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RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 126 Minutes
• Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
• Commentary by historian Richard Schickel
• Ride, Boldly Ride: The Journey of El Dorado (7-parts)
• The Artist & The American West featurette
• Behind the Gates: A.C. Lyles remembers John Wayne
• Theatrical Trailer
• Galleries: Lobby cards, Production
“Gunfight Wayne Style”
Actors John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix
Director Howard Hawks
“Hired gunman Cole Thornton turns down a job with Bart Jason as it would mean having to fight an old sheriff friend. Some months later he finds out the lawman is on the bottle and a top gunfighter is heading his way to help Jason. Along with young Mississippi, handy with a knife and now armed with a diabolical shotgun, Cole returns to help”
If you have seen a good amount of Howard Hawks / John Wayne westerns chances are you have already figured out that El Dorado‘s plot is pretty much the same as Rio Bravo, which is not taking anything away from this movie as it stands on its own quite well thank you.
The film starts out with Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Mitchum) making a surprise visit on his old friend Cole Thornton (Wayne). J.P. has heard a rumor that Cole is working for Bart Jason (Ed Asner), a wealthy and ruthless rancher who wants water that is on another property. This scene between Mitchum and Wayne quickly establishes the fact that their characters have a history although it is, for the most, part a good one.
One of the many things I appreciate about Howard Hawks is his ability to set up a variety of characters early on and how he uses those characters for more than just the main story. An example would be when Joey (Michele Carey) meets Cole her intentions are to avenge her brothers death. After that encounter early in the film Joey is reintroduced in the film in the third act and instead of another encounter with Cole she is now dealing with Cole’s friend Mississippi (James Caan). Hawks is able to move his characters around in a movie without distracting the viewer. Another Hawks trait is to stay focused on characters without a bunch of camera movement and in El Dorado cinematographer Harold Rosson takes full advantage of this by showcasing not only the actors but the entire scenery which in itself is a thing of beauty.
There are two directors who could get the most out of the larger than life presence of John Wayne – John Ford and Howard Hawks. In fact, these are the only two who could have Wayne do certain scenes even though he hated it with a passion. One example is when Cole is on his horse and has to back away while on the horse. For some reason Wayne absolutely hated that scene and yet the wisdom of Hawks comes through because not only is the scene compelling it is memorable.
Let’s face it, Wayne is larger than life and no matter what scene he is in your attention is focused on him and in this movie he does not disappoint. Considering that he is practically in every scene makes his performance all that much better. No one could swagger like Wayne and in the case of this movie there is plenty of that. Robert Mitchum is simply superb as the broken down Sheriff who spends the biggest part of his role drunk or fighting to stay sober. His scenes with Wayne are the highlight of the movie as those two simply had great chemistry. James Caan also turns in a solid performance and considering who he is surrounded by makes his performance noteworthy.
Even though El Dorado is not an original story, Hawks and everyone involved make it one of the most enjoyable westerns I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
Paramount has done a terrific job in offering some exceptional extras that compliment the main feature nicely. The must see is the 7 part documentary Ride, Boldly Ride! The Journey to El Dorado. Everything you want to know about this movie is laid out in detail as film historians, cast and crew discuss every aspect of El Dorado. Of course the bulk of the documentary focuses on Hawks but there is ample time spent on the cast. If you get this DVD this featurette is a must watch.
One thing that annoyed me was the commentary overload. The first one with Peter Bogdanovich is exceptional but the other one with historian Richard Schickel turned out to be a complete bore. The remaining extras are a nice addition, Behind the Gates: A.C. Lyles remembers John Wayne and The Artist & The American West featurettes are worth visiting mainly because you can pick up some little nuggets of information that is left out of the 7 part feature.