Shalako

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SHALAKO  bleats one of the worst title songs of a generation, almost as wretched as the tunes that bracketed Anzio and Will Penny. They all assaulted audience ears in the same year,1968, so maybe there was some bad acid floating in screen-song punch bowls. This international production was produced by the British, directed by an American, filmed in Spain and features a slew of good actors from at least six countries.

Heading the lot are Sean Connery (Scotland) and Brigitte Bardot (France). Backing them (as if that duo needed help) are Stephen Boyd (Ireland), Jack Hawkins and Honor Blackman (England), Peter van Eyck (Germany), Woody Strode, Alexander Knox, Valerie French and Donald Barry (USA!) and Julian Mateos (Spain).  It’s a western.

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The “huh?” is answered in that all these Europeans are on a hunting expedition of rich swells in the desert Southwest (played by parched Spain, looking washed out and bleak), igniting love fencing between the singles and couples, and running ker-thud into the perpetually-pissed-off resident Apaches.

The actors try, but they’re undone by the rest of the production. Sloppy direction from Edward Dmytryk, who makes a hash of the action scenes, as well as injecting some needless brutality, especially in the treatment meted out to Ms.Blackman. By the time this rolled out, westerns had lost their ebullience and were into being  mostly just plain mean, no doubt influenced by the ongoing waste of life over in Vietnam. The script isn’t good, the camera work is too modish, the sound effects ring false, somebody gave Sean a dumb-looking hat. The exteriors are all wrong, making it look phony and stagey from the get-go. These big-time international hunting expeditions took place in lush wilderness, in areas full of game, not in barren desert where Herr Count or Lady Duchess might only pot a jack rabbit. It’s ridiculous.

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Hawkins’ voice is dubbed (due to his throat cancer) by Charles Gray and it distracts, and Bardot’s limited English undercuts her delivery. The you’d-think surefire potency of the French bombshell with the Bond bruiser doesn’t jell. Oddly, best in the cast is the usually dull Alexander Knox, who rips as much relish out of his scenes as he can get away with. The film made some money, but not enough to cover its outlay, so Shalako took a shellacking. Grosses in the US were an anemic $2,900,000. 113 minutes, with Eric Sykes and Rodd Redwing.

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* Great quote from the fearless Honor Blackman: “It was almost the worst film I’ve ever made, from the point of view of pleasure. Edward Dmytryk had just come off the blacklist, so he had a lot to prove and was tense. Eric Sykes was going through a terribly deaf period.  Brigitte Bardot they didn’t dare leave alone, in case she committed suicide. Stephen Boyd was going through a religious conversion and used to come in each morning saying “Peace”, instead of “Good Morning”.  Jack Hawkins, who played my husband, had recently had an operation for cancer of the larynx and had this hole in his throat covered by a medallion, and we were terrified of getting sand in it. He couldn’t speak and therefore mouthed his lines silently. In one scene, we were supposed to have a row in which one tops the other; now, it’s very difficult to have a row with someone who’s not speaking!”     “I must be dreaming“…

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