Starring: Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Mood: If you’ve always wondered if James Bond could have kicked ass in the Old West and you don’t mind watching two hours of tedious action to find out that it’s a Dr. Nope.
It took less than 30 minutes for Shalako to bum me out.
I actually love watching bad Westerns, because I know I’ll have a lot to tell YOU, the imaginary fans who live in my head. Shalako isn’t the good kind of bad, though; just thoroughly disappointing. It’s actually the worst Louis L’Amour Western movie I’ve seen to date, because it’s extremely f*cking boring.
If you compare it to Catlow – and you kinda have to, since they’re both L’Amour Westerns that came out within a few years of each other, featuring star-studded leads – it just falls flat on its face. And not in the fun way that you’d want to watch over and over on YouTube.
Shalako is about a bunch of European aristocrats doing a hunting party in the 1880s, foolishly being guided into Apache territory. Even though they think they’re great at shooting, they stupidly think ‘squirrel guns’ can scare off Apache warriors defending their turf. They’re extremely over-confident.
Former cavalry soldier Shalako (Sean Connery) is trying to help keep white people off Indigenous land. He finds countess Irina Lazaar (Brigitte Bardot) surrounded, and rescues her. Shalako makes a deal with the Apache chief to remove all the foreigners from the area by sunup. But when he returns the countess to her camp, the arrogant buttheads refuse to leave.
Now the pompous white people are being hunted. Multiple violent skirmishes, shootouts, chases, and showdowns ensue.
Shalako misses the mark on so many levels, I don’t even know where to start.
Just kidding. I know exactly where to start placing the blame. Sean Connery is one of the two biggest problems with Shalako, the other being the cinematography which I’ll get into in a minute.
Connery was at this time well-established as the charismatic James Bond, but here he gives a flat performance devoid of even basic personality. You keep expecting more, and getting nothing.
Shalako is filled with things wholly un-Western: European accents, fancy formal outfits, modern hair and makeup, scenery that’s obviously not the United States (it was filmed in Spain), and the lead spending half the movie riding around on a horse that looks like a bloody Lipizanner. Connery really needed to ooze Western on every level to balance it out, and he didn’t.
In an effort to conceal his rich accent, which repeatedly pokes through, Connery mumbles his lines. You add that to Brigitte Bardot’s heavy accent and poor sound quality, and it’s really f*cking hard to keep up with the dialogue.
Bardot actually comes across as strong and confident as countess Irina. Unfortunately, the makeup department gave her the big hair and heavy, smoky eyes that didn’t exist in the 1800s, which I also complained about on Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West… and Barbara Eden in Flaming Star… and Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder…
Bardot looks undeniably good throughout the movie – too good. Her hair never once shows signs of the group’s arduous attempts to survive on foot in the desert.
And then you have Woody Strode briefly appearing as the warrior Chato. All I can say is it’s a waste of Strode. He radiates this powerful calm, but the role is extremely limited.
If any of the characters had been even remotely likeable, it would have helped Shalako. Look at Duel at Diablo. It’s a similarly somber survival story shot around the same time, and James Garner is gruff and stoic throughout. But Sidney Poitier creates such a deep and interesting character that you’re on the edge of your seat.
Shalako also suffers from atrocious pacing and cinematography. The music frequently tells your brain “something exciting is happening!” when there’s nothing going on.
And while there’s lots of action, it’s not GOOD action.
The shootout sequences get super confusing, because the way they’re shot makes it look like there are extra people everywhere, so the body counts don’t add up. It also seems like people can shoot from impossible angles. To quote my fiancé, who watched it on my second attempt: “YOU DON’T SHOOT THROUGH F*CKING WALLS!”
So even with the constant threat of danger from start to finish, and so many action scenes, Shalako is still so boring that you will find yourself trying to see how many minutes are left.
Also, I’m sorry but there is no way an Apache chief who has the arrogant white people totally surrounded would suddenly back down, and rob his son of an honourable death in battle. No f*cking way.
Do yourself a favour and watch any other Louis L’Amour book-turned-movie that isn’t Shalako.
In case it’s not obvious from my many subtle hints, the natural choice is Catlow. Seriously. Pretend you never considered Shalako, and go watch Catlow. It’s fast, funny, charming, and enjoyable. Plus, you get to see Leonard Nimoy’s butt.