TSPDT Greatest Films #841 El Dorado (Howard Hawks, 1966)
"Hired gunman Cole Thornton (John Wayne) turns down a job with Bart Jason as it would mean having to fight an old sheriff friend. Some months later he finds out the lawman is on the bottle and a top gunfighter is heading his way to help Jason. Along with young Mississippi (James Caan), handy with a knife and now armed with a diabolical shotgun, Cole returns to help."
Another review of another Western. The Western genre has been one of the most popular since the early days of American films. Losing some of its glare in the 1980's and the 1990's with the financial failure of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate in 1980 it never reached out as strong as it was in the first half of the 20th century. This failure not only scared producers to do big budget Westerns but also closed the door that auteurism American Cinema had wide open in the 1970's. Some of the greatest films of contemporary Cinema were made in the 1970's, just look at this critics' favorite picture of all time Taxi Driver.
A great cast of actors: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan and a great director Howard Hawks makes this oftenly underapreciated film an intrying film to look forward to. I had low expectations when I sat to watch El Dorado: I never heard much praised about it and I was afraid to constantly compare it to Hawks' masterpiece, Rio Bravo. Well, both films have many similarities but which Hawks' picture hasn't some to the other? Look at the relationships between the male characters, strong friendships. The woman's names are often masculinized: Josephine is called Joey. It has John Wayne in it... Well, one can go on easily for a long time.
In a way, Hawks repeats himself and mostly retells a classic Western story with Hawksian characters in a Hawksian world. But in another way, he is one of Cinema's greatest storyteller, and this world is very interesting. Moreover, the ride may seem the same as another one but this is still a great ride. El Dorado, takes you on the path of real men, loyal men and sensible men too (talking in a very John Wayne way of things).
To understand its lack of popularity we have to look back at the context when the film came out in 1967, an Italian cult classic Western came out The Good, the Bad and the Ugly refreshing and revisionning the genre. The conservatism of El Dorado may have been a succes to older audiences but the visual extravaganza of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was very appealing and brought something new and a new star to the genre. The liberalism of the Sergio Leone picture was of its time and the right-wing El Dorado/Hawks/Wayne didn't help on a political ground. The end of the 1960's was a decade of changes, politically, socially and Cinema (the reflection of reality) changed too. The old guard was giving its last films and the new guard just wanted to take all the place on the screens all over the world. New Waves were emerging everywhere and new names like Arthur Penn, Sergio Leone, Jean-Luc Godard, Mike Nichols, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and many more were coming to remplace the old "farts"(read this with respect to all these pioneers and masters) that were losing touch gradually John Ford, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Nicholas Ray, Robert Wise, etc.
With a step back El Dorado is an interesting film in Howard Hawks' filmography and fits perfectly in this oeuvre watched as a whole. I still have Hatari! as one of my personal favorites but I still need to see many of his films before really stepping my foot down defenitely.