Legend Of The Lost Review
Somehow this has found its way into Optimum's Western Classics series of releases on account of it starring John Wayne. There can be no other reason as the only way in which this might be considered a western is if you were born and raised in somewhere east of the Sahara. Kenya, perhaps. Or The Lebanon. As good a place as any to slip in this John Wayne movie was probably the thinking behind this release but it probably does this film a disservice. Albeit that it may also find Legend Of The Lost a few good owners that it may not otherwise have.
Legend Of The Lost opens in Timbuktu with Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi) arriving to ask for assistance in finding a great treasure. With him, he carries a book of clues and sketches left to him by his father, who had laid hands on the treasure shortly before his death, and it is to Prefect Dukas (Kurt Kasznar) that Bonnard turns, asking for his most experienced guide to see him safely across the Sahara. Dukas knows of one, the best in Timbuktu, Joe January (John Wayne). Unfortunately, Joe is in jail, the result of more than one night's drunken revelry. With the promise of gold, rubies and emeralds as big as a fist, Joe pays off his debt, buys his way out of jail and takes off with Bonnard. Joining them is Dita (Sophia Loren), hoping to find as much redemption as gold in the desert. But as their canteens run dry and the sun beats down, Bonnard begins to lose faith in his father. It seems that only Joe January, as well used to the heat of the sun as he is to the fire of the whiskey bottle, keeps his head. And in the distance he sees something like a city...
Were Legend Of The Lost to be made today, its producers would somehow wangle some great conspiracy into it, dragging the Knights Templars, the Masons and the Illuminati into its search for hidden treasure. Then again, were it made a couple of decades before 1957, Bonnard and company would be more at risk from the vats of boiling oil that various tribes would wish to pop them into. However, coming along when it did leaves Joe, Bonnard and Dita alone for most of its running length with only the heat of the sun, the dry sand of the desert and their own jealousies to drive them mad.
Legend Of The Lost is as strong on atmosphere and character as it is weak on action. Barring a couple of fistfights in the second half of the film, both of which feature a good many Wayne haymakers as Joe tries to calm Bonnard down, and some shooting into the darkness, Legend Of The Lost is all about three people in the vast empty space of the Sahara. The wind whistles about them and there's a suitably eerie score throughout, made all the more effective with a lot of the drama happening in the dim light of night. When the company of three eventually come upon the lost city, that of an abandoned outpost of the Roman empire, Bonnard finds himself driven insane by the thought of years of trusting the word of his father crumbling like a house of sand. Wayne uncovers the true story of the treasure
Wayne isn't the making of this film. Instead, as shot by director Henry Hathaway (who would later work with Wayne on True Grit), Legend Of The Lost gazes out into the desert. Tribes of Tuaregs come and go but remain at a distance. Those in search of more action may be disappointed that there's so little of it, at least when compared to Wayne's westerns. As such, Legend Of The Lost is less about the actual treasure hunt than the dwarfing of these characters by the desert, by legend and by history. What there is of Bonnard outside the myth recorded by his father is lost as soon as he sees the first glint of gold. Dita's past overshadows her attempts at redeeming herself. Even Bonnard turns on her at the end, savagely kissing her when, having found his treasure, he can buy and sell her kind many times over. Even Wayne, big though he is, is not only lost amidst the sand dunes but between the pillars of the lost city.
Legend Of The Lost won't be for everyone. The story becomes predictable near its end, not only in the early glimpses of Bonnard's madness but in there being a symmetry between what happened his father (and his companions) and what does for Bonnard as his madness takes hold. However, for those views of the desert, for Wayne and Loren standing in an empty amphitheatre (so reminiscent of Harryhausen's Jason And The Argonauts) and for the sense of isolation that comes with it, accentuated by the soundtrack, this viewer liked Legend Of The Lost a great deal. One who has, first and foremost, more of a liking for Wayne's westerns than for his occasional step outside the genre may not.
The print has clearly aged. Though sharp and detailed enough, except for a slight softness to the backgrounds, the print used to source Legend Of The Lost has some damage to it, a fading to the colour on occasion and obvious grain throughout. The colour of the sky, though generally a brilliant blue, can vary at times and the same could probably be said of the sand but it's that bit harder to tell when it's blowing in the wind. However, none of these things are unexpected. The restoration of something like Lawrence Of Arabia may have sorted out such things but Legend Of The Lost was never, no matter how kind Optimum were to it, ever going to compare. Over forty years old, Legend Of The Lost shows its age but there's little that's surprising about it. It could, though, have looked a good deal worse.
The only problem there is as regards the soundtrack is that it's very quiet. Optimum seem to have mixed everything, though the dialogue is most noticeable, to a very low volume. Turning it up only adds to the amount of background noise, which, though noticeable, doesn't ever become a problem. However, it doesn't sound at all bad beyond that. The music and ambient effects, in particular, sound very good and are amongst those things that make the film. Finally, there are no subtitles.
The only extra on this DVD is a Trailer.