(director: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: from the book The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown/Leigh Brackett; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: John M. Woodcock; music: Nelson Riddle; cast: John Wayne (Cole Thornton), Robert Mitchum (El Dorado Sheriff J.P. Harrah), Ed Asner (Bart Jason), James Caan (Alan Bourdillion Traherne, ‘Mississippi’), Charlene Holt (Maudie), Paul Fix (Dr. Miller), Arthur Hunnicutt (Bull Harris), R.G. Armstrong (Kevin MacDonald), Michele Carey (Josephine (Joey) MacDonald), Johnny Crawford (Luke MacDonald), Christopher George (Nelse McLeod); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Hawks; Paramount; 1966)
“It takes a long time getting to the final shootout.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The 70-year-old Howard Hawks’ (“The Thing”/”Rio Lobo”) easy-going but disappointingly routine Western is based on the book The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown and is written by female writer Leigh Brackett, who scripted Hawks’ 1959 Rio Bravo. The film resembles Brackett’s Rio Bravo script more than it does Brown’s book, though I found it inferior to the original. The roles previously played by Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson are now filled by Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt and Charlene Holt.
Hired gunslinger Cole Thornton (John Wayne) arrives in El Dorado to work for evil cattle baron Bart Jason (Ed Asner) to drive struggling rancher Kevin MacDonald’s (R.G. Armstrong) large family off the land so Jason can steal the land that holds the water he needs for his cattle. But before Cole accepts he meets with his old friend Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) and changes his mind. Unfortunately the news hasn’t traveled to the MacDonald’s, and the patriarch’s young son Luke gets killed after taking a potshot at Cole while he’s on the trail. His feisty sis Joey (Michele Carey) is not convinced of Cole’s story when he brings the body back to the ranch and she takes a potshot at Cole, which lodges a bullet near the spine that the local doctor (Paul Fix) feels he’s not capable of removing– suggesting he better see a city doctor soon or he might become paralyzed.
Cole leaves town for a year but returns with a young partner, a drifter named Mississippi (James Caan), when he learns that Jason hired the infamous Nelse McLeod (Christopher George) and his five-man gang to get rid of the family. The action stalls for the long middle part, as Cole groans with disappointment that Harrah has become an alcoholic and is disheveled since the last time they met. Cole’s saloon owner love interest Maudie (Charlene Holt) tells him it happened because Harrah was dumped by a girl she warned him about as not good for him. The gunfighters are joined by the deputy, the grizzly old-timer Indian fighter with a bugle named Bull (Arthur Hunnicutt), and the film goes into a melodramatic mode telling of the importance of friends, self-respect, professionalism and tolerance for the flaws of others. As Mitchum battles his booze problem, Wayne battles the side effects from the damaging gun wound. It takes a long time getting to the final shootout, but that’s carried out as efficiently as you would expect it to be in a Wayne Western. Despite the attempts at comedy, because of the heavy emphasis on how weak a man is when under the influence of booze, the film remains bleak.
REVIEWED ON 8/19/2005 GRADE: B