Now out in HD are two older features (“classics” as far as their age if not their quality) starring two of the most popular actors of all time, paired with screen goddesses. And each movie has a rather unusual setting, especially for the male stars, far removed from familiar screen locales.
In Legend of the Lost, (1957) John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Rossano Brassi look for lost treasure in the Sahara. In Shalako, Sean Connery plays an ex-cavalry scout fighting Apaches in the American West and wooing Brigitte Bardot. A helluva combination!
Produced by the Duke’s own Batjac Company and directed by Henry Hathaway, Legend disappointed viewers and especially critics. The ’50s were a decade of ups and downs for John Wayne. The year Legend came out, Jet Pilot (which the Duke said was his worst film) and Wings of Eagles (John Ford directed; far from his best) premiered. In ’56, Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror and starred in a stellar American Western, Ford’s The Searchers.
Sophia Loren, three years before her Oscar-winning performance in Two Women (which marked her as a remarkable thespian rather than a sex symbol), was the new “exotic” actress. Italian star Brazzi had just wrapped his best-known American movie South Pacific, not yet out. Legend features extensive shooting in the desert and the ancient Roman ruins of Leptis Magna in Libya. Great British cinematographer Jack Cardiff captures the allure of those locales which, by contrast, make the studio scenes even more artificial.
A riff of sorts on the superior Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the movie is crippled by a weak script short on action and shaky credibility. Wayne plays ex-French Legionnaire Joe January; Sophia Loren is Dita, harlot with a heart of gold. Brazzi is Paul, a sexually repressed idealist looking for his father’s lost fortune who flips out over Dita.
Not really too good a movie, Legend is still something of a lost gem for John Wayne fans. Like other classic “stars” (Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart), the Duke is always fun to watch, even when playing himself. Loren may be hard to take as a frowzy prostitute, but she’s a magnificent presence and a good actress. Brazzi tries hard, but the stars leave him literally in the dust.
Hathaway directed Wayne in six films, four of them Westerns-the last (True Grit) finally earning the Duke an Oscar. Neither man was at his best in Legend of the Lost, but John Wayne fans shouldn’t miss it.
Shalako, released in 1968, was Sean Connery’s first film after initially leaving the James Bond franchise after You Only Live Twice in ’67, his fifth turn as 007. Following the money, he returned to the role four years on for Diamonds Are Forever and much later-1983-in Never Say Never Again. Connery tried to shake the 007 stamp, as title character Shalako, an American cowboy in a movie filmed in Spain.
The incredibly gorgeous Brigitte Bardot (as Irina) tried to be more than a sex symbol, à la Loren; yet she’d proved it a year earlier in Viva Maria! Director Louis Malle paired her with Jeanne Moreau in a wonderful, witty quasi-Western comedy.
The supporting international Shalako cast is impressive: Irishman Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur), Brit Jack Hawkins and German star Peter van Eyck. Also on hand is Honor Blackman, 007’s bedmate Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, and the great Woody Strode (playing Apache warrior Chato).
Shalako is a terrific Western-right up to its disappointing climax. The plot: International big shots are on a hunting excursion, led by the treacherous Bosky (Boyd) into Apache territory. Shalako falls in love with the stunning Countess Irina and teaches the arrogant stiffs a thing or two about life on the frontier, winding up in a duel of lances with Chato. Film buffs will particularly enjoy that scene, recalling Strode doing the same against Kirk Douglas in Spartacus.
Directed by pro Edward Dmytryk, the offbeat Shalako has good performances from Bardot and Connery as well as the whole colorful supporting cast. The scenery’s spectacular, the action all you’d expect-a truly unique Western, if not exactly a classic.