December 17, 1966
2 hours and 0 minutes (120 minutes)
Sheriff J.P. Harrah
R. G. Armstrong
Big heavyweight movie all round.
Directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne & Robert Mitchum, it's safe to say that El Dorado comes with some pretty tough credentials. Thankfully the expectation that comes with such a teaming is well and truly met. The plot is a familiar one in the context of Wayne & Hawks, if you have seen Rio Bravo? And liked it? The chances are you will like this one too.
Wayne is Cole Thornton, a hired gun who is asked to come on the payroll of El Dorado landowner Bart Jason (Ed Asner), who is involved with a land struggle with the MacDonald family. Cole finds his old friend J.P. Harrah (Mitchum) is sheriff of the town, and J.P. advises his old pal that any involvement with Jason will result in J.P. enforcing the law. As it transpires, circumstances between the MacDonald's and Cole lead to Cole taking arms against Jason and his thug followers. So the sheriff, an old Indian fighter called Bull Harris (Arthur Hunnicutt) & a young gambler, who's handy with a knife, called Alan Bourdillion 'Mississippi' Traherne (James Caan) aim to bring down the might of Jason together.
Adapted from the book The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown, this was the second to last film that Howard Hawks would direct. Coming as it did in the late 60s it appears to be somewhat undervalued on the great director's CV. Probably due in no small part to the regard that Rio Bravo is held, of which this is pretty much a remake of. Yet, and I whisper it quietly, El Dorado is arguably the better film in terms of performances and the telling of Hawksian themes.
Given that Wayne & Mitchum were good friends away from the screen, it's no great surprise to find the chemistry between them is top dollar. They feed of each others' machismo to deliver a tough picture, yet one that's still joyously fun. The end result is a pic that manages to deftly portray many themes, that of loyalty, togetherness, forgiveness, respect and professionalism. The two principal stars are aided by both Caan and Hunnicutt, who offer a notable young & old side of the mythical West, with age, and ageing, a prominent point of note played out by the knowing director.
El Dorado looks to be a film where all involved are comfortable in what they are making. Nothing feels forced or hindered by pointless filler. It's true that the film is more in favour of dialogue over bravado action, though what action there is is adroitly handled by the old hands and the youthful Caan with his sawn off shotgun. This is a story without gimmicks, one which isn't ambling along as an excuse for a shoot out come the end. There's a lot to be said for good old fashioned story telling, and we get that here. Intelligence and sincerity throughout, and it's damn funny to boot, El Dorado is a fine movie that holds up very well in each and every decade that passes. 8/10
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