Top critical review
3.5 stars: a charmer
on 1 March 2014
It's a buddy-movie really, in Western disguise, and like all good comedies, the tone tells you that all will be well. The only dark moment is the shooting by John Wayne's character, early in the movie and almost accidentally, of a young man from a family, the MacDonalds, with whom he forms an alliance in a range war against another family that is trying to run them off their land in order to get their water. Wayne plays Cole Thornton, a gun for hire, who refuses the employment of the rapacious Bart Jason (Ed Asner) to protect the family whose son he has killed. He is prompted to do it also by his old friend, now the sheriff of El Dorado, J. P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum). Thornton leaves El Dorado after being shot in the back by the sister of the young man he killed, and his wound is such that the bullet is too near his spine for the local doc to operate. He needs a real surgeon, because at unpredictable times he experiences paralysis in one arm as the embedded bullet affects him. However, before he gets to a surgeon he learns (a) that Bart Jason has hired another fast gun to intimidate the MacDonalds, and (b) that his old friend the sheriff, disappointed in love, has gone on an alcoholic bender and isn't fit to defend anybody. So Thornton heads back to El Dorado, with Mississippi, young greenhorn he has met along the way (James Caan) -- and the story of the movie is how a "greenhorn, a drunk, and a cripple" take on the bad guys.
Mitchum and Wayne are old hands at this, and their banter is predictable and yet humorous. The young James Caan plays his character slightly spacily, but he's no fool, even if he can't shoot straight -- it's a delightful performance. Charlene Holt, looking good in a corset, is Wayne's love-interest, the woman who will make him want to settle down, and Michelle Cary provides a sharp shot when it counts and catches the eye of Mississippi. Arthur Hunnicut has a nice turn as an aging deputy who still has his wits about him. Lots of banter -- and the physical comedy of getting Mitchum to sober up. There's quite a bit of killing in the old Western way -- not too much blood -- but the most violent part is Mitchum's revenge, with a butt of a rifle, on men who mocked him as a drunk -- just a few moments, but they seem to belong to a different movie. Lots of fun, then, with just enough tweaking of the genre (the partly-incapacitated heroes) to keep thing fresh. "High Noon" it ain't -- but it's very enjoyable.