Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tonight's Movie: El Dorado (1967)

I'm in the home stretch writing reviews about the movies viewed from my 2015 10 Classics list!

As I wrote in my original post listing last year's 10 Classics, I'd put off watching EL DORADO (1967) all these years because it's a loose remake of RIO BRAVO (1959). Since RIO BRAVO is one of my favorite Westerns, I guess I've always figured why not just stick with watching RIO BRAVO?

EL DORADO's no RIO BRAVO, to be sure, but I'm glad I finally watched it, as taken on its own terms, it's an enjoyable Western starring a pair of favorite actors.

I was interested that while there are some definite parallels between the two movies, they're more different than I'd realized. Both films were directed by Howard Hawks from a Leigh Brackett screenplay, partially filmed at Old Tucson, and of course both movies star John Wayne.

Beyond that, the strongest parallels are in the jailhouse setting and in the four male lead characters, with Robert Mitchum, Arthur Hunnicutt, and James Caan playing roles similar to those portrayed by Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and Ricky Nelson in the original film. The similarity is the closest with the Mitchum-Martin characters, each playing a lawman fighting off a drinking problem.

Wayne plays Cole Thornton, a wandering hired gun. (One wonders if the last name Thornton was purposeful, given it's also his last name in THE QUIET MAN.) Thornton shows up in El Dorado intending to work for rancher Bart Jason (Edward Asner), but a talk with his old friend, Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Mitchum), convinces Thornton that he doesn't want to fight on Jason's side in his war with rancher Kevin MacDonald (R.G. Armstrong).

Thornton hits the trail, picking up a friend named Mississippi (Caan) along the way, but eventually he ends up circling back to El Dorado, where Harrah has become a drunk due to a broken heart. Jason and his latest hired gun, McLeod (Christopher George), intend to take advantage of the sheriff's "indisposition," but Thornton, Mississippi, and Bull (Hunnicutt), an old Indian fighter serving as deputy, don't intend to let Jason get away with it.

RIO BRAVO is significantly longer than EL DORADO, running 141 minutes to EL DORADO's 126, yet it's EL DORADO which feels to me as though it's meandering, especially in the first half of the film. I was, in fact, rather surprised when Thornton left El Dorado and went off on his own adventures for a while. In the first half of the film there's plenty of character development, including the establishment of relationships and problems which set up the film's second half, but it's just a bit obvious that's what's going on.

I adore RIO BRAVO's "plotless" moments spending time with the characters, especially the jailhouse singing, but EL DORADO could have used a leaner running time. Personally, I would have cut out the tragedy with rancher MacDonald's son (Johnny Crawford), as it was hard to watch and I didn't feel it added much of value to the story or our knowledge of the characters.

The scene with the gunsmith (Olaf Wieghorst) was another extraneous moment, though probably included as a tribute of sorts to Wieghorst, who was also the artist behind the beautiful paintings seen under the opening credits; and I suppose one could make the case it shows the developing trust between Thornton and Mississippi.

Those drawbacks aside, what Western fan wouldn't want to spend time with this cast? The actors are all wonderful, creating rich characterizations, and there's lots of great dialogue and running jokes ("You know a girl?!"). Watching Thornton and Harrah battle physical frailties while they simultaneously battle the bad guys adds an interesting dimension, and there are some wonderful set pieces. (Did the ringing church bells remind anyone else of RIO GRANDE?)

All in all, it's a perfect film for a lazy weekend afternoon. It's a good one, and I shouldn't have waited so long to see it! I'm glad my 10 Classics list gave me the push to finally see it, and I'll be spending time with it again in the future.

The supporting cast includes Charlene Holt, Michele Carey, Paul Fix, Robert Donner, and Jim Davis.

EL DORADO was shot by Hal Rosson.

EL DORADO is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It may currently be rented for streaming from Amazon.

There's just one movie left to write up from the 2015 list, and then it will be time to start working on 2016!


Blogger Jerry E said...

Any film, and especially a western, with Wayne is a pleasure. Add Mitchum and it becomes a big draw. And 'EL DORADO' is an enjoyable experience for sure. But when I saw it on General Release in 1967 I felt a tad cheated as it was so obviously repeating so much of the success of the earlier classic. I have never really lost that feeling and it obviously affected you the same way, Laura.
Three years later, Hawks and Wayne did it all over again in 'RIO LOBO' and that really did try the patience. At the end of the day, it's back to 'RIO BRAVO' for me, a real classic.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for your take!

One of these days I'll get around to RIO LOBO...I figure I should see it, although it's the least of the three.

Best wishes,

8:20 AM  

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