El Dorado (1966 film)

El Dorado is a 1966 American Western film produced and directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Written by Leigh Brackett and loosely based on the novel The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown, the film is about a gunfighter who comes to the aid of an old friend—a drunken sheriff struggling to defend a rancher and his family against another rancher trying to steal their water. The gunfighter and drunken sheriff are helped by an aging Indian fighter and a young gambler. The supporting cast features James Caan as the young gambler, Charlene Holt, Ed Asner, Paul Fix, Arthur Hunnicutt, Michele Carey and Christopher George.

El Dorado
El Dorado (John Wayne movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHoward Hawks
Screenplay byLeigh Brackett
Based onThe Stars in Their Courses
1960 novel
by Harry Brown
Produced byHoward Hawks
CinematographyHarold Rosson
Edited byJohn Woodcock
Music byNelson Riddle
Laurel Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 17, 1966 (1966-12-17) (Japan)
  • June 7, 1967 (1967-06-07) (USA)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,950,000 (US/ Canada)[N 1][2][3]

El Dorado was filmed on location in Tucson, Arizona and Kanab, Utah and was shot in Technicolor. The paintings in the credits are by artist Olaf Wieghorst, who makes a brief appearance as Swede Larsen in the film. The musical score was composed by Nelson Riddle. Paramount Pictures delayed the release of the film in the United States to avoid competing against another Paramount film, Nevada Smith with Steve McQueen. The film was first released in Japan on December 17, 1966, and was finally released in the United States on June 7, 1967. The film received critical praise and was successful at the box office, generating North American rentals of $5,950,000 on box-office receipts of $12 million.[4]

El Dorado is the second of three films directed by Hawks about a sheriff defending his office against belligerent outlaw elements in the town, after Rio Bravo (1959) and before Rio Lobo (1970), both also starring Wayne in approximately the same role. The plotlines of all three films are almost similar enough to qualify El Dorado and Rio Lobo as remakes.[according to whom?] Dean Martin had portrayed the drunken deputy in Rio Bravo, preceding Mitchum in the part as a drunken sheriff, while Walter Brennan played the wild old man role later rendered by Arthur Hunnicutt, and Ricky Nelson appeared as a gunslinging newcomer similar to Caan in El Dorado.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose the film's theme as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[5]


Sheriff J.P. Harrah comes into the town of El Dorado to talk to his old friend, gun-for-hire Cole Thornton, who has just arrived in response to a mysterious job offer from wealthy landowner Bart Jason. Harrah reveals to Thornton that Jason is actually trying to muscle the honest MacDonald Family off their land. Thornton agrees to turn down the job and rides out to Jason's ranch to tell him so.

Kevin MacDonald and his family hear about Thornton's arrival, and fear the worst. The youngest son, Luke, is made sentry, but falls asleep on his post. As Thornton returns from his confrontation with Jason, Luke is startled awake and fires. Thornton reflexively fires back and wounds Luke in the stomach, and Luke commits suicide before Thornton can stop him, believing his wound fatal. Feeling guilty, Thornton brings the body to the farmhouse and tells Kevin what happened. The only daughter of the MacDonald clan, Joey, rides off before she can hear the truth, and shoots Thornton on his way back to town. Thornton survives, but the bullet has lodged against his spine. Local medic Doc Miller doesn't have the skill to remove it, so Thornton departs after healing, despite the protests of local saloon owner Maudie, who has feelings for him. Over time, the bullet in his back presses against his spine, causing bouts of temporary paralysis in his right side.

Six months later, Thornton is in a saloon out of town, having avoided El Dorado. He witnesses a naive young man, "Mississippi" Traherne, confronting and killing Charlie Hagin, who killed Mississippi's foster father. Thornton steps in to save Mississippi from retaliation from Charlie's friends, Milt and Pedro. Their employer, famed gunslinger Nelse McLeod, is impressed, and offers Thornton a job in El Dorado, revealing that he has accepted Bart Jason's job offer and that Harrah became a drunk after a girl ran out on him.

Thornton refuses McLeod, and he and Mississippi return to El Dorado ahead of McLeod. They meet with Maudie and Harrah's deputy, Bull, who confirm Nelse's story. After a fist fight with the drunken Harrah, Thornton agrees to use a sobering concoction made by Mississippi to bring Harrah around, with violently effective results. Harrah, ashamed of the laughingstock he's become, agrees to stay sober.

After three men shoot one of the MacDonald's, Thornton, Bull, Mississippi and Harrah hunt the men into an old church and gun them down. One man escapes, leading them straight to Jason, whom Harrah arrests and holds for trial. Mississippi stops Joey from killing Jason on the walk back to the jail, and the two begin a relationship.

Bull officially deputizes Mississippi and Thornton. They patrol the town to keep the peace, stopping an attempted attack by McLeod's gang on the jail, during which Harrah is hobbled by a bullet to the leg. Maudie brings them some supplies while they are holed up in the jail, whereupon McLeod's men start harassing her and her patrons. Thornton and Mississippi go to rescue them, but Thornton suffers an attack of paralysis and is captured by McLeod. Harrah agrees to trade Jason for Thornton and leave town, despite Thornton's protests.

