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With: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, Michelle Carey
Written by: Leigh Brackett, based on a novel by Harry Brown
Directed by: Howard Hawks
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 126
Date: 12/17/1966

El Dorado (1967)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Western at Rest

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The year 1967 was a strange crossover time in American film. Directors like Howard Hawks had been canonized by the French "auteur" theory, and critics-turned filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich were freely citing Hawks as an influence. At the same time, younger moviegoers were becoming attracted to new, hip cinema like Blow Up, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, and Hawks and John Wayne were considered fogeys, way past their prime. When El Dorado was released, half the public was celebrating and hero worshipping, and the other half was sneering.

A lot of the films that were considered hip in the '60s have become transparent, and the values that were once topical that attracted the young have become ancient. Looking at most of the movies from that era on video, from a modern standpoint, its more refreshing to see a master craftsman like Hawks keeping the status quo than to see some first-timer showing off and trying to be self-consciously brilliant.

El Dorado is a pretty standard Western. It's not flashy and electrified like Once Upon a Time in the West or The Wild Bunch, but it moves charmingly, gracefully, along. It's essentially a remake of Hawks' earlier Rio Bravo (with writer Leigh Brackett updating her own script). John Wayne, instead of sheriff, plays an aging gunman, who is getting too wise for the game. Robert Mitchum, as the drunken sheriff, takes over the role of the drunken Dean Martin, and James Caan is the fresh faced greenhorn last played by Ricky Nelson (thankfully, Caan doesn't sing). Hawks and Brackett take their time in setting up this story, giving Wayne and Mitchum plenty of backstory, before the stand-off in the town of El Dorado.

Wayne is so much better in Hawks films than in his typical films. He seems more relaxed, and he actually acts. At the time of El Dorado, he had been in over 150 films and was finally growing relaxed in front of the camera. He moves naturally, as opposed to the stiff, jerky performances in his movies of the 1930s. Hawks, too, seems relaxed, like he knows nothing more is at stake, he had nothing more to prove, with this film. He had been in movies for five decades, and his craft was perfected. He seems to make movies with his guts, without even thinking about them. His skill is in his hands and in his eyes. El Dorado is an effortless movie, and it draws you in easily.

This is one of my personal favorite Howard Hawks films, though it's not considered one of his best; I could never have imagined that Paramount would give it the deluxe two-disc DVD treatment like this. Disc one comes with the movie and two new commentary tracks, one by Peter Bogdanovich (who knew Hawks and Wayne) and one with critics Richard Schickel and Todd McCarthy and actor Ed Asner. There are other, optional language and subtitle tracks. Disc two comes with a 41-minute making-of documentary, "Ride, Boldly Ride: The Journey to El Dorado," a 5-minute vintage featurette, a remembrance of John Wayne, a trailer and some terrific photo galleries. There are also liner notes. Paramount released the DVD in May of 2009 as part of their Centennial Collection. It towers over the original 2000 disc.

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