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Gunfighter-for-hire Cole Thornton joins forces with his friend the Sheriff, an old Indian fighter and a gambler to help a rancher and his family fight off a rival that is trying to steal their water.
For more about El Dorado and the El Dorado Blu-ray release, see El Dorado Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on March 11, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt
Director: Howard Hawks
» See full cast & crew
El Dorado Blu-ray Review
A Gallant Knight
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, March 11, 2014
Having just experienced a rare flop with the racing film Red Line 7000 (1965), director Howard Hawks did not feel like taking chances. Although there are many differences—and the differences are what make it interesting—Hawks raced into production with a loose remake of one his biggest hits, Rio Bravo (1959). His good friend John Wayne was always game to make another picture with Hawks, one of the two directors, along with John Ford, who firmly established the Duke's status as a Western icon. The script was freely (very freely) adapted by Hawks's regular collaborator, Leigh Brackett, from a novel by Harry Brown entitled The Stars in Their Courses, and it had Brackett's trademark tough dialogue. Wayne could always count on Hawks to assemble a solid cast, keep the production firmly under control, and hold the Hollywood suits at bay. Still, no one could miss the fact that Hawks was repeating himself. The obvious similarities between the two films provide the basis for a joke in Get Shorty. Threatened with harm by a gangster who says that "this time it ain't no John Wayne and Dean Martin shooting bad guys in El Dorado", movie buff Chili Palmer insists on correcting him:
That was Rio Bravo. Robert Mitchum played the drunk in El Dorado. Dean Martin played the drunk in Rio Bravo. Basically, it was the same part. Now John Wayne, he did the same in both. He played John Wayne.Chili might have gone on to explain that James Caan played Ricky Nelson's part, Arthur Hunnicutt took over for Walter Brennan and a relative newcomer named Charlene Holt had the unenviable job of filling the high heels of Angie Dickinson. But El Dorado has an entirely different feel from Rio Bravo. It's more loosely constructed, leisurely paced and finds humor at unexpected moments. Pervading the entire affair is an autumnal atmosphere best exemplified by an injury that intereferes with the ability of Wayne's character to live up to his reputation as one of the fastest draws in the West. For a director pushing seventy and a star in his early sixties, that development becomes a commentary on the challenges of aging. The events that lead to the injury anticipate the themes of guilt and regret that would not be fully explored in a major Western until Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.
Where he was a sheriff in Rio Bravo, in El Dorado Wayne plays a gunslinger named Cole Thornton (the name may be a reference to the Duke's role in John Ford's The Quiet Man). Cole arrives in the town of El Dorado in response to an offer of work from a local landowner, Bart Jason (Ed Asner), who wants the water rights held by Kevin MacDonald (R.G. Armstrong) and his family and isn't particular about how much violence he has to apply to get them. The sheriff of El Dorado is Cole's old friend, J.P. Harrah (Mitchum), a former gunslinger and, like many sheriffs, probably a former outlaw. Cole and J.P. share an interest in a local saloon keeper, Maudie (Holt), but as soon as she sees Cole, it's clear where her heart inclines. Once J.P. has brought his former riding buddy up to date on who's who, Cole declines Bart Jason's offer. (The scene where Cole has to back his palomino horse away from Jason and his men so that he can keep an eye on all of them is memorable.) He leaves El Dorado, but not before several encounters that leave him with a heavy heart and a long-term injury rendering him subject to unpredictable spasms that paralyze his gun hand. It's a dangerous condition for a famous gunslinger, and the local physician (familiar character actor Paul Fix) advises him to get to a major city and find a surgeon with the training to fix it before the damage becomes permanent. Cole, of course, ignores the advice. Some months later, Cole encounters the man whom Bart Jason has hired to replace him: Nelson McCleod (Christopher George), a cool customer with a huge scar down one side of his face and a clouded eye. It is from McCleod that Cole learns that J.P. has become a drunk after his heart was broken by a woman passing through El Dorado. For that reason, McCleod doesn't expect much resistance when he goes to oust the MacDonald family from their land. Cole and McCleod part warily but amicably, in what McCleod calls a matter of "professional courtesy". In the process, Cole picks up a traveling companion who calls himself "Mississippi" (Caan), because his real name is too much of a mouthful for anyone to pronounce. (Fans of Rio Bravo will recall that Ricky Nelson's character was also named after a state: Colorado.) Mississippi is handy with a knife and useless with a gun, but as soon as he hears that Cole is headed for a town called El Dorado, he begins reciting the poem of that name by Edgar Allan Poe. It's probably the only poem he knows. ("Gaily bedight, A gallant knight, In sunshine and in shadow", etc.) The first order of business upon reaching El Dorado is to sober up J.P., which is no easy task. Much of this prairie-style "intervention" is played for laughs, especially a noxious potion mixed by Mississippi that is supposed to quell the desire for alochol (one of the ingredients is