In 1962 Sean Connery exploded into international superstardom when the first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released. Five years later, Connery was done with Bond, temporarily retiring from the role after 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Connery was ready to distance himself from 007’s shadow as quickly as possible, making 1968’s Shalako his first post-Bond starring role. (Connery came back to Bond twice more — two years later for Diamonds Are Forever thanks to a huge salary bump and then in the 1980s for one of only two ever “off-brand” Bonds, Never Say Never Again)
On paper, Shalako sounds like a no-brainer. A Western paring the two hottest sex symbols of their era, Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot, directed by Edward Dmytryk who made one of the quintessential noir films Murder, My Sweet.
Based upon the Louis L’Amour novel of the same name, Shalako has Connery in the title role. He’s a rugged loner of the Old West and a war vet who finds himself rescuing a countess (Bardot) from an Indian attack. The countess is part of a larger party of Europeans who have come to the “American West” (Spain at its Spaghetti Western best) for a hunting holiday. They’re so English it’s almost absurd. They travel with their butler, fine clothes, formal dress for dinner out in the open, and even carry a china hutch. One can only imagine they used the same line of roomy luggage preferred by The Howells on Gilligan’s Island.
Shalako is on speaking terms with the tribe that led the attack, the hunting party is on land that’s part of their reservation and they’re none too happy about it. Shalako promises that he will have the party cleared out by sunrise, and returns with the countess to their camp. Telling the terribly British camp to clear out or die, they respond in usual on-screen spoiled English twit manner with “Oh, we will be fine.” Come sunrise, the oblivious band of twits are attacked, slowly realizing how little good their firepower is at keeping the attackers at bay.
Fortunately, Shalako snuck off pre-dawn and headed to the hills to create a smoke signal ruse to get the attackers to flee. Shalako knows it’s only a temporary fix and he returns to help lead the party to safety.
In addition to Connery and Bardot the cast includes Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Peter Van Eyck and Honor Blackman—who you’ll recognize from her first teaming with Connery in 1964’s Goldfinger.
Though Shalako was Connery’s first big screen outing after leaving the Bond franchise, he must have felt at home as several veterans of the series worked on the film. Behind the camera was DP Ted Moore, who photographed every Bond film from Dr. No through The Man With The Golden Gun (which he only shot part of, having to drop out due to illness). Stunt work was headed by Bond veteran Bob Simmons. Actor Jack Hawkins had just undergone a laryngectomy before filming and had to be dubbed in post-production by actor Charles Grey—who had just played Bond’s British contact in Japan in You Only Live Twice and would appear again in the franchise as the character’s arch-nemesis Blofeld in Connery’s return to the series, Diamonds Are Forever.
One would imagine with all this talent working on the film, and the pairing of Connery and Bardot, that Shalako would be a complete win from start to finish. Instead, it’s a rather dull, ordinary Western. You could turn this on in the middle and not have missed much. About halfway through, I realized I didn’t really care about anyone on screen or what happened to them. Sean Connery looks great throughout, as Connery could make ordering a Big Mac sexy.
The plot is generic and un-engaging. (“Hey, we’re under attack. Let’s allow an expert to lead us to where we are not under attack.”) I’m sure Shalako has its fans, but I won’t be revisiting it anytime soon.
Kino Lorber brings Shalako to blu-ray as part of their Studio Classics line. Perhaps part of my difficulty engaging with the film is that this isn’t a particularly good-looking blu-ray. I’m sure this is no fault of Kino Lorber, I suspect this is the current state of the master.
The 2.35:1 image is inconsistent, some scenes have excessive grain. Colors are sometimes impressive, other times dull and slightly faded. The most bizarre aspect of Shalako’s HD image is that certain shots have, on the far left and right of the frame, distortions known mostly to movie fans as “CinemaScope Mumps,” due to the misuse of the anamorphic lens, more noticeable in wide shots, especially of people on horseback moving across the frame.
The mono DTS-HD soundtrack is solid, it’s clear and sounds fine. Bonus material is limited. There’s alternate cover art that can be chosen by flipping the insert over, and a trailer gallery of other Connery films. A commentary track by filmmaker Alex Cox is included. Shalako may be a cult classic among Western Enthusiasts, but overall I found it to be only a curious oddity. Audiences at the time must have as felt as I did, the movie was a box office disappointment.
Kino Lorber is to be applauded for bringing Shalako to blu-ray, perhaps in under less than stellar condition, but for a film that previously had a flat, 4:3 letterbox DVD release, those who have been waiting to see the film in 16X9 will be pleased.