Far Out Wests 4 : Over the Mountains of the Moon, Down the Valley of the Shadow

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Father Hank Hank: “Uncharted”‘s Nathan Drake risked his hide seeking “El Dorado,” and no one informed him that this thrilling John Wayne Western could be purchased from Amazon.com with little or no danger to life or limb. Director Howard Hawks was clearly in love with the idea of a small group of flawed men holing up to take a last stand against evil. He found the story so nice he shot it thrice, as “Rio Bravo” (1959), “El Dorado,” (1966), and the less acclaimed “Rio Lobo” (1970). Three movies, and that’s if one doesn’t count “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Ghosts of Mars,” two additional riffs on the tale from Hawks-wannabe John Carpenter. In “El Dorado” the holed-up men are John Wayne as Cole Thornton, an aging gunslinger with a bullet lodged near his spine; Robert Mitchum as J. P. Harrah, the sheriff who discovers that the unpleasant cure for alcoholism involves gunpowder and ipecac; and James Caan as Alan Bourdillion Traherne, a.k.a. “Mississippi,” a younger, conscientious anti-gun objector who will only murder his enemies with knives, until he realizes that El Dorado is in Texas, not Frisco. Sawed-off double-barreled shotguns are the way to do things. John Wayne does the same character from “Rio Bravo”; Mitchum replaces Dean Martin, with nearly identical results; and Caan, a few years away from “The Godfather,” replaced Ricky Nelson… instantly making this movie superior to “Rio Bravo.” A grand ole time!

Beatricia Beatricia:

Gaily bedight,

A gallant knight,

In sunshine and in shadow,

Had journeyed long,

Singing a song,

In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old—

This knight so bold—

And o’er his heart a shadow

Fell as he found

No spot of ground

That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength

Failed him at length,

He met a pilgrim shadow—

“Shadow,” said he,

“Where can it be—

This land of Eldorado?”

“Over the Mountains

Of the Moon,

Down the Valley of the Shadow,

Ride, boldly ride,”

The shade replied—

“If you seek for Eldorado!”

That’s how I kept myself awake for this one, by reciting Edgar Allan Poe! It’s the same thing that James Caan’s character does in order to keep HIS sanity. “El Dorado” would be “El Bore-ado” if it wasn’t for “Mississippi,” who seems like he’s landed in this desert moonscape from a much hipper future. He can barely keep a straight face at all  the corny beef Mitchum and Wayne are hashing.

Tracey Tracey: Him?! James Caan “fools” a foe by impersonating a Chinese person! Actually, that makes it all sound almost dignified. It’s more accurate to say that James Caan “fools” a foe by posing as a buck-toothed, squinty-eyed, Chinky-Chink, “me-so-solly,” ethnic slur. Was Mickey Rooney too busy in 1966?

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It’s still not the cringiest moment in “El Dorado.” That would be John Wayne’s comment, admiring the White Man’s wondrous ability to establish a lawless town full of murderous thugs: “Before we got here, this place was totally empty; there was  only coyotes and Indians.” Oh, there were only HUMAN BEINGS LIVING THERE? If I had one good thing to say about “El Dorado,” is that its Mexican characters are no more noticeably vile than its already vile U. S. characters. Hooray.

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Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: There’s two “Hawksian Women” here, Maudie (Charlene Holt) and Joey (Michele Carey). The problem with “the Hawksian Woman” is one that Hollywood hasn’t solved yet. Hawks knew to throw in women who were relative, superficial “bad-asses.” But they’re only so as answers to masculinity: Woman as the reflection of Man. The Hawksian heroine is an abnormal, brave, whip-sharp female who can almost keep up  with the “normal,” brave, whip-sharp male. In Howard Hawks Land – and Hollywood hasn’t LEFT Howard Hawks Land – women who are “strong” are “cool” (long as their bra-sizes are adequate, of course). But that cool strength has to be paired with an ultimate sexual submission in the presence of an overpowering man.

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By contrast, a man’s strength – and his separation from womanhood – is his default-mode. A man who is not “strong” – who descends into “womanish” behavior – provokes nothing but laughter and contempt in a Hawks movie. Think Cary Grant prancing around in a girly bathrobe in “Bringing Up Baby” and saying he “just went gay all a sudden.” (The first mainstream usage of the term to signify, well, “gayness” also equates being gay  with suffering a feminizing, debilitating, sanity-eliminating stroke!)

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Howard Hawks might have made a good director of faux-feminist gestures like “Wonder Woman.” There’s a 1973 interview of Hawks. He’s talking about “Bringing Up Baby” and Katherine Hepburn, (or Katie, as he calls her.) He tells an anecdote to emphasize how “Katie” wasn’t funny and kept on “stumbling” over her lines, and so Hawks had to find a real man, vaudeville veteran Walter Catlett, to teach “Katie” how to have a sense of humor. Hawks concludes by saying: “That’s why she’s so great. She hasn’t any ideas, but she can learn from somebody, and this was a man and a master.”

Tracey Tracey: “She hasn’t any ideas.” “A man and a master.” What a dick. I’m going to ignore Cousin Franz’ dig at “Wonder Woman” and I will say that just hearing Howard Hawk talks makes my skin creep! Forget Howard Hawks and forget this movie! Negative cherry!

Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: But it’s a great movie all the same, don’t get me wrong. Leigh Brackett wrote many scripts for Hawks, including “Rio Bravo,” ”El Dorado,” and “Rio Lobo,” and had a hand on what’s still the best “Star Wars” movie, “The Empire Strikes Back.” Leigh was (don’t let the name fool you like it fooled Hawks) a woman. It’s true that Hawks’ idea of praise for his female protegee was to say that “even though she was a woman, she wrote like a man.” Whether she wrote like a woman or like a man, she wrote like a damn good screenwriter, and this tops her previous work on “Rio Bravo,” really. Cherry!

Trent Trent: Hahaha! I just found out that John Wayne’s real name was Marion Mitchell! That’s, like, the name of a widow who writes Civil-War-era erotic fan-fics in between cat-feedings. Anyway, “El Dorado” is pretty good, except that for a supposed action movie, these cowboys sure spend a lot of time in the same room, playing dominoes, recovering from their whiskey diet, whining about their bad backs, and basically acting like Grandpa’s geriatric buddies.

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: Ah, this takes me right back to the set of “El Dorado.” Howard Hawks had gone off to lunch with Howard Hughes and Howard Keel, and I was left with the unenviable task of helping John Wayne with his make-up, which was an intricate but necessary  operation because of Wayne’s immense jowls. That’s why we called him “The Duke,” you know, because he had the jowls of a medieval nobleman on the latter stages of the gout. So I said to Duke: “What do you think, Duke, could Bobby Mitchum be a Communist?” Duke spit on his trusty horse, Cochise, which was never less than five steps behind him, and said: “I’ll tell ya, pilgrim: just last night that lily livered, belly-aching, Maria-Juana-sucking light-stepper invited me to go to his trailer to swing to a rock-and-roll long-player by some degenerate nancy boys called ‘The Kinks.’ Does that make him a filthy Communist? You bet your last ace it does!” He got so upset just thinking about it that he dismissed me outright: “Vamoose like a moose, Felicius! I’ve been putting my own rouge and concealer every day for the last 35 years, I think I know what I’m doing!”

Trent Trent: Grandpa, you already told us that story!

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: And it’s a darned good yarn, and I’ll tell it again if we ever watch “Rio Lobo”!

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “John Wayne– Grew old– More noticeably vile– A Man and a master– El Dorado furniture now has– Excellent discounts on leather love seats– at any of its 14 South Florida locations.”

4 out of 6 Cherries

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