gunpowder). Then there's the problem of Bart Jason and the newly arrived McCleod, complicated by Cole's spasms, which are becoming more frequent and severe. The MacDonalds are unreliable allies, especially hotheaded Josephine "Joey" MacDonald (Michelle Carey), who believes in shooting first. (Mississippi, however, finds her intriguing.) Maudie is happy to see Cole but furious that he continues to risk his life. Indeed, by the time both Cole and J.P. are hobbling down the town's main street on crutches, the romantic appeal of the gunslinger's life has faded considerably. Wayne was a great reactor, and one of the secrets of El Dorado is the strength of the cast with which Hawks surrounded his star, giving him a wide array of personalities and acting styles to which he could react. Mitchum's J.P. is Cole's equal when we first meet him, but then we see him fall to the depths that Dean Martin's "Dude" has already reached when Rio Bravo opens— and then recover. Mitchum walks the line between comedy and pathos so gracefully that you don't even notice when he slips from one to the other, and Wayne follows him at every turn. Caan, still some years away from his career-defining performance in The Godfather, gives Wayne the chance to be irritated, admiring and amused, all at the same time. Asner and George make an ideal pair of adversaries, because Cole respects the one who's a professional like him, but has only contempt for the other, who "rents" professionals to do his dirty work. By this point in his career, Wayne had mastered the tiniest nuance of his famous persona. His incomparable star power holds Rio Bravo together, as he navigates the sometimes meandering plot, dispensing the hard-earned wisdom that Cole Thornton has accumulated over a lifetime's experience.
El Dorado Blu-ray, Video Quality
Howard Hawks lured Oscar-nominated cinematographer Harold Rosson (The Bad Seed) out of retirement to shoot El Dorado, then grew impatient with Rosson's deliberate pace at setting up his shots. Still, Rosson captured some beautiful locations in Old Tucson and Utah, and Warner's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray, from a Paramount transfer, provides a decent reproduction of his photography, though not without a few issues. Clarity, sharpness and detail are excellent, and the blacks are generally solid, except for a few nighttime sequences, where Rosson's lighting renders some of the shadows indistinct (as Peter Bogdanovich notes in his commentary, these issues exist in the original photography). Colors are vivid and saturated, including Wayne's trademark red and blue shirts, Maudie's often colorful wardrobe and the greens of the outdoor vegetation. Some grain reduction has been performed on the image, rendering its appearance a little less film-like and somewhat more like a contemporary production finished in a digital intermediate. This isn't to say that there's no grain in the image; it's there if you look closely. But the image has a shine that brings it a little closer to video than film. Any degraining software has been applied with a light hand, resulting in no evident loss of detail and none of the waxy or artificial look that has resulted in a few famous travesties. Also, there is no indication of any artificial sharpening, which, in my experience, frequently creates more serious artifacts than degraining. All but the most critical eyes will probably have no complaints about this presentation, once it is seen in motion. With an average bitrate of 36.98 Mbps, I have to question the extent of Warner's involvement in the mastering of the disc, since I have yet to see Warner offer such a high average bitrate, even when the available space would allow it. Let's just be glad it's there.
El Dorado Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Despite the claim on the back cover that the soundtrack is presented in 5.1, the Blu-ray contains the film's original mono mix, presented in lossless Dolby TrueHD 2.0. The track has solid fidelity, with good dynamic range, clear dialogue and sufficient impact for the gunshots to make their point. The musical accompaniment, credited only as "scored and conducted by" Nelson Riddle but with the composer unidentified, has a classic style that's the perfect complement to everything audiences would expect to accompany John Wayne on horseback, even in 1966 when the Western itself was being stolen away from movie theaters by the proliferation of TV shows such as Gunsmoke and Rawhide.
El Dorado Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Paramount's initial DVD release of El Dorado in 2000 contained only a trailer. In 2009 the studio re-released the film in a two-disc "Centenntial Collection" with a new collection of extras, which have been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
El Dorado Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An interesting but contradictory theme runs through the three film expert commentaries (Schickel, McCarthy and Bogdanovich) on El Dorado. They all think it's a lesser work than Rio Bravo, but they clearly like the film so much that they keep pointing out good things in it. After a while, you end up wondering where the bad parts are. (Schickel does note that the ending is rushed.) Admittedly, Charlene Holt is no Angie Dickinson, but then again Ricky Nelson is no James Caan. In the end, a good case can be made that El Dorado is just as good as Rio Bravo, but in a different way. Chili Palmer was right when he said that John Wayne played himself in both, but he played himself differently—and older. Despite minor video issues, highly recommended, especially with the informative extras.
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