El Dorado

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Cole Thornton (John Wayne), a gunslinger-for-hire, is hired by wealthy rancher Bart Jason (Edward Asner) to help him in a range war with the McDonald family in the town of El Dorado. The local sheriff, an old friend of Thornton, J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) gives Cole more details that Jason had deliberately left out – including the possibility of having to side against Harrah. Unwilling to fight his friend, Thornton quits, to the relief of saloon owner Maudie (Charlene Holt), who is in love with Thornton (and was for a time a romantic interest of Harrah’s).

The McDonalds learn of Thornton’s presence in town. Fearing that he might come for them, Kevin McDonald (R.G. Armstrong) puts his youngest son, Luke, on guard. When Thornton passes by on his way back from rejecting Jason’s offer, Luke (Johnny Crawford), who has fallen asleep, wakes and fires a wild warning shot whereupon Thornton reflexively shoots him. Luke is still alive when Thornton finds him, but he refuses treatment based upon the belief that a gut-shot man wouldn’t have a chance anyway and commits suicide when Thornton turns his back on him.

Thornton subsequently brings the boy’s body to the McDonald ranch and offers an explanation. The only McDonald daughter, Joey (Michele Carey), impulsively rides off before Thornton can finish his story and ambushes him shortly thereafter. Her shot is not fatal, but the bullet lodges next to Thornton’s spine and in time begins to trouble him by occasionally pressing against the spinal cord, causing temporary paralysis of his right side. The local doctor, Dr. Miller (Paul Fix), does not have the skill to remove the bullet and Thornton soon departs El Dorado for a new job.

Several months later, Thornton runs into another gunslinger-for-hire named Nelson McLeod (Christopher George) and a young greenhorn called Mississippi (James Caan), who has come for revenge against one of McLeod’s men. McLeod has been hired by Jason for the same job Thornton turned down and Thornton hears from McLeod about how Harrah has turned into a drunk after an unhappy love affair. Thornton decides to return to El Dorado, hoping to save Harrah from being gunned down by McLeod and his men. He is followed by Mississippi who also wishes to help, despite his lack of experience and terrible aim with a gun.

Once Thornton and Mississippi arrive in El Dorado, they hear more of the story behind Harrah’s change. The two men then join with Deputy Sheriff Bull (Arthur Hunnicutt) in order to get Harrah sober and cleaned up. Mississippi contributes an old folk recipe for a hangover that he learned from his old friend and mentor Johnny Diamond. The recipe includes such ingredients as cayenne, mustard, ipecac, asafetida, croton oil and gunpowder, and he promises it will make any man unable to drink liquor for a while. The concoction proves to be violently effective, and leaves Harrah sober and furious. Within a day of their arrival, McLeod and his men also come to El Dorado and are hired on by Bart Jason. When one of them shoots one of the McDonalds, Thornton, Harrah, Bull and Mississippi chase the shooter and his friends into an old church and then into Jason’s saloon. Harrah arrests Jason and takes him to the jail for his part in the shooting of one of the McDonalds. Later that night, Thornton and Mississippi decide to patrol the town in the hope of keeping the peace and are deputized by Bull. There is another shootout with McLeod and his men, which results in a minor leg injury for Harrah.

The next day, Maudie sends a message to Thornton and his friends stating that McLeod’s men are frightening her and her patrons. When Thornton and Mississippi go to help her, they are ambushed and Thornton has an attack that leaves him partially paralyzed and captured by McLeod. Subsequently, McLeod trades the injured Thornton for Bart Jason, a trade Harrah agrees to despite knowing that doing so will mean that nothing will stand in the way of McLeod going after the McDonalds.

