Say what you will about Euan Lloyd, but you've got to admire his almost foolproof gift for taking interesting subject matter and a great cast and producing something relatively mediocre. In Shalako the good idea is a bunch of European aristocrats on a hunting trip in the Wild West falling foul of marauding Apaches and the great cast is headed by Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd, Honor Blackman, Peter van Eyck, Woody Strode, Eric Sykes (yes, Eric Sykes), Jack Hawkins and the voice of Charles Gray. (The all-but-forgotten Hans de Vries who was briefly a frontrunner to replace Connery as James Bond also turns up in a bit part). But you don't need me to tell you that, you've seen it on telly a hundred times, but at least the extras-free DVD releases from Optimum and, in the US, Anchor Bay and MGM/UA are letterboxed in the original 2.35:1 ratio.
It's not the only British Western - others include Hannie Caulder and the undervalued Eagle's Wing - but the presence of Connery and many of the backstage team from the Bond films ensures it's the best known. Despite being based on a novel by Louis L'Amour it veers more towards a continental approach than a classic American Western, though director Edward Dmytryk rarely summons up much enthuiasm for it, rendering much of it workmanlike. It's only in the torture and demise of one of the female characters that he seems prepared to push the material, with the usual action as Connery's guide reluctantly escorting the survivors to safety never quite as exciting as it could be. Still, nostalgia helps paper over some of the rough spots and Jim Dale's lyrics to the title song are memorable.
During that halcyon period of the sixties when the strange demented excesses of the Italian western were proving such an unlikely success, a number of international co-productions tried to cash in. They are largely forgotten, which is probably as well because this collaboration of nations generally fell flat on its face. "Shalako" is a hymn to the inanities of these films. This example was British financed using an American director of Ukranian descent, Edward Dmytryk. This respected director had a good track record in the genre with fine films like Warlock and Broken Lance to his credits. But this was late in his career and his powers were waning. He was merely going through the motions
The films story concerns a group of European aristocrats who go out into the wilderness of New Mexico in the 1880s on a grand hunt. Unfortunately for them they arrogantly blunder into the middle of an Apache indian uprising. The Apache were not noted for their tolerance of stupid white eyes, and the hunters suddenly become the hunted. The group are helped by a scout played by Sean Connery and hindered by their treacherous guide played by Stephen Boyd. It is now a case of survival of the fittest, and they are not a particularly fit looking lot. Will our hero manage to save them?
The idea of European aristocrats hunting in the American wilderness is not as preposterous as it sounds. It was something that actually took place. Larry McMurtry's "Berrybender" book sagas are based on such events. The idea of pampered rich people being cast out at the mercy of local savages is not a new idea. Patrick White used it very successfully in his fine book "A Fringe of Leaves". In that case the aristos were shipwrecked on the Australian coast and found themselves hunted by the aborigines. This film is based on a story by the prolific western writer Louis L'Amour. The book, as is often the case is better than the film. That is not saying much though.
Brigitte Bardot the iconic French actress was not noted for her fluency in English and had to learn her lines phonetically. Jack Hawkins that stalwart of British cinema had recently undergone an operation on his throat and could only speak with great trouble using a voice box. He was dubbed by Charles Gray. Eric Sykes that great comedian who played a butler, had a lot of trouble with his hearing aid. Sean Connery who is as Scottish as Scots porridge oats appears as the most unlikely cowboy you are ever likely to ever come across. A sort of William Wallace goes west. It is said he always liked westerns and wanted to do one, but Dmytryk who knew he was miscast from the start thought it was more to do with the sizeable cheque he received for his services. The film was made on location in Almeria, Spain and Spanish gypsies substituted not very seamlessly for Apache Indians. Put all this together and you have a volatile mixture.
The chemistry between Connery and Bardot is sadly lacking. Bardot looks as if she had taken acting lessons from the Sphinx, she is so detached. She is as pretty as a well made up Barbie doll but not as dynamic. Connery goes through the motions but is clearly no cowboy. He does not pose a threat to Robert Duvall or Kevin Costner. The films characters are so irritating, that it is really hard to care whether or not Connery saves them from the Apache. I would have preferred them all captured and horribly tortured. That might at least have got some response from Bardot.
Alas the ending is not that happy and we head to one that is just as unlikely. The film was amazingly not a complete disaster at the box office like "MacKennas Gold", which came out at around the same time. I have given it three stars because there is a brief topless scene with Bardot. I also like to see rich pampered aristocrats getting their asses kicked by the natives, and lastly it made me laugh. So it is not all bad. Hurrah for the international co-production!
This is a curious western that boasts some interesting stars yet never really produces the sparks one might expect when Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot hit the big screen together. It is a tale of Europeans on a safari in the wild west.Of course they are ill suited to such a venture and this is the basis of the film.They are double crossed,attacked by Native Americans and end up very shaken and stirred.Cue the hero whom the film is named after,played by Connery. It is rather predictable after that with Connery saving most of them and getting the girl(he always manages to do that in films doesn't he?). The ending is a bit weak and is too obvious.Yet one could pass a Saturday afternoon watching the film and be entertained which I suppose is all the Director intended.
Shalako is directed by Edward Dmytryk and collectively written by J.J. Griffith, Hal Hooper, Scot Finch and Clarke Reynolds. Adapted from the book written by Louis L'Amour it stars Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Honor Blackman, Peter van Eyck and Alexander Knox. A Technicolor/Franscope production, music is scored by Robert Farnon and cinematography by Ted Moore.
When a hunting party of European aristocrats are led into Apache territory by shifty guide Bosky Fulton (Boyd), it calls for a brave tough guy to try and get them out to safety. Enter Shalako (Connery).
A difficult film to review since it undoubtedly has problems, yet with the right expectation level set it plays out a fun and robust Western. It's not nearly as awful as some would have you believe. Really.
OK, it's a bit too off kilter for its own good, miscasting is all too evident, with Connery and Bardot particularly standing out, and there isn't enough quality of story to justify the near two hour running time. The Connery issue is sad because it isn't for lack of trying or charisma, a confirmed Western fan, Connery ventured into the genre having just left (temporarily) the James Bond franchise, he attacks the role of Shalako with relish. But he never once convinces in this time period and desperately tries to plug into the socket for some sparks in the "sign posted a mile away" love interest with Bardot. Although there's something sensual about observing Bardot blasting away with rifle in hands, it's just a little too out there, especially since she has make-up apparently done by Dusty Springfield. But if you can buy into the odd European group dynamic that Bardot fronts? Then it can provide some genuinely enjoyable genre passages.
Dmytryk structures it soundly without surprises, however, the action sequences hold up very well. With flaming arrows piercing bodies and setting wagons ablaze, combat between rifle and bow is perky. The first Apache attack on the Adobe ruin compound that our odd group are holed up at, is resplendent with Apache leaps and energised attack and defence tactics. There's also a vigourous chase passage involving a coach, while the key battle in the final quarter, up on the mountainside, is well worth the wait. Elsewhere in the cast, Blackman is sexy, Boyd makes for a good scuzzy weasel and Knox gives the most believable performance. Outdoor photography is pleasing, with Almeria in Spain nicely made to look like New Mexico, and the theme music is wonderfully exuberant.
There's other problems, not enough Woody Strode, unconvincing smooching, unconvincing mano-mano fight and the closure is hardly barnstorming. And yes, at times it is ridiculous. Yet there's still rewards there for the Western fan who is in an undemanding mood. 6.5/10