Hawks leaves plenty of room for humor between the action scenes. The actors have a nice rapport with one another. The basic plotline is one we’ve seen lots of times but Hawks is good enough a filmmaker to make it work well. The subplot about Cole’s injury is nicely incorporated into the story. One of my greatest pleasures as a movie lover and critic is watching a really good old movie for the first time. I felt a strong sense of joy watching El Dorado. It’s now on my list of favorite westerns.

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