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El Dorado (Centennial Collection) - action adventure DVD / Western review
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Actors: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Paul Fix, Ed Asner
Director: Howard Hawks   Studio: Paramount
DVD release: 19 May 2009   Runtime: 123 minutes (2 discs)
Format: Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 2.35:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 - English; Dolby Mono - Spanish, French), Subtitles (English SDH, Spanish, French), Commentary (Peter Bogdanovich), Commentary (critic and film historian Richard Schickel, actor Ed Asner, author Todd McCarthy), Ride, Boldly Ride: The Journey of El Dorado, The Paradigm of an Entertainer, Stealing from Himself, A Taciturn Man, Professional Courtesy, Spotlight - James Caan, "The Duke, the Grey Fox and Pappy," An Old-Age Masterpiece, The Artist and the American West (1967) - Vintage Featurette, Behind the Gates: A.C. Lyles Remembers John Wayne, Original theatrical trailer, Galleries

Though the word "classic," is perhaps overused when compiling movie lists, El Dorado is indeed a "classic" Western that is worthy of a 2-disc special presentation by Paramount. Not only does it feature giants in American film (John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, director Howard Hawks) as well as future stars in early roles (James Caan, Ed Asner), it is also a beautifully shot, extremely well-made and entertaining film, one made by old pros who definitely knew how to make a good movie.

Wayne plays Cole Thornton, a hired gun who arrives in El Dorado to work for a rancher named Bart Jason (Asner). However, Thorton's old friend, Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Mitchum), tells him the truth about Jason - the rancher is trying to chase a family named McDonald off their land in order to get the water that runs on their property.

Thornton turns down Jason's offer, but a tragic accident results in the death of one of McDonald's sons at the hands of Thornton. Enraged, McDonald's daughter shoots Thornton. The wound is not fatal but causes temporary bouts of paralysis. Permanently wounded and upset over what has happened, Thornton decides to leave El Dorado.

In another town, an altercation in a bar results in a friendship with (and tutelage of) a young gambler named Mississippi (Caan). Thornton learns that a rather fearsome hired gun named McLeod (Christopher George) has agreed to work for Jason, and that his friend the sheriff has become a raging alcoholic and of almost no use as a lawman. Knowing that the McDonald family would be no match for McLeod and his gang (and seeing his chance at redemption), Thornton heads back to El Dorado. Can he get there in time?

El Dorado has all the traits of a classic John Wayne Western, good and bad. The bad: it is quite dated in some aspects. The violence is rather tame; there is minimal blood, a code of conduct and courtesy is shown even by the villains, and there is absolutely no doubt that Wayne will triumph at the end. Consider that this film was made roughly at the same time Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone were making their masterpiece The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which turned the Western upside down. The contrast is rather jarring.

However, the good still far outweighs the bad. Even 42 years later, John Wayne still radiates that rare and valued movie star charisma that makes him such a towering presence in American film history. Only a handful of film stars, at best, could make acting seem so natural and easy yet still command the audience's attention like Wayne. He is supported by an excellent performance by the great Mitchum (in the commentary track by director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich, he notes how Orson Welles was quite impressed by Mitchum's performance, especially with a scene in which Mitchum leaves a bar in shame after practically begging for a bottle of booze).

Likewise, young James Caan, in the role that started his career, is both charming and funny as the hotshot but inexperienced Mississippi, who can fight but can't shoot (the weapon the Duke finds for him is both funny and fitting). There is great chemistry between Wayne and both Caan and Mitchum, making the film easy and enjoyable to watch.

Again, El Dorado is dated in some respects but still undoubtedly worthy of being called a classic. This is a must-have for fans of Wayne, as well of Westerns.


Disc One:
  • The sound and print are of strong quality for DVD and for a 42-year-old movie.
  • Two commentary tracks: One by Peter Bogdanovich (who focuses more on his personal experiences with Wayne and Hawks than on the movie), the other by Ed Asner and film critics/historians Todd McCarthy and Richard Shickel, who focus more on the movie itself (such as deleted scenes and how it differs from the novel).
Disc Two:
  • "Ride, Boldly Ride: The Journey to El Dorado," a 40-minute featurette on the film, discussion, with some audio of an interview with Hawks.
  • "The Artist and the American West," a short on Olaf Wieghorst, whose beautiful paintings are featured in the opening credits.
  • "Behind the Gates: A.C. Lyles Remembers John Wayne," a "beginner's guide" on Wayne's career with Paramount.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Two photo galleries
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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