El Dorado (1966) Revisited
I still stand by the fact that El Dorado (1966) is a remake of Rio Bravo (1959) and to an extent an imitation. Then I think part of that is unfair when you think that John Huston remade The African Queen (1951) with Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957) so it’s not new to see directors of Howard Hawks generation remake a winning formula, you know the old phrase, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”. These two took that more seriously when it came to film making, of course I’m not saying that El Dorado and Rio Bravo are word for word, scene for scene the same film just made 7 years a part. There are subtle differences which I have picked up the second time around.
Of course you can’t forget that it was Rio Bravo that was originally set to be a reunion John Wayne, Montgomery Clift and Walter Brennan, Only the older two returned from Red River (1948). Clift was unwilling after the friction between himself and The Duke, two very different men who didn’t get on behind the camera’s. Moving forward after Rio Bravo to find an older Wayne who was hitting a successful stride in the 1960’s, sustaining a record as one of the decades biggest draws, is only original to return for this film. Playing opposite contemporary Robert Mitchum, taking the drunken sheriff role, that was originally Dean Martin, to have both actors return would not be clever thinking. Here we have an actor who has more talent an experience to draw on for the darker roles, and even more time in the western genre. Whilst Brennan’s roles taken over by Arthur Hunnicutt who I have said before is an easy fit for the ageing law-man, and providing gentle comedy throughout.
The dynamic between these men alone is steady and very masculine, bouncing off each other. Enter the Ricky Nelson of the film played by James Caan, a very early role in his career as the young up-start, wanting to prove himself as a man to the elders. There is no longer that dynamic of Bravo which was more about getting the job done and male bonding. Dorado’s is more mature, with older men who are having to accept their physical problems. The main actors are all older, the original concept has grown up, whilst at the same time not taking it self seriously all the time. There is plenty of comedy, even at the expense of them all.
Instead of having a group of men who are the best, we find men who in someway handicapped. Early on gun for hire Cole Thornton (Wayne) is shot in the back, causing temporary paralysis throughout the film, impact on his performance. Still very much a man of his word, honest and true to his friend and sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) who turns into a drunk half way through the film. That’s I find the strongest similarity between Mitchum and Martin’s respective character, drunk lawmen who are assisted by Wayne’s in both films. Also both films are filmed in the same location and backlot, but so were a great number of Wayne’s later films.
Moving away from the compare and contrast that has dominated this review I turn to the plot which is pretty straight forward as two sides are pitted against each other, one the Macdonald’s who are fighting against Bart Jason (Edward Asner) and his men over water. It’s a man’s world that is broken by Joey MacDonald (Michele Carey) who shoves her way into help fend off Jason’s Men.
This time around I found El Dorado more enjoyable, I let myself see it with fresh eyes, not see the characters as replacing older characters, of course to an extent they were, tweaked just slightly to be out of their comfort zone in one respect or another. Having Mississippi (James Caan) a young man who is a dabb hand with a knife rather than a gun, making him different and dangerous, even more so with a gun, a weapon unfamiliar to him. Allowing for some comedic moments, which mainly comes from Wayne and Mitchum who have great on-screen chemistry. It will never the clever classic which Rio Bravo has, with it’s moments of male bonding and explosive action, not forgetting Angie Dickinson. The rest of the films formula is there and in tact, I just wonder how Rio Lobo (1970) fits into this loose trilogy of films.