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SHALAKO (1968) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

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Stars – Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd, Woody Strode, Honor Blackman
Director – Edward Dmytryx * Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

What is with this obsession to have a theme song in westerns? We heard Do Not Forsake Me over the credits and throughout High Noon (1952). There‘s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) sung by Gene Pitney. Then there is Chisum (1970) another John Wayne film with Merle Haggard asking in a gravely voice if Chisum can still keep going on. And what about that chorus of singing in Navajo Joe (1966) with Burt Reynolds? The Sons of The Pioneers ask What makes a man wander and Ride Away in The Searchers (1956). The Wild Bunch (1969) didn’t have any songs about Pike Bishop, they just rode in and started shooting. In this one we get to hear another chorus singing against a huge string section letting us know that , “Love came to Shalako”. That’s not really a complaint. But as someone who loves westerns there just seems to be an inordinate amount of theme songs going around. Some good, some bad but way more than necessary.

Thanks to the James Bond films Sean Connery had tremendous appeal at the box office. There was definitely a search for other vehicles for him to star in. The Hill made right after Goldfinger with Sidney Lumet directing was an exceptional picture but not real popular. A Fine Madness made after Thunderball was just kind of weird. The trailer shows Connery playing the part of a mad poet who seems to be punching a series of women in every scene. Shalako followed You Only Live Twice and is a much better fit for him. Here he plays a former cavalry man who keeps to himself. He spots a party of rich European dilatants who are hunting in Apache territory. Countess Brigitte Bardot has gone off with only one man for protection. The man is ruthlessly stacked out on a spear and left to die. Shalako rescues the Countess. Surrounded by the Apaches they give their word that they will leave. Once back at camp the pompous aristocrats refuse to be run off by a bunch of savages.

The rest of the film is a series of power shifts from the cowboys hired to escort the hunting party led by Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) to the rich hunters and finally to Shalako the only one who can hope to save them. Prior to the real fighting the script builds up the Apaches as a band of very fierce fighters. This is something that The Stalking Moon released the same year also did well. The action scenes were staged by Bond stuntman Bob Simmons. His work is very assured and exciting. There is an extended scene where one of the women is tossed around and taunted as her clothes are ripped off. It’s an unsettling sequence that serves to place the attackers in a frightful light. In an interesting twist of character one of the elite hunters leads the party up a mountain to evade the coming onslaught. The party has to climb ropes and work their way up the treacherous mountain. The sight of someone dangling from a rope as they swing helplessly over the rocks below is a clever change of pace.

Sean Connery is a terrific lead. He is always commanding and cool. He rides well and is believable as a western hero. A brief bit of text at the beginning explaining how Europeans came to America then helps defray any qualms about his accent. Honor Blackman who appeared in Goldfinger with Connery plays against type as a distasteful manipulative bitch. Early on you know her character won’t make it through the picture. Woody Strode (The Professionals) who is always good to have on hand in any western winds up with the part of the leader of the marauding Apache. A bit of research reveals that the bulk of his party were made up of Gypsies local to the shooting location in Spain.  Shalako remains a decent western and one of the films that helped Connery to break away from the James Bond secret agent casting trap.

Video – 2.35:1
As the credits play it looks like we are going to be in for a rough ride. Titles get a trim off the top and sides. They are fair at best. However once the film proper starts with an exterior sunlit close up of Stephen Body things look a whole lot better. The bulk of the close ups and medium shots outside look good. Colors are fine and detail is okay. However some of the long distance shots appear soft and washed out. Landscapes which normally are striking in these films get a generally poor showing. Once in awhile we’ll see a beautiful looking wide shot but not all the time. Though the transfer may be fine the original elements offer up an inconsistent image. It is always watchable but often feels lacking.

Audio – DTS with subtitles offered in English
Dialogue is clear enough and easy to follow. There is a real plethora of accents flying about here.

Extras – Commentary by Alex Cox, Trailers

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Good