Jason and McLeod's men kidnap Saul MacDonald and demand that Kevin turn over his water rights for the return of his son. Rightly suspecting Jason will kill both Saul and Kevin once he has the water rights, Thornton rides a wagon up to the front door of Jason's saloon while Harrah, Bull, and Mississippi sneak in the back. Once Bull gives a signal, Thornton opens fire, killing McLeod, while the rest free Saul. Joey takes out Jason personally, saving Thornton from being shot and making amends for her previous mistake. Doc Miller's new assistant, Dr. Donovan, agrees to operate on Thornton if he stays in town, and Thornton implies he may give up wandering to stay with Maudie.



Leigh Brackett wrote the original script which she described as "the best script I had ever done in my life. It wasn't tragic, but it was one of those things where Wayne died at the end." However she says the closer they got to production "the more we got into doing Rio Bravo over again the sicker I got, because I hate doing things over again. And I kept saying to Howard I did that, and he'd say it was okay, we could do it over again."[6]

Mitchum later said, "When Howard called me, I said, 'What's the story?' and he said, 'No story, just characters' and that's the way it was. Did one scene, put it away, did another, put it away."[7]

Shot at Old Tucson Studios just west of Tucson, Arizona, as well as in and around Kanab, Utah, from October 1965 to January 1966, the film was Wayne's 138th picture and was actually filmed before The War Wagon, but its release was delayed so that Paramount's Nevada Smith with Steve McQueen would not have to compete with a John Wayne film at the box office. El Dorado finally reached the theatres in June 1967, a month after The War Wagon had opened.[8]

Film footage from El Dorado was later incorporated into the opening montage of Wayne's final film, The Shootist, to illustrate the backstory of Wayne's character. Director Don Siegel used no scenes from any film shot before 1948 in The Shootist's frontispiece even though Wayne's career as a leading man began in 1930 with Raoul Walsh's lavish widescreen epic The Big Trail and had continued throughout the following two decades.[citation needed]

As he often did in action movies, especially Westerns, John Wayne wore his Red River D belt buckle Hawks had given him when shooting wrapped on Red River in El Dorado. It can be seen in the opening scene where Robert Mitchum confronts Wayne in the washroom.

Wayne's horse was a six-year-old Appaloosa stallion named Zip, from Spalding, Idaho.[9]

Cinematographer Harold Rosson had retired in 1958, but Hawks persuaded him to come back to work. In a 1970 interview with Leonard Maltin, Rosson said, "I was out of my mind I'd ever quit," but went back into retirement—for good—afterwards, citing his age as a reason (75 at the time of the interview).

Caan was somehow unable to pronounce the word "boldly" as he recited "Ride boldly ride" during the course of the film, leaving audience members unfamiliar with Poe's poem to wonder what or who "bodie" was.[citation needed]

In the film, Mississippi gives Sheriff Harrah a concoction meant to deter him from further drinking. The ingredients include (among others) Cayenne pepper, ipecac (an emetic), mustard, croton oil (which induces diarrhea), asafoetida (often misspelled acifedida) and gunpowder.

The movie marked the only time Wayne and Mitchum worked together in a theatrical film unless one counts The Longest Day, an ensemble epic in which they share no scenes.


The poem repeated in the film and paraphrased in the theme song is "Eldorado", a ballad poem by Edgar Allan Poe.


Critical responseEdit

The film maintains a high critical praise, earning a 100% approval rating on review compiler Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.78/10.[10] Popular critic Roger Ebert gave the film a near-perfect rating at 3 1/2 out of four stars,[11] stating "El Dorado is a tightly directed, humorous, altogether successful Western, turned out almost effortlessly, it would seem, by three old pros: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and director Howard Hawks".

Comic book adaptionEdit

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ These figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.


  1. ^ Dick 2001, p. 105.
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967". Variety, January 3, 1968, p. 25.
  3. ^ "El Dorado, Box Office Information." Archived June 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine The Numbers. Retrieved: April 16, 2012.
  4. ^ McCarthy, p. 625.
  5. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on August 10, 2014.
  6. ^ "Tangent Online Presents: An Interview with Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton, Interviewers: Dave Truesdale and Paul McGuire III Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota Event & Date: Minicon 11, April 16–18, 1976 Archived October 23, 2014, at the Wayback Machine accessed May 28, 2014
  7. ^ Frank Broughton, ed. (1998). Time Out Interviews 1968–1998. Penguin. p. 168. ISBN 0140279636.
  8. ^ Davis, 1998, pp. 274–275.
  9. ^ "Appaloosa stars with John Wayne". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). December 7, 1965. p. 7. Archived from the original on May 30, 2021. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  10. ^ "El Dorado." Archived June 19, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: June 30, 2019.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "El Dorado." Archived August 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine RogerEbert.com, August 4, 1967. Retrieved: February 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Dell Movie Classic: El Dorado at the Grand Comics Database
  13. ^ Dell Movie Classic: El Dorado at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)


  • Davis, Ronald L. (1998). Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0806133294.
  • Dick, Bernard F. (2001). Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813122021.
  • McCarthy, Todd (1997). Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-0802115980.

External linksEdit