Wednesday, April 26, 2023

El Dorado - 1966 Movie

Image of movie poster for El Dorado listing John Wayne and Robert Mitchum as stars, with picture of actors underneath and other credits below the picture.

I’m not quite sure why this 1966, Howard Hawkes-directed movie is called El Dorado.  It certainly isn’t a gilded, gold-plated Oscar-worthy film.  In fact, it is sort of a mirror image of Rio Bravo, a pale sideways version of that much better movie.  I wrote about El Dorado in 2015 when I saw a special screening of it but now I'll post a detailed review.

Instead of being the sheriff as he was in Rio Bravo, in El Dorado John Wayne is the hired gun.  Instead of the alcoholic deputy that was played by Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, Robert Mitchum plays the alcoholic sheriff.  The gruff older lawman, who plays a bugle instead of a harmonica, is acted by Arthur Hunnicutt rather than Walter Brennan.  The young, na├»ve, fish-out-of-water character isn’t Ricky Nelson but a young James Caan, who was only 26 when this film was released.
An alternate title for this movie could be “The Adventures of Cole Thornton.”  After the opening credits, which are overlaid on paintings resembling those of Charles Russell but were in fact by Olaf Wieghorst, a noted painter originally from Denmark who also acted the role of Swede, a gunsmith in El Dorado, we see, from the back, a man strolling down the middle of a main street of a nondescript Western town.  He enters the saloon, which is also a bathhouse, and discover he’s the sheriff.  He confronts a man washing up at a sink who, clearly at a disadvantage, turns out to be Cole Thornton, played by John Wayne.  The sheriff is J.P. Harrah, played by Robert Mitchum, and apparently they are old friends.
Thornton is in the town, which is named El Dorado, in response to a job offer from Bart Jason, a rich rancher played by Ed Asner, very much against type (or at least, against his Lou Grant character of much later fame) who wants him to get rid of the MacDonald family.  But Harrah sets Thornton straight -- Jason needs the water on the MacDonald land for his animals but the MacDonalds don’t want to sell.  That wasn’t exactly the story Thornton had been told so Thornton rides out to tell Jason he won’t be taking the job after all.  On his way back to town, he’s shot at by one of the MacDonald sons.
From that point on, the plot of El Dorado is a series of events typical of Westerns: Thornton has an encounter with another gunfighter, he acquires a young man as his sidekick, he rekindles a relationship with a woman.  These adventures gradually reveal Thornton’s character.
Which is why we soon find Thornton back in the town of El Dorado where, while he was gone, Harrah has become an alcoholic.  But Thornton will help him get back on track!  It’s just too bad that Bart Jason and the MacDonald family are still at odds with each other. 
Several scenes in the saloon and sheriff’s office are reminiscent of Rio Bravo.  Of course there are shoot-outs; one in particular occurs in a church and observant viewers will recognize it as Old Tucson, which is where El Dorado was filmed. 
The characters faced no great moral quandaries.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that in El Dorado, the good guys prevail.  The ending, however, didn’t wrap things up completely and left me wondering what Thornton was really going to do.  I actually liked that about the movie.
One thing I did not like, though, was when one actor dressed up as a Chinese person towards the end of El Dorado to distract one of the bad guys.  It was a caricature, it was racist, and it was jarring.


Other than that, El Dorado was enjoyable.  The banter was light, even if it often wasn’t as funny as it was probably meant to be.  Robert Mitchum and Michele Carey were the most interesting actors to watch.  Cole Thornton was a role John Wayne could play in his sleep.
Three of the actors in El Dorado appeared in Alias Smith and Jones: Patriarch Kevin MacDonald was played by R.G. Armstrong (Max in The Bounty Hunter); Milt, one of the bad guys, was played by Robert Donner (3 episodes, including Nate in The Bounty Hunter); and daughter Joey MacDonald was played by Michele Carey (Betsy in A Fistful of Diamonds). 
At 126 minutes, El Dorado was a pleasant diversion but I won't go out of my way to watch it again.
Related Link:
Olaf Wieghorst Museum