El Dorado

El Dorado (1966) movie poster

(1966) dir. Howard Hawks
viewed: 08/27/06

I, as I often have stated here, hate watching movies on broadcast television and almost utterly refuse to do so.  So, why I decided to watch Howard Hawks’ El Dorado, I can only say that I happened to catch it coming on and decided to stick with it.  AMC used to be a good film network, but now they have an horrendous number of ads running frequently throughout a film.  I understand that TCM still runs films in their full duration.  AMC also plays a lot of modern crap that can hardly be considered “American Movie Classics”.

That said, El Dorado, is perhaps a classic American movie.  It’s directed by one of Hollywood’s true auteurs, Howard Hawks, and stars some big name talent like John Wayne and Robert Mitchum and features some other solid performances from Ed Asner, Arthur Hunnicutt, and a very young James Caan.

It’s cut from a classic form cloth, in fact, many speculate that this film is essentially a remake of Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) rather than an adaptation of a novel as the film claims.  It’s interesting since this film is created out of the studio system by the heavyweights of the system but is in close time proximity to significant twists on the genre in such films as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) &  Little Big Man (1970), El Dorado is a more traditional Western in more ways than one.

It clearly depicts the last flares of a dying system and approach to genre, but does so with much of the traditional system’s qualities and charms.  Wayne and Mitchum are very strong, pulling the others along with them in numerous moments, and I am sure that the film continues to be rife with characteristics of Hawks’s films and is probably quite interesting from that perspective.  This was his second to last completed film.

Ultimately, I found it a mixed bag, myself.  When the classic pieces were working and when the story was clicking, there were many moments and sequences of good, classic Western material.  But really, the film does feel like a retread.  The story is not particularly compelling, sort of straight Oater fare.  One evil cattle baron tries to tough out another cattleman for the water rights to his land.  Hired guns are hired.  It all ends in a shoot-out.  There is not a great sense of period or significance.  As in Hawks’s films, it’s about the relationships between men and men and men and women, and therein lies the interest and pleasures.

I think it would be interesting to chart the significant developments in the Western, as it moved from certain codification and characteristics to the points in which those codes became subverted or replayed.  Where this film falls on that chart or timeline could be particularly interesting, especially for such a major director of classic Hollywood and major stars such as “The Duke”.   That said, that’s probably been done and all I need to do is Google it.

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