John Wayne subtly ”corrected” Robert Mitchum’s big mistake while filming the scene in ”El Dorado”. – Old western
EL DORADO saw Robert Mitchum make a big mistake that he solved with John Wayne and director Howard Hawks by incorporating it into the movie’s final scenes.
John Wayne made three Westerns with director Howard Hawks about a sheriff defending his office from outlaws. In between 1959’s Rio Bravo and 1970’s Rio Lobo, they shot 1966’s El Dorado, which co-starred Robert Mitchum as the drunken lawman opposite Duke’s gunslinger. Interestingly, Wayne had replaced Mitchum just a decade earlier in 1955’s Blood Alley after he was fired following a feud with the producers.
When El Dorado was first shown in 1966, the Western in its classical form was beginning to disappear from American cinema. John Ford, synonymous with the genre, released his last feature that year, and El Dorado would be the second-to-last film by its own legendary director, Howard Hawks. The Western was evolving and its old masters were giving way to modern innovators.
The stylishly self-conscious films of Sergio Leone first signaled the shift (the films of his “Dollars Trilogy” came out in 1964-1966), and it was certified by the critical, ominous, and violent The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1969. Hawks decried the slow-motion bloodletting of Peckinpah. He argued that he could kill four men, get them to the morgue, and bury them before this newcomer could get one on the ground.
With this as the context of its gestation, it’s little wonder that El Dorado feels nostalgic, like a fond farewell to a familiar style and story that once was. Hawks would still make one more Western — Rio Lobo, in 1970 — but with this film, there is a strong sense of treading well-worn territory in an effort to preserve a type of film he and his generation had created and now saw slipping away.
After the failure of his Red Line 7000 the year before, Hawks was eager to get back to what he knew, even if it meant replicating an earlier success, in this case his masterful Rio Bravo. Seasoned writer and frequent collaborator Leigh Brackett did the screenplay, very loosely adapted from Harry Brown’s novel, “The Stars in Their Courses” — in fact, it’s hardly even close.
Brackett also wrote Rio Bravo, but her final draft of El Dorado was, she said, the best script she had ever done. However, Hawks refashioned her script and the result, according to Brackett, derisively, was “The Son of Rio Bravo Rides Again.” Hawks would deny an outright remake, but he did unashamedly acknowledge a relative similarity: “If a director has a story that he likes and he tells it, very often he looks at the picture and says, ‘I could do that better if I did it again,’ so I’d do it again….I’m not a damn bit interested in whether somebody thinks this is a copy of it, because the copy made more money than the original, and I was very pleased with it.” Indeed, El Dorado was a fairly substantial commercial success.