Skip to main content

Just relax. Act like a countess.

Shalako
(1968)

(SPOILERS) Sean Connery starring in a western sounds like the kind of lame idea a Bond star grabbing any options available would choose, just to keep working and see where he might land (see also Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid). The result then, is a particularly lame movie. Not in the sense of Shalako being awful, but rather entirely redundant, dull and outmoded. Aside from some content signifying the era (the rape of Honor Blackman’s character, usually cut for TV showings), this could easily have been made a decade prior. It’s only really Connery’s presence that announces otherwise.

Wikipedia makes the – unsurprisingly unsourced – assertion the Shalako has become a cult classic. I find that entirely unconvincing, as I’ve never seen or heard anyone mention it in such terms elsewhere. It’s also routinely labelled as nursing spaghetti western traits. However, aside from being filmed in Spain, where the Dollars trilogy was made, seasoned genre director Edward Dmytrk does absolutely nothing stylistically to support such a notion. Indeed, in every respect this is trad western stodge.

Connery’s the title character, introduced via a Jim Dale-penned title song (telling you just how trad it wants to appear). He’s an upstanding former cavalry officer attempting to herd a hunting party intruding on an Indian reservation to safety before the Apaches decide to take matters into their own hands. As a set up, it suggests some potential. Indeed, first sight of the party, indolent entitled folk indulging full-dress dinners in the desert complete with silver candlesticks, is suggestive of something wittier, more pointed and eccentric than anything unfolding subsequently (while there’s nothing spaghetti-ish here, this is the sort of idea Leone would have had a field day with).

And it isn’t as if the casting generally is a slouch. Jack Hawkins (voiced by future Blofeld Charles Gray) is Sir Charles Daggett, whose wayward wife Lady Julia (Honor Blackman) is more interested in a dalliance with Stephen Boyd’s tour guide Bosky Fulton. Peter van Eyck is great value as a priggish Baron (“If you had any breeding, I’d kill you” he tells Sean at one point; it turns out he can climb mountains, though, so he ends up okay in Shalako’s book). Eric Sykes is a butler and Woody Strode is Apache chief Chato. Brigitte Bardot, aside from being Brigitte Bardot, is entirely forgettable as Sean’s love interest (apparently, she was up for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the one, of course, Connery stupidly snubbed – which was a lucky escape, as the picture would have had held none of the resonance). Blackman reportedly came on board at short notice, which figures as it isn’t her kind of weak sauce (“We’re all going to die!” being a typical line).

Everything about the plot and characterisation is tepid, unfortunately. Sure, Sean is nominally sympathetic towards Native American rights ("You're a pack of whites breaking a treaty"), but Shalako is nevertheless built upon the assumption of their violent tendencies, and concludes with him, the white man, showing moderation and leniency when he refuses to kill Chato. Worst of it is, Connery doesn’t get to be Connery in any kind of memorable way. Pauline Kael attested that “He has more presence and style (even in his indifference) than this picture deserves”, but I think that’s overstating his case as an asset to the production.


Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

They say if we go with them, we'll live forever. And that's good.

Cocoon (1985) Anyone coming across Cocoon cold might reasonably assume the involvement of Steven Spielberg in some capacity. This is a sugary, well-meaning tale of age triumphing over adversity. All thanks to the power of aliens. Substitute the elderly for children and you pretty much have the manner and Spielberg for Ron Howard and you pretty much have the approach taken to Cocoon . Howard is so damn nice, he ends up pulling his punches even on the few occasions where he attempts to introduce conflict to up the stakes. Pauline Kael began her review by expressing the view that consciously life-affirming movies are to be consciously avoided. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but you’re definitely wise to steel yourself for the worst (which, more often than not, transpires). Cocoon is as dramatically inert as the not wholly dissimilar (but much more disagreeable, which is saying something) segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie directed by Spielberg ( Kick the Can ). There