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El Dorado

"El Dorado" on DVD

Duking it Out with Bad Guys

Howard Hawks' "El Dorado" is a John Wayne oater in the classic tradition.

The Duke plays "one of the four fastest shots around," a hired gun who shoots when necessary, but who doesn't necessarily shoot. He's hired by a ruthless businessman (Ed Asner) to put the muscle on a rancher, but when he shows up he runs into his old friend (Robert Mitchum), who's now the local sheriff. Mitchum gives him the straight goods on who's the good guy and who's the bad guy in the El Dorado area, and Wayne decides he isn't going to work for Asner after all.

So he travels on, but a few months later hears from a fellow gunslinger (who's about to take over the gig Wayne turned down) that Mitchum is now a drunken laughingstock, and he heads back to El Dorado to save his old friend's life.

There's a lot more to the story than this, of course, including an interesting wrinkle in which Wayne's character becomes partially and temporarily disabled (at the worst possible times, of course) and screenwriter Leigh Brackett (who was writing "The Empire Strikes Back" when she died) has crafted a really good story, full of interesting characters and situations.

This is an intelligent Western, with strong male and female roles and good guys and bad guys who belie the two dimensional stereotypes of Westerns are being populated by "White hats" and "Black hats."

James Caan provides an almost comic relief role that's a real change of pace from his later macho characters - and he pulls it off well. Other supporting cast members include Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Michelle Carey.

Wayne and Mitchum are definitely the stars here, but they're surrounded by quality actors in sympathetic roles.

The look and feel of "El Dorado" is wide and airy, as befitting the Texas setting of the film. Director and producer Howard Hawks knew how to make a big screen Western, and it shows.

The DVD's widescreen (enhanced for 16x9 TV's) picture is terrific; if we didn't know this was a 1967-vintage film (with its "old movie" color look) - and if its major stars weren't dead - we'd have thought it was shot yesterday. Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it sounds fine, considering the source material.

You don't get a lot of extras with this DVD, unfortunately. There's the theatrical trailer and a paragraph or two on the box's rear panel, and that's about it.

Still, this is a classic Western from near the end of the era and is definitely worth a viewing.

El Dorado, from Paramount Home Video
126 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital mono
Starring John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Edward Asner, Charlene Hlt, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, Michelle Carey
Screenplay by Leigh Brackett
Produced and Directed by Howard Hawks


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Updated May 13, 2006