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“I’m paid to risk my neck. I’ll decide where and when I’ll do it. This isn’t it.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Howard Hawks had teamed up with John Wayne to make Rio Bravo in 1959. At the time, it was a way for Wayne and Hawks to respond to High Noon, a movie where Gary Cooper plays a sherrif who asks the town for help when a crew of gunmen show up to kill him. This went against the view many people wanted to have of the old west, and of Real American Manly Values and so forth. John Wayne maintained that no tough guy character, ever, should ask for help. Deal with your own problems and such. So they made Rio Bravo, where Wayne’s sherrif did not ask for help. But he certainly accepted it when it was offered.
The movie was a huge success, and spawned two movies that were, for all intents and purposes, remakes. The first remake (also directed by Hawks, also starring Wayne) was El Dorado, which comes out on a terrific two-disc Centennial Collection edition May 19th from Paramount Home Entertainment. (The third version was Rio Lobo in 1969 – each successive instalment of this same story by the same people was a little weaker than the last.) Now, there are a few differences. In this movie, the sherrif himself is the drunk, and not his deputy. And the drunk is played by Robert Mitchum instead of Dean Martin. And the young gunslinger is James Caan, not Ricky Nelson. And there is no singing. Well, very little singing.
Aside from that, this is basically Rio Bravo II. And it’s nearly as good, thanks to some great performances by Mitchum and Caan (that one offensive Chinese imitation scene notwithstanding). At times, John Wayne seems to be phoning it in a little – after all, not only is this the same role he has played his entire career, it’s basically the same one he played for the same director eight years earlier. But he is reliably badass and tough, and John Wayne phoning it in was still better than anyone else this side of Eastwood. His main function is to talk tough (tough enough that he rarely has to use a gun at all) and help Mitchum snap out of his alcoholic haze.
It takes Mitchum (as it did Martin in Bravo) a long time to snap out of it. A little too long, as El Dorado relies a little too heavily on his shambling lameness for a long time. When, finally, some gunslingers and hired assassins come to town and start causing trouble, Wayne comes to the sherrif’s assistance and finally he realizes that maybe drinking himself to death is not the best way to forget a troublesome woman. From then on, El Dorado crackles and swaggers to the badass conclusion – oh, and the thing Wayne has where his hand sometimes goes numb because he has a bullet from the gun of a hot young woman lodged near his spine comes up at the end too. It just takes too long to get there – especially since I’ve already seen this movie once.
The Centennial Collection edition comes with a second disc jammed with special features from Paramount. Maybe the best is A.C. Lyles Remembers John Wayne, where Lyles talks about this larger-than-life figure and his philosophy on acting and life. Wayne always said “I’m not an actor, I’m a RE-actor”, and watching his movies you can see that he is half right. Look at The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon or Red River, and you can see that Wayne was much more than a re-actor. He was truly a remarkable thespian. Seriously. However, in movies like El Dorado, he really was a re-actor only. But for John Wayne, that’s enough.