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El Dorado

Screening on Film
Directed by Howard Hawks.
With John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan.
US, 1967, 35mm, color, 126 min.
Print source: HFA

In the mythic Old West town of El Dorado, two aging cowboys—one a drunken sheriff (Robert Mitchum) and the other a gunman-for-hire (John Wayne)—team up with a bearded old codger (Arthur Hunnicutt), a young eccentric (James Caan), and a tough-as-nails saloon owner (Charlene Holt) in a face-off against a rancher (Ed Asner) and his pack of thugs. El Dorado’s stock scenario is a bald-faced retread of Rio Bravo (screenwriter Leigh Brackett even lampooned it as “The Son of Rio Bravo Rides Again”), but Hawks is one of the rare filmmakers who can repeat himself without really repeating himself. In its subtle variations on the prior film’s winning formula, El Dorado becomes something altogether new and welcome, not to mention a sly treatise on the twilight stage of Hawks’ career. The film’s mischievous narrative structure first lures the viewer with rising tension, then leaps ahead in time to a series of slow builds and frantic shootouts, the most memorable of which takes place around a church bell tower and finds the men strategically incorporating the bells into their attack (“let’s make some music!” hollers Wayne). In between the torrents of gunfire, Hawks clears space for his amiable characters to simply enjoy each other’s company and figure out what to do with their ailing bodies, a subplot that gradually reveals itself as a running commentary on the decline of the idealized Hawksian hero.

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