Archive for the ‘James Caan’ Category

El Dorado

29 Oct

El Dorado – Directed and  Produced by Howard Hawks. Western. A quartet of gunfighters duels with the hired guns of a land baron out to rob a farmer’s water rights.  126 minutes Color 1967.

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Hawks made four westerns with John Wayne, of which this is the third; it is also the next to last film Hawks made, and it copy-cats, embarrassingly, the two that surround it. The movie dawdles along rather existentially from episode to episode like a local that stops at every cow, but this provides part of its entertainment value. It might have been better directed by George Marshall (Destry Rides Again), but the real problem with the picture is in the casting. The film is a by-blow of Rio Bravo, the first film of the last three, and we have Arthur Hunnicutt in the Walter Brennan part and Robert Mitchum in the Dean Martin part. Hunnicutt does an honorable job but he cannot supply the deficiency of the brilliant Brennan, and Robert Mitchum as the drunken sheriff is a dead loss in the Martin role. Mitchum can’t act and never could, really. His self-possession is a pose. And he does not have a funny bone in his body, at least as an actor. Dean Martin was a warm and richly humorous man and along with Walter Brennan brought the natural humanity necessary to make Rio Bravo work to make it one of the classic maverick westerns. Here, however, we have the same set-up as Rio Bravo, with James Caan, a Hawks’ discovery, filling in the foursome for Ricky Nelson. Caan with his broad square shoulders looks terrific in his costumes, and you believe he can throw knives – thwack– like that – and handle cards at a gambler’s table. He’s just fine. He’s young and lush and virginal and a good mosquito to pester big man John Wayne. Wayne is just marvelous in the picture. He carefully listens to the other actors and his responses are always on the money. He has a habit of subtly shifting and swaying, which keeps him or a scene from going static. And he has a rich and humane humor. And what a presence! Of course, he never could kiss a woman worth a hoot, but the women in Hawks’ films at this time are pallid or perfunctory. Hawks’ sets were relaxed and cooperative, which gives his films a permissiveness which sometimes lapses into slumber. With the help of the entire crew, Hawks tended to rewrite his scripts every day, so, while he worked best with huge stars, they also had to be, like John Wayne, quick studies. Hawks had made Wayne a serious actor in Red River (John Ford never knew Wayne could act at all until then), so Wayne would accept Hawks’ hiring him with no script at all, as in Hatari; Wayne sat around and played chess. Leigh Brackett again contorted herself to write the screenplay, and Arthur Rosson, of Hawks’ silent film days, filmed it richly. The costumes by Edith Head encourage a willing suspension of belief, however, and the music would be ideal for a Peter Sellers’ comedy – but then, the film is an entertainment pure and simple, closer to a slowmotion Roadrunner cartoon than not, and satisfying on that level, if that level satisfies you. The value is the value of a superstar with all the merit in display that made him one.




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