is less of a remaking of Howard Hawk’s
previous western production Rio Bravo
and more of a reworking of it. This time the town drunk is sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum), who got his heart broke by a girl. The kid is Alan Bourdillion Traherne (James Caan) also known as Mississippi. He can be found with a shot up old hat on his head and a sawed off blunderbuss for a gun. It’s not his weapon of choice anyway. Then, there’s old reliable Bull Harris (Arthur Hunnicut), who holds down the fort and looks after the sheriff when he’s laid up. As the main love interest, there’s Maudie (Charlene Holt), a resident of El Dorado since her childhood days.
As always the man who calls the shots is Cole Thorton (John Wayne
), an old war buddy of J.P.s. He has one of the fastest draws around but also has a surprisingly soft spot for doing good. He befriends the younger Mississippi and comes to the aid of J.P when he could have joined the other side.
Thorton rejects the offer of local villain Bart Jason (Ed Asner), but a threatened local ranch family wishes to take no chances. When it is all said and done Thorton receives a bullet in the back that causes him problems afterward.
Now lethal hired gun Nelson McLeod (Christopher George) has taken up Jason’s offer, and they ride into the town. One of their first meetings takes place in the old church and it ends in the arrest of Jason for his part in the whole affair. Another shootout takes place that night and now the formerly drunk sheriff also gets nicked in the leg.
Maudie is fearful of the thugs milling around her place and when Thorton and Mississippi go over to investigate they get ambushed because Cole has physical ailments of his own. They get Cole back but not without giving up their own prisoner. With one of the McDonald’s kidnapped a quick plan is devised and the final showdown begins. Our ragtag crew gets the job done, but J.P. and Cole make quite the pair. They look more like crippled old men than hardened gunfighters, both hobbling down the street with a crutch.
I must admit I am partial to Hawk’s original Rio Bravo and I have yet to see Rio Lobo, but I did really enjoy these characters. Wayne and Mitchum seem to play against type because at times they are quite comical. Mitchum is not a tough P.I. or ruthless villain, but a town drunk! Wayne can hardly shoot a gun at times and he even gets taken. That’s unheard of. It’s as if they softened with old age, but I don’t mind, because the interactions between those two, Mississippi, Bull, and Maudie are a lot of fun. Even the antagonist McCleod is a man with a sense of honor and good fun. Some great moments include Mississippi’s miracle concoction and numerous bars of soap being brought to the dirty sheriff when he finally takes a bath! The initial introduction of the two leads is priceless too. They both were smitten with the same girl.
Howard Hawks really knew how to make westerns not simply about guns and shootouts, but colorful characters who oftentimes seem more content kicking it back in the jail than in smelling out trouble. He proved it again with El Dorado.
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long
Singing a song,
In search of El Dorado