Show me the Wayne to El Dorado
No one played John Wayne better than John Wayne. That may sound like a very daft statement when you look at Wayne's westerns, especially those during the second half of his career he played a certain type of cowboy. He was the hero, the popular gun man who was also tough and yet also a little comical and no one played that sort of character better than Wayne. Oh Clint Eastwood had his own take with his man of mystery but Wayne was the king of this popular, tough, comedy cowboy. And "El Dorado" is a prime example of John Wayne doing this better than anyone else as in hired gun Cole Thornton he is tough but he is also popular, he is feared yet there is a slice of comedy about him and it is that along with a fun storyline and some nice performances from the likes of Robert Micthum, James Caan and Arthur Hunnicutt which make "El Dorado" a fun western to watch.
Hired gun Cole Thornton (John Wayne - The Sons of Katie Elder) shows up in El Dorado to do a job for local land owner Bart Jason (Edward Asner), but when he discovers it involves taking down his old friend Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum - His Kind of Woman) he turns it down. Months later Thornton discovers that not only has Jason hired himself another gun man but Harrah has turned to the drink having gotten his heart broken. Along with the slightly naive Mississippi (James Caan - Get Smart), Thornton heads back to El Dorado to help out his old friend whether he wants his help or not.
Now I am not going to lie and say the storyline to "El Dorado" is some really original western, because there are many elements in this tale which can be found in countless other westerns, some of which appear in other John Wayne westerns, but it works. It manages to mix what are in effect cliches, from the hired gun through to the crooked land owner into a well paced adventure which delivers plenty of action with the right amount of comedy. It's because of the balance between it all that it works, so whilst you know that Cole will end up going up against the crooked Bart Jason and his hired gun McLeod you don't really care because what we watch is entertaining, action packed and often amusing.
That is one of the strong elements to "El Dorado" because it is very amusing thanks to the variety of characters which all revolve around Cole. Robert Mitchum is wonderful as his old friend Sheriff J.P. Harrah and the comic timing Mitchum delivers as the self pitying drunk is simply great especially as it often ends up in arguments and brawls with Cole. James Caan is just as good as the slightly green Mississippi and interacts just as well with John Wayne, delivering scene after scene of comedy thanks to their bickering. They are not alone as the women, Charlene Holt as Maudie and Michele Carey as Joey MacDonald have this wonderful feisty temperament to make all their scenes just as much fun.
And it's because it is so much fun that you forget "El Dorado" is full of cliches and that fun also helps when it comes to the action. Now this sounds wrong but it is amusing when Cole is shot by Joey or Sheriff J.P. Harrah ends up with a crutch because of a bullet through the leg, but the delivery of it makes you smile. Even the whole over the top comedy of Mississippi being unable to shoot is just as much fun, especially when he is given a scatter gun to use. The actual action is just good as whilst less comedic still grabs your attention, especially with the banter of Arthur Hunnicutt as deputy Bull Harris whilst bullets fly.
And that is why "El Dorado" works, it may not be the most original of storylines or feature the most impressive action but all of the characters are memorable and work together. And of course central to all of this is John Wayne as Cole Thornton who seems to be enjoying every moment of the movie. Now yes John Wayne is playing John Wayne and you've seen this character in a dozen other movies but with the strong characters and actors around him it seems so much better. You can't help but laugh as Wayne and Mitchum end up fighting or when he tries to hide his feelings for Maudie and that way he takes young Mississippi under his wing is just as amusing. And to be honest there is no one who could do all of this whilst playing the heroic gunman better than John Wayne.
What this all boils down to is that on one level "El Dorado" may seem similar to so many of John Wayne's other westerns but it is also one of the most memorable and fun. It is a movie all about the characters and the fun interactions and so whilst you may forget parts of the story you won't forget how Wayne and Mitchum bicker and brawl or how Wayne and Caan wind each other up.