A gunslinger helps an old friend defend a rancher's family
from a rival rancher who's hired a gang to take them out.
El Dorado (1966)
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Leigh Brackett
Starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan,
Charlene Holt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Edward Asner,
Michele Carey, Christopher George, R.G. Armstrong
Based on the novel The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown
El Dorado isn't all that different from the rest of John Wayne's larger than life western filmography, but the fine performances and likable characters help it stand out just the slightest bit more than the rest. The story is awfully muddled and hard to follow, as is the grand plan of the villain Bart Jason (Edward Asner). But that's often the problem with westerns. Westerns, more than any other genre, are primarily character driven films. The story is usually secondary to the gunslingers, the ranchers, and the outlaws that drive it. El Dorado is no exception, but it's a decent film all the same.
John Wayne stars as Cole Thornton, a gun-for-hire who refuses a job that would cause him to go up against his old friend Sheriff J.P. Harrah, played impeccably by Robert Mitchum. Thornton decides instead to help the sheriff fight off the gang who's taken the job, recruiting a young gambler named Mississippi (James Caan) to help him. Together, these three iconic character actors take center stage and propel this rather ordinary western into something memorable. The villains, Jason and gunslinger Nelse McLeod (Christopher George) are your typical archetypal outlaws of the genre, but the actors playing them really give it their all. It's ultimately the performances that make El Dorado an enjoyable film.
I haven't seen most of John Wayne's films, but El Dorado is just as good as the ones I have had the chance to see. It's a western that also works as a sort of buddy cop movie with Wayne and Mitchum as the charismatic heroes. The westerns of old Hollywood were in a league of their own. They were a celebration of the American West and the gorgeous landscape that came with it. El Dorado does the same, showcasing its beautiful setting alongside a host of talented actors.