El Dorado. Released August 1966; Directed by Howard Hawks; 126 minutes; Cast: John Wayne (Cole Thornton), Robert Mitchum (Sheriff J.P. Harrah), James Caan (Mississippi), Charlene Holt (Maudie), Christopher George (Nelse McLeod), Arthur Hunnicutt (Bull), Michele Carey (Josephine/Joey) MacDonald), Edward Asner (Bart Jason).
El Dorado is another classic that should be in every Western movie collection. I enjoyed it thoroughly even though shortly into the movie I started to think that it was getting way too close to the plot of the 1959 movie Rio Bravo (which also starred John Wayne and was directed by Howard Hawks). Halfway through I had to stop and check IMDB to read up about both movies and discovered that indeed El Dorado is actually remake of Rio Bravo. In this version Wayne reprises his earlier role and Mitchum plays Dean Martin’s role of the drunken sheriff. A very young James Caan (Mississippi) takes the place of Ricky Nelson (whose nickname was Colorado). It was loosely based on the book The Stars in Their Courses: A Novel by Harry Brown.
The plot is somewhat different than Rio Bravo but enough to make it a solid movie all by itself. Cole Thornton (Wayne) arrives in the town of El Dorado having taken a job as a hired gun for rancher Bart Jason (Asner). His old friend Sheriff Harrah shows up to make sure that Cole is not up to any trouble and then fills him in on the true nature of Jason. Cole decides he does not want to work for Jason anymore and heads out of town to tell Jason and give back his cash advance. The McDonald’s are a ranching family that is standing up to Jason’s efforts to bully and take over their land and water rights. They hear that Jason has hired a gunman and they scramble to prepare for an attack on their ranch. When Cole is making his way back to El Dorado an unfortunate series of mistakes result in him shooting the youngest McDonald boy. Cole takes the body to the ranch and tells the father what happened. Joey, the McDonald daughter, sneaks off and shoots Cole while he is heading back to town. Cole is wounded but lets the girl go. The doctor can’t remove the bullet because it is too close to the spine and tells Cole to have it removed sometime soon by a better surgeon.
Cole leaves El Dorado and heads to the Mexican border for several months and one night he is in a cantina where he witnesses Mississippi challenge and kill a man for having killed his best friend. The dead outlaw has four friends and Cole steps in to prevent them from killing Mississippi and pretty soon they form an unsteady partnership when they learn that the leader of gunmen is Nelse McLeod who has been hired by Jason to replace Cole. The gang has heard that the El Dorado sheriff has been drunk for two months and nothing can now stop Jason’s move on the McDonald’s land. Cole and Mississippi arrive just before Nelse and his gang but along the way Cole is semi-paralyzed by the bullet lodged in his back. The next step is to sober up the Sheriff and be ready to take on Jason’s cowboys and hired guns. This plays out through most of the night as Cole, Mississippi, Sheriff Harrah and his duputy, Bull, match wits with Jason. Eventually Harrah arrests Jason and keeps him locked up while Nelse and his gang try to use a captured Cole (whose arm is again paralyzed) to gain his release. They trade captives but Jason and his gang think they have the upper hand and kidnap one of the McDonalds in order to force the land deed to be sold. Cole and company then concoct a plan to finish the problem once and for all and the climactic shootout takes place at a saloon.
This movie is grist for a great large scale game played out on a 8’x8′ terrain board featuring a sleepy town with plenty of crumbling adobe structures, a church, a saloon, various false front stores and of course the Sheriff’s office at the end of the road. The bad guys would include Jason with about 10 of his cowboys and Nelse with his three gunmen. The good guys would be Cole, Mississippi, Harrah, Bull, and McDonald with his three son’s and daughter. Some townsfolk could get involved running messages or food to the Sheriff or to Jason. The odd thing about this movie is that much of the outside scenes took place at night. I took some screenshots below of some of the structures of El Dorado. The movie was filmed at Old Tucson Studios (as was Rio Bravo) and features many structures that pop up from time to time on other westerns.