12 March 2012

EL DORADO (Dir. Howard Hawks, 1966, US)

I'm paid to risk my neck. I'll decide where and when I'll do it. This isn't it. - Cole Thornton (John Wayne) 
El Dorado was one of Howard Hawks last films and features John Wayne as aging gunfighter Cole Thornton. The cast also features the ever dependable Robert Mitchum and James Caan in one of his first roles. Like all great westerns, this is a splendid meditation on the gunfighter growing old in a changing America. It's also a film about violence, professionalism and power. The above split second reaction shot from Wayne is one of the most memorable moments in the film. Utilising a dramatic zoom in, which was about to be made commonplace in the genre because of Peckinpah and Leone, the shot not only recalls Porter's The Great Train Robbery but by having Wayne shoot into the camera, the gunfire and subsequent violence being expressed is directed to us, the helpless spectator. Such an unconventional shot is just one of many Hawskian touches imprinted on the DNA of this classical western. With a script by Leigh Brackett, the film's semi revisionist approach prefigures the radical westerns of Sam Peckinpah. It's also the only film to feature Wayne and Mitchum and together they are superlative. A masterpiece and one of Hawks most under rated films.

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