The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, August 20, 2010


By 1968, James Bond himself, Sean Connery, was riding high off the success of the first five 007 movies he made, most recently with You Only Live Twice.  When he wasn't playing Bond, Connery did his damnedest to avoid being typecast, generally succeeding with a wide-ranging list of roles that continued into the 1970s and 1980s.  But in all those movies, he only did one western, and it's a good one, 1968's Shalako.

Based on a Louis L'Amour novel, this Euro-western has a lot going for it with a lot of different elements thrown together in the final product.  Start with the uniquely international cast that includes American, English, French, Scottish, German and Spanish actors and actresses, all of them with speaking roles.  While the story ends up being somewhat familiar late in the movie, the build-up to that point is different from about 99.9% of other westerns.  At times it can be a little too much with so many different elements working together and sometimes against each other, but the positives outweigh the negatives...for me at least.

Frontiersman and former U.S. cavalry officer Shalako Carlin (Connery) stumbles across an Apache ambush, saving a beautiful French woman, Countess Irina Lazaar (Brigitte Bardot), from certain death. Irina is part of a European hunting party headed by Baron Von Halstatt (Peter Van Eyck), Sir Charles Daggett (Jack Hawkins), and U.S. senator Henry Clark (Alexander Knox) who are touring the American west, killing any animals they see, their wives along for the adventure. Knowing what awaits them, Shalako tries to convince them to leave the territory as the Apaches don't take kindly to anyone riding onto their land.  The party ignores him, but when their guide, Bosky Fulton (Stephen Boyd) and his men double-cross them, they have no one to turn to other than Shalako.

Above all else, I'd say watch this movie for the cast, starting with Connery and on down the line through all the supporting parts, some much bigger than others.  If anything, there may be too many names involved because characters aren't given the attention they deserve at times.  Connery's Shalako -- an all around badass like most L'Amour heroes -- doesn't even dominate the screen, and the movie's named after him!  Those I could get into the plot review are just some of the names, there's also Honor Blackman as Hawkins' wife, Woody Strode as an Apache chief (not as bad as a Mongol bandit I guess), Valerie French as the senator's wife, and Julian Mateos and Don Barry as two gunmen along for the ride.

Seeing Connery in a western setting might seem odd -- Scottish actor dudes up in bucksins and six-shooter -- but it works.  He is typical of most L'Amour heroes in his ability to handle himself in even the hairiest situation, loyal and honest, and does the right thing over the thing that makes the most sense.  In the end, you know he'll win and get the girl.  Oops, did I just give away the ending?  My bad.  Director Edward Dmytryk had a bit of a predicament with leading lady Bardot, the definition of a 1960s sex kitten. Basically do you make her look like a woman on the frontier or like, well, Brigitte Bardot.  He goes with option B.  Hair always look perfect as does the makeup.  I'll disagree with a lot of reviews, I thought Connery and Bardot had good chemistry, and her sexy French accent goes a long way.  It just does, no other explanation needed.

Keeping it all together is the movie's biggest problem as Dmytryk juggles all these characters and subplots.  The story is at its strongest when sticking with Shalako and the motley crew of survivors he's leading.  Boyd is always a solid villain but his character could basically be erased from the storyline and it wouldn't skip a beat.  Van Eyck and Hawkins do what they can with stiff upper lip aristocratic characters.  If nothing else, there is more eye candy than usual in a typical western.  Along with Bardot -- who is given a topless scene with strategically placed hands -- there's Blackman and French, neither of whom are too bad to look at.

I wish there was more I could say about this Euro-western, but I'm drawing a blank.  The cast is solid if under utilized, the action is exciting, and the Spanish desert fills in nicely for the American southwest.  Be forewarned, there's a truly awful theme song -- give it a listen HERE -- that plays over the credits on either end of the movie.  I'll apologize in advance for the song being stuck in your head for the next few days.  It is a western that does nothing spectacularly, but instead does everything in a solid, workmanlike manner.

Shalako <---TCM clip (1968): ***/**** 

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