It was John Wayne’s birthday a few days ago. The Duke would’ve been 109 years old. Of course, Wayne is primarily known for his roles in westerns, and this is an area of my film knowledge that has never been as strong as others. For this I often get a little grief from my wife. She’s nowhere near the film fan I am and yet watched tons of westerns on TV with her dad as a child. She’s seen a lot more John Wayne films than I have…but I doubt even she has seen our film today. It’s really not a western, though it feels a bit like one. Instead of trekking across the western US, this film sees the Duke crossing the Sahara desert in 1957’s Legend of the Lost.
Wayne plays Joe January, a desert guide based in Timbuktu who is often getting in trouble with local law enforcement. He is hired by a man named Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi) to guide him through the desert. Paul is out to locate a lost city and treasure that his father once went in search of, but never returned. Of course, Paul doesn’t tell Joe this until they are already on the journey. About this time they are also joined by Dita (Sophia Loren), a woman who romanced Paul a bit in Timbuktu and decided she wanted to go along.
Along the journey, both men seem to find themselves being caught up a bit by the beauty of their female companion. She is Sophia Loren, after all. The further they go, the more Joe is convinced there is no city or treasure. But, on the verge of running out of water, they locate the ruins of the city. They find the treasure and all is well. That is, until Paul grabs the loot and supplies and heads back on his own…leaving the others to die. Now it’s Joe and Dita against the desert as they try to make it back across the harsh sands.
Legend of the Lost does indeed feel a bit like a western. John Wayne is playing his standard kind of character. You could pick up Joe January, take him out of Timbuktu and plop him down in Arizona and he’d be quite at home. Wayne is perfect for the role, and yet somehow he feels really out-of-place in this story. I mean, Wayne is his typical cool self, but the two other leads (both Italians, by the way) are chewing up the scenery like it was made of Fruit Roll-ups. Perhaps it stands out more because their approach is so different than Wayne’s, but both Brazzi and Loren are so overly dramatic that it gets more than a little ridiculous.
Ultimately, though, the biggest problem with Legend of the Lost is that its story is about as dry as the desert it takes place in. Nothing happens! We have three characters journeying across the Sahara…surely they could’ve encountered some dangers other than dehydration! There is a brief dust storm sequence but come on…how ‘bout some blood thirsty marauders, dangerous snakes, something interesting! The Duke needs a challenge here!
Even visually, the film doesn’t really do anything exciting. It’s sand dune after sand dune and it’s all pretty drab looking. It’s also painfully obvious when the film shifts from filming in an actual desert to when the actors are now in a soundstage. I will say, though, that the lost city is impressive. They shot these scenes at the Leptis Magna ruins in Libya and they do look amazing. It’s the one part of the film that really piqued my interest.
Probably the film’s only other saving grace is that the ending does have some decent drama to it. But it’s a long long road to get there. Even only clocking in at an hour and forty minutes, the film is a bit of slog. It’s over-scripted, over-acted, and just not that interesting.
NOTE: Legend of the Lost was recently release on DVD and Blu Ray by Olive Films. Big thanks to them for sending a copy our way to review!