El Dorado

“I’m looking at a tin star with a drunk pinned on it.”


Howard Hawks’ penultimate film was a western marketed on starring both John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Wayne’s honourable hired gunslinger is the real lead, burdened by a bullet received early in the film that provides tension through the ever-present threat of incapacitation despite his skill. Mitchum’s sheriff demands greater range as a proud man lost to drink and desperate to re-earn the respect of the town he serves. The smart script’s dry wit works better than attempts at broader comedy, particularly one character performing a grotesque (but thankfully brief) Chinese caricature. Although El Dorado is prime material for Hawks, it suffers a little from the comparison demanded by its striking similarities to Hawks’ earlier masterpiece in Rio Bravo, with its lawman turned to drink and a gunslinger defending the town jail against a gang trying to release a prisoner. Despite being a variation on the same theme, the fact that El Dorado nevertheless stands on its own is a testament to Hawks and his deft use of the altered friendship between aging lead characters, with an underlying sense of regret lending gravitas.