Directed by Howard Hawks
A gunfighter for hire and his old friend team with a gambler and an Indian fighter to help a rancher and his family fight a rival that is trying to steal their water rights in this classic Western tale.
John Wayne is his usual swagger as gunfighter Cole Thornton. Cole takes a bullet in the back early in the film and it remains lodged close to his spine. This causes him to have spasms which result in pain and a temporary paralysis. And wouldn’t you know it, it becomes a problem towards the end of the film when they need him at his best. It does not stop him from doing his duty. A little too convenient. Here Cole Thornton takes the spot of John T. Chance in this iteration of the themes from Rio Bravo. Though it is less overt than in Rio Bravo, he seeks out the best available to fight for the cause.
It was great to see Robert Mitchum as Sheriff J.P. Harrah paired with John Wayne. They were two great movie tough guys and they had some genuine chemistry up there. Here Harrah takes the spot of Dude (Dean Martin) from Rio Bravo. And just like Dude, he is a raging alcoholic who was emotionally wounded by a woman. It is not like there was any effort to make him different from Dude.
James Caan is Alan Bourdillion Traherne, nicknamed “Mississippi,” who is a cocky young man getting vengeance for the death of the gambler that raised him. His character is given the unique method of knife throwing but this quirk is tossed away for the majority of the film. I don’t know how they would’ve worked it into other scenes, but it would have been something special. Here Mississippi takes the spot of Colorado (Ricky Nelson) from Rio Bravo.
They even managed to fit in a character similar to Stumpy (Walter Brennan) from Rio Bravo. Here it is Indian fighter Bull Harris (Arthur “Arkansas” Hunnicutt). Aside from being wise and grizzled, they were both humorous characters meant to lighten the mood.
The whole issue with the McDonald family water supply is almost superfluous to the plot. It seriously does not have very much significance to the overall events. And they toss in a few side characters that Cole Thornton has some deep connection to, but they do not even mean anything to the story.
Due to plot similarities, this has been called a rough remake of Rio Bravo and at times used as a knock at the movie. I get the argument, but I am not sure how strong it is as directors have often rehashed their previous work. I think it was not so much a remake as it was Hawks being a bit lazy. He had something from the past that he liked and wanted to revisit in a way that worked again. I say all that not knowing how closely this film adheres to the book upon which it is loosely based called The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown.
El Dorado has some light comedic moments along with some good gun fights. It shadows its predecessor and that can prove a creative hindrance in character creation/development. My biggest gripe though is that the most capable character is conveniently incapacitated when he is needed most. Despite its flaws it is a good Western brought to you by one of the great directors.