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DVD Review: El Dorado (1968) – Centennial Collection

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Written by Fantasma el Rey

El Dorado was directed and produced by legendary director Howard Hawks and stars western great John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. It is one of a just a few oaters that Hawks would work on; three others starred Wayne as well: Red River, Rio Bravo, and Rio Lobo. The two together made some great westerns that rival the work that Wayne did for fellow directing legend John Ford. Now El Dorado has been released in a two-disc edition as part of the Centennial Collection from Paramount.

The story is a fairly simple one. A hired gun rides to town to assist in a war over water rights. While in town he is confronted and given the lowdown by the sheriff, who's an old friend, as to which ranch is “good” and which is “bad.” Now armed with the facts over said “war,” gunman decides to decline the offer made by bad rancher, rides on to leave the job to someone else. Little does he know that he will eventually be involved at a later date and fighting on the other side. That’s the plot in a nut shell. Not too complicated at all.

El Dorado is often seen as a remake of Hawks’ earlier work Rio Bravo, and for good reason. Wayne plays a fast-handed gunslinger of sorts in both films. Mitchum replaces Dean Martin as the drunk sheriff. The young James Caan is the new kid named after a state (Mississippi this time as opposed to Colorado), lending a helping hand. Arthur Hunnicutt is the old-timer along for support and some comic relief, aided in this version by the knife-throwing Caan character. There are also strong Hawksian women that can hold their own alongside such strong men. In El Dorado, we have the older, wise woman, played by Charlene Holt, who knows both sheriff and gunman, and the young, aggressive, slightly tomboy-ish, and highly attractive Michele Carey. Both add wonderfully to the film.

Similarities to Rio Bravo don’t end there as Leigh Brackett, who worked on both films, adapted the screenplay. A sheriff left devastated by a girl loses self in a bottle, an old friend and situation force him to sober up, and a young kid and old coot are aids. This time the band of four fights for the side that is right and wind up doing the majority of dirty work as the “good” rancher is out matched by his foe’s hired gun fighters. More plot matches include the capture and exchange of a man from both sides as the film comes to a climactic bullet-riddled conclusion. Hawks even stole scenes from himself: look at the saloon scene where a recently sober sheriff follows a fleeing suspect by blood trial.

The assemble cast do a fine job in the roles they are given. Watching them all work together make El Dorado a joy to watch, even if it is a rehash of a better film with a stronger cast. Also, Edward Asner gives a fine performance as the wealthy ranch boss trying to bully his neighbors. Not a likely western heavy, he gives his baddie a new spin by coming off as more of a New York brawler type, complete with hat and fist on hips stance.

As part of the Centennial Collection, the DVDs are filled with excellent extras. Disc one has two audio commentary tracks: one by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and the other by critic/ historian Richard Schickel along with Asner and author Todd McCarthy. Disc two contains two standout featurettes, one being the 40-minute “Ride, Boldly Ride: The Journey To El Dorado.” Broken into seven parts, it is detailed look at how El Dorado came to be. “The Artist And The American West” is a vintage short that explores the world of western painter Olaf Wieghorst (he has a small part as the gunsmith who provides Mississippi with his blunderbuss of a sawed-off shotgun) whose paintings are featured in the film’s opening sequence and which Hawks does a beautiful job in bringing to life on the silver screen in bright vivid color. The two-disc set also comes with a nifty little booklet that contains some good photos and a bit more info on how El Dorado came to life.

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