The films of Howard Hawks are, essentially, one long conversation. Even when they exist in genres like the action picture (Ceiling Zero), the detective mystery (The Big Sleep) or the tropical flier thriller (Only Angels Have Wings), the hats and guns are stripped away in order to get to an adult chat over coffee about professionalism, about being “good enough,” attended by the quiet nods of grown-ups coming to an understanding. (This is also why when Hawks does romance, as with His Girl Friday, it’s addictive.)
By the time of 1966’s El Dorado, Hawks, revered in Hollywood but hardly a celebrity like Hitchcock, had slackened into repetition. Still, to have such repetitions: A relaxed charmer of a Western, El Dorado owes its jailcentric plot to Hawks’s masterwork, 1959’s Rio Bravo, but the movie is directed and acted with consummate panache—the ease of old friends having enormous fun. John Wayne is the hired gun with a conscience, Robert Mitchum his old friend, but also a drunk who needs some tough love. Both are distracted by husky-voiced Charlene Holt, along with a young knife-flinging avenger played by James Caan.
Paramount’s bright, colorful transfer is effortlessly absorbing, yet it’s this package’s extras that truly seal the deal. Peter Bogdanovich, who actually hung around on the set for a week during shooting, offers a laconic but fascinating commentary, providing anecdotes about Hawks’s quiet laugh and total confidence. The second disc has a seven-part documentary about the production, as well as lobby cards, the trailer and a Wayne salute.—Joshua Rothkopf