THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayDuring the bygone days of afternoon television, some channels in the Los Angeles area would run "The Million Dollar Movie," or something under the moniker of "The Afternoon Movie." Since my dad wouldn't spring for cable or any pay television service, we were relegated to whatever came on for free. There wasn't much of a choice. ABC Sports, maybe. Or some boring cooking show. Or a million dollar movie. One of those movies that seemed always to be shown was "El Dorado."
"El Dorado" is available on DVD in a special 2-disc set.
To my generation of 40-somethings, we were just old enough to have known who John Wayne was. He was in the twilight of his career when I first noticed him. For us, he was the cowboy with the funny accent. Little did we know, he was the Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger of his generation. He was a box office draw and a monumental figure in cinema.
By the time my generation saw John Wayne, he was an old man on the big screen in "The Shootist" (1976). The only reason we paid attention to that movie was due to Ron Howard (Opie, Ritchie Cuttingham) being in it. We didn't realize that this was John Wayne's final film. The only other times we really saw him was on television in old, beat up movies.
I recall that "El Dorado" was one of those old John Wayne films that appeared on my set a lot. I never sat down to watch it. The cast was filled with old time actors I had no interest in like James Stewart and Robert Mitchum. The film played slow and the cinematography looked like one of the brightly lit TV shows of the day. I had no interest in watching it.
The television I watched gave way to HDTV and Blu-ray discs. My dad finally got cable (after I left for college), then eventually moved up to DirecTV. And now Paramount has released a handsome DVD of "El Dorado." As a part of the Centennial Collection, it comes in a fancy black case with a bonus DVD. Now mature and hopefully wiser, I've sat down and watched "El Dorado" for the first time in its entirety.
The film is actually pretty good as entertainment. Get beyond the late 1960s hairstyles and heavy key lighting, the film shows a sense of humor and friendship. Wayne is his normal John Wayne self, which works perfectly fine within the context of the story. Robert Mitchum was always a solid actor, and he plays the drunken sheriff well. It's fun to see a young James Caan play a cocky cowboy bent on revenge.
Director Howard Hawks was of a rare breed of directors. He could direct a wartime movie ("Sergeant York"), or a slapstick comedy ("Monkey Business"), or a strong western like "El Dorado." In this film, he seems to be having a good time directing. The mood is light and his direction is assured.
Though Wayne and Hawks made better westerns and films, "El Dorado" is worth a look. It's got a real swinging '60 sensibility to it. Wayne shows why he was "The Duke." The film could've easily been made with "The Rat Pack" in the same roles, and the film probably would've been just as fun.
Special thanks to Click Communications
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