When I was growing up, back in the 1970s and 80s, one of the constant companions of my teenage movie viewing life was Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. In those pre-Wikipedia and IMDB days, Maltin's book of capsule movie reviews was one of the few ways to easily access and cross-check information about movies seen on TV and early VHS. I always remember the lingering sense of disappointment when the (otherwise estimable) Mr. Maltin would dismiss or castigate a particular favorite film of mine. One of his reviews that has always stuck with me was his brief comment about one of my all time favorite films (not just westerns), The Big Country. It came down to one word - "overblown" - and what, to my mind, still is a grossly conservative three-star rating.
That word, "overblown," annoyed me then and still does today. Though I suspect there are many out there who may tend to agree with Maltin, I take strong exception to that word. The Big Country is indeed big. It's long, no doubt (2 hours and 46 minutes, to be precise.) Epic, yes. Dramatic...certainly. Sprawling, even. But overblown? I beg to differ.
Sometimes it's all too easy to listen to the general critical consensus and avoid a movie that has a reputation of being bad or a bit of a misfire. Often times, where there's smoke, there's fire, and the movie lives down to its bad reviews. But occasionally I watch a film and am surprised by the negative reaction. Case in point is Legend of the Lost, a visually sumptuous adventure film that kept me captivated throughout. Despite my lifelong love of John Wayne movies, I had relegated this one, sight unseen, to the Duke's small pile of "duds," along with things like The Conqueror and Jet Pilot. I should have known better.
It was only after recently acquiring the DVD from friend and film scholar, Stuart Galbraith IV, that I decided to give it a "what the hell" spin, and I'm very glad I did. Contrary to what seems to be the generally-held opinion, it's actually quite a good film, and gives Wayne an edgier than usual role, while still allowing him to stay true to the sort of rugged, manly character type he did so well.
It's a simple story, straightforwardly told: wealthy Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi) comes to Timbuktu in West Africa, following the trail of his father, who wrote of a wonderful treasure and a fabled lost city in the Sahara. Bonnard has pluck, