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"El Dorado" (Bullz-Eye DVD Review)

July 12, 2009

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 With the help of its TV-friendly vibe and the support of high profiles fans like Quentin Tarantino, Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo” remains possibly the most popular of all classic-era westerns. The laid back seriocomic oater starred John Wayne as a tough frontier sheriff in conflict with a powerful rancher; Dean Martin as his easygoing deputy ruined by the bottle and a bad woman; teen idol Rick Nelson as a young whippersnapper able to work miracles with a gun; Walter Brennan as a wily coot; and gorgeous newcomer Angie Dickenson as the ultra-sexy female gambler who keeps Wayne guessing throughout. Though the kind of unassuming film that feels like a cult hit, it was actually an immediate success on its original release in 1959.

Five or six years later, however, the classic era was dead, and the title characters of “Bonnie and Clyde” were coming to shoot up the corpse, but older filmmakers for the most part saw no reason to change. Howard Hawks, moreover, had never been had a problem with cannibalizing his past. If something worked once, why not let it work twice? So in the wake of a couple of non-western box-office bombs, he decided that the downbeat western adaptation of a novel by Harry Brown that science fiction novelist and screenwriter Leigh Brackett (“Rio Bravo,” “The Empire Strikes Back”) was drafting would instead become a laidback seriocomic oater. It would star John Wayne as a tough frontier gun-for-hire in conflict with a powerful rancher; Robert Mitchum as an easygoing sheriff ruined by the bottle and a bad woman; James Caan as a young whippersnapper able to work miracles with a knife; character actor Arthur Hunnicut as a wily coot (Walter Brennan was unavailable); and attractive newcomer Charlene Holt as Wayne’s sexy girlfriend, who occasionally confuses him. Hawks denied it was a remake, and for the first third of the film, the plot appears to be leading elsewhere, but by the one-hour mark we’re watching the movie Brackett referred to ruefully as “The Son of Rio Bravo Rides Again.”

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2 Comments
  1. Excellent writeup, Bob! Lee Server’s uneven “Baby, I Don’t Care” had a nice section on El Dorado that echoes a lot of what you have to say about it. I like your voice as a writer better, though.

  2. Thanks, Zayne. I’m going to have to figure out who this Lee Server person is.

    In any case, I forgot to mention the whole business with Mitchum switching which arm he had the crutch under, and then them turning it into a joke that, oddly enough, doesn’t take you out of the movie, though by all rights it certainly should.

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