El Dorado (1967)
Release Date: June 7th, 1967 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Howard Hawks Actors: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Michele Carey, Edward Asner, Christopher George
l Dorado,” like director Howard Hawks’ earlier film “Rio Bravo” (and his later picture “Rio Lobo”), dwells heavily upon an enthralling camaraderie between three heroes who lightheartedly brave a serious predicament and, along with several supporting players, form a family-like bond that helps prevail over antagonism. To take comparisons a step further, Ricky Nelson played a character named Colorado, while James Caan now plays the equivalent character, dubbed Mississippi. The similarities don’t stop there, especially with several other roles being almost exactly duplicated by different actors – perhaps not surprising, since writer Leigh Brackett penned both screenplays and many consider “El Dorado” to be a loose remake. But like most of John Wayne’s films, his stalwart stagger, confident mannerisms, and humorously biting dialogue never tire. Add to that the only teaming of Wayne and inimitable actor Robert Mitchum and “El Dorado” becomes a Western well worth visiting.
Cole Thornton (John Wayne) strolls into town to take a job with Bart Jason (Edward Asner), a wealthy rancher in need of a hired gun. When Cole is confronted by longtime friend J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum), now the sheriff of El Dorado, he learns that his shooting talents are meant to swindle the neighboring MacDonald family out of their land. Even though he turns down Jason’s offer, Cole’s disquieting presence still results in the unintentional self-defense killing of young Luke MacDonald (Johnny Crawford) and an ambush by Josephine MacDonald (Michele Carey), which gives the gunslinger a bullet lodged near his spine.
Months pass and Cole finds himself in a saloon in Sonora, helping a young man named Alan Bourdillion Traherne (James Caan), nicknamed Mississippi for short, on a mission of revenge. Cole discovers that one of the most notorious gunfighters, Nelse McLeod (Christopher George), has been hired to dispose of J.P., now a broken-down drunk after having irreparable woman troubles. Cole once again journeys back to El Dorado, this time with the help of Mississippi, to stop Bart Jason and his men and to sober up the sheriff.
“El Dorado” doesn’t stray too far from the standard John Wayne Western formula (and at the time a Hawksian template), using rather silly schemes and none-too-serious plans to thwart the very sinister villains. A mirthful theme song sung by George Alexander permeates the story, based on Harry Brown’s novel “The Stars and Their Courses,” while the heroes take quite a beating without ever taking a breather. This film in particular has more violence than previous Wayne projects, especially when Mississippi unleashes his destructive miniature shotgun. Fortunately, “El Dorado” excels at character development, taking its time to flesh out every single role so that each action and line of dialogue is fully supported. But even the minor characters get plenty of screentime, causing the movie to occasionally lose sight of all gravity – falling back on odd bits of humor (including some completely unnecessary racism), parody, and playful verbal battles, dragging out the time between suspenseful shootouts.
Wayne’s name and lighting fast triggerman capabilities always precede him; gutsy taunts continually escape his weathered face (“they don’t look tough enough to me to stomp a stringy jackrabbit,” Cole scoffs at Jason’s hired guns); everyone has nifty nicknames (Bull, Joey, The Swede); and the villains are crafted beyond typical lifeless cardboard cutouts (George is especially calm and menacing, while Asner is underhanded and overconfident). Though it isn’t the best of Hawks’ actioners, it would be a shame to miss the teaming of the Duke and the unflinching, uncaring Mitchum.
– Mike Massie