Perhaps the opening credits of EL DORADO (1966) leave more of a memory than anything else in the film. The beautiful montage of original paintings of OLAF WIEGHORST and the haunting title song by Nelson Riddle and John Gabriel ( sung by George Alexander) suggest the beginning of a great, elegiac western.
The paintings and the song evoke a time and a place that no longer exists though the search goes on for El Dorado.
I like EL DORADO , it’s an enjoyable two hours in the company of a fine group of actors and a consummate director. But it has the problem that one cannot help comparing it with the earlier Hawks western,RIO BRAVO.
After that magnificent opening, we get a re- tread of much of Rio Bravo – the drunken sheriff,the comic sidekick , the younger man.
Scriptwriter of El Dorado, LEIGH BRACKETT, has been widely quoted : “I wrote the best script I’ve ever written and Howard liked it, the studio liked it and Wayne liked it…..we didn’t make it because he decided to go back and do Rio Bravo over again. It could have been called,’The son of Rio Bravo rides again.’ ”
You can almost hear the bitterness in Ms Brackett’s tone.
It remains a mystery why master director Howard Hawks would not want a completely fresh story , which Leigh Brackett seemed to have offered. Was there a touch of laziness on his part and that of John Wayne? Who knows.
Hawks took the subsequent criticism and made little of it ,but his responses were always weak.
El Dorado isn’t a remake, it hasn’t the same plot as Rio Bravo but the similar characters and situations are too obvious to overlook.
The New York Times,in 1967, described it,
“Team John Wayne with Robert Mitchum. Add guns,horses and the frontier,plus director/producer Howard Hawks. The result is El Dorado, a tough,laconic and amusing western that ambles across the screen as easily as the two veteran stars.”
And that is El Dorado. I enjoy it but I love Rio Bravo.
OLAF WIEGHORST (1899-1988) worked as a cowboy in New Mexico and began sketching horses. He was a self taught artist whose paintings were owned by three Amercian Presidents – Dwight D.Eisenhower,Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
He was also a mounted police officer in New York City and when he retired in 1944, he moved his family to El Cajon,15 miles east of San Diego, and painted full time.
There is a WIEGHORST museum at http://wieghorstmuseum.org
Olaf also played the gunsmith,Swede Larsen in El Dorado.
(He also appeared briefly in McLintock (1963)
I’m hoping to get hold of the Arizona Highways magazine featuring Olaf.
I’ve always loved the poem that James Caan’s character recites in the film . Here is the full poem by Edgar Allan Poe who wrote it in 1849 at the time of the California Gold Rush.
I looked up the meaning of the word,’Bedight’ – it means to array or adorn.
John Wayne,Robert Mitchum