“I’m not a damn bit interested in whether somebody thinks this is a copy of Rio Bravo, because the copy made more money than the original.”- Howard Hawks on El Dorado
El Dorado (1966) Movie Trailer
Director: Howard Hawks Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Leigh Brackett (Based on Harry Brown novel, The Stars in Their Courses) Music:Nelson Riddle
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Film Editor: John Woodcock
Art Directors: Carl Anderson and Hal Pereira
El Dorado - 1966 (Original Poster)
Japan - Released: December, 17 1966 USA - Released: June, 7 1967 Running time 126 minutes
While Howard Hawks was busy directing Red Line 7000 during the second half of 1964, one of his favorite screenwriters, Leigh Brackett, was busy adapting Harry Brown’s novel, “The Stars in Their Courses” for the director’s next movie, El Dorado.
When Brackett completed her screenplay she was certain it was the best work she had ever done. It was a serious tale of an aging gunfighter sacrificing himself to save a town. She thought it had the potential to be a dramatic masterpiece. That should have been her first sign that her old friend Howard was going to mess with it.
Leigh Brackett, who later went on to write the first draft screen play for George Lucas’ “The Empire Strikes Back,” began working with Howard Hawks in 1944 when she worked with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman to create the screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.” Having watched how Hawks worked for over two decades, she knew that he’d make many changes to her script but she never expected his response when he read her masterpiece.
“Hey, this is going to be one of the worst pictures I ever made,” he said, “I’m no good at this downbeat stuff.”
So, the story meetings between the director and the writer began. The more she listened to Hawks’ ideas, the more she saw the resemblance to the script she had done for “Rio Bravo” several years before. She kept telling him that he’d done all this before and he didn’t want to do it again.
Howard just looked at her and responded “Why not?”
When the star who was signed to play the part of gunman Cole Thornton, attended one of their conferences he backed his old friend and director. Brackett recalled that “John Wayne, all six feet four of him, looked down and said, ‘If it was good once it’ll be just as good again.’ I know when I’m outgunned, so I did it.”
Although there are certainly many plot similarities between the two pictures, “El Dorado” manages to stand pretty tall on its own two feet.
Robert Mitchum brings a full measure of weight and grit to the role of drunken sheriff J.P. Harrah. The chemistry between Wayne and Mitchum is such that it easy to believe that their characters are old friends. James Caan recovers quite well from his embarrassment in making “Red Line 7000” and an even worse horror flick called “Lady in a Cage” to make Thornton’s knife throwing, shotgun wielding sidekick “Mississippi” a strong and entertaining presence.
A solid supporting cast helps turn this film into a powerful statement about loyalty and pain. In his next to last picture, Hawks explores aging, disability, and the fear of losing your strength and skills. These might sound like “downbeat” themes but the director keeps a strong hand on the material and never lets it bog down the well paced story he is telling.
Although it was not the tale writer Leigh Brackett wanted to originally tell, Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado” became a picture that she looked back on with pride.
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.