Sure enough, McLeod and his men shortly thereafter kidnap one of the McDonalds in order to force Kevin McDonald to sign over his water rights to Jason. Thornton and the others are forced to quickly come up with a plan to rescue Kevin McDonald’s son and neutralize Jason and McLeod. Despite Thornton’s paralysis and Harrah’s leg injury, the two of them along with Bull and Mississippi return to town on wagons. While Thornton distracts Jason and McLeod outside of the front of the saloon, Mississippi, Harrah and Bull attack from the rear. The kidnapped McDonald is rescued, Jason, McLeod and his men are killed (with a little help from Joey McDonald) and order is restored to El Dorado. Thornton also begins to imply that he may discontinue his wandering ways in order to stay in the town with Maudie


Sometimes, a guy just wants to go back and watch something where men are men. There was honor even among the slimeballs and degenerates, and your one’s reputation went a long way in determining what people perceive of you, especially if you were a gunslinger and/or outlaw. Since I was more in the mood for a western than a romantic drama or biopic this afternoon, I decided it was time to watch El Dorado, hoping it would fit the bill and check off all these prerequisites.

What is this about?

Howard Hawks reunites with Rio Bravo star John Wayne in this classic Western about a hired gun who teams with a sheriff to thwart greedy ranchers.

What did I like?

Friendship. With all the John Wayne movies I’ve seen, I believe this is the only one where he has been almost downright cheerful for the entire picture. The cause of this could be because he has a friend in Robert Mitchum. Nothing like having someone to just joke around and confide in to make your whole outlook better. There is real chemistry between these two. I wonder how close they were when not on the set because they were magic, otherwise.

Youth has advantages. A very young, almost unrecognizable James Caan appears as the token young buck that Wayne gets to slap around and berate into a “better man”. I don’t believe this is his film debut, but it is one of his first roles. With that said, you can see that the acting chops we see from him in later roles such as The Godfather, for instance are there. They just need to be polished a little bit

Invincible. “The Duke”, as Wayne was also known as, was a larger than life personality. If you notice, though, in just about all of his films, he is nigh invincible. Well, the one’s I’ve seen, except for The Cowboys, that is. So, should it come as a surprise that he gets shot and nearly dies fairly early in this picture? Not really, but I think that is what makes this character human, as opposed to some of his others.

What didn’t I like?

Win, Lose, or Draw. So, we have here 3 of the 4 fastest draws in the west, as stated by Wayne’s character at one point during the film, but do we get that ill-fated shootout? Not really. We get a hint at it, but Wayne and Mitchum are so far banged up and crippled that it ruins what could have been. Why couldn’t we get that shootout before, I wonder?

Perfect hair. If you’re reading this, then more than likely you’ve seen a western or two. As such, you know that the women in these films are either tomboys with their hair in pigtails, they are the housewife type, or they are the gussied up prostitute type. The girl who shoots Wayne’s character could pass for a supermodel. She even has perfect hair like she just walked out of a salon! What was up with that? It was almost as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make her attractive or just another tomboy and compromised by putting her in frumpy clothes, but fancy hair, for lack of a better term.

Bring a knife to a gunfight. In the west, one had to have a gun to survive. At least that is the message John Wayne is giving to James Caan’s character. The big problem with that is that he is obviously really good with throwing knives, so why not just let him keep throwing them, especially since he’s a horrible shot. It worked for Salma Hayek in Bandidas, so what’s so different about this, other than they just wanted him to shoot up the countryside, apparently.

On a list I was reading the other day, El Dorado was listed as one of the greatest westerns. That’s all well and good, except that this film has some pretty major plotholes, like how the girl who shot Wayne’s character and nearly paralyzes if not kill him is forgiven without even batting an eye. To me, it just seems that, as good as this film is, this is something that should have been addressed. That point aside, I did enjoy this film and would still recommend this to any and everyone. So, check it out sometime, why don’t you?

4 out of 5 stars


2 Responses to “El Dorado”

  1. I don’t like ti as well as RIO BRAVO (which, to a large degree, EL DORADO seems like remake of, but as for Duke being so forgiving of the gal who shot him, I think that’s pretty clearly ’cause he feel guilty about having killed (or at least caused the death of) her brother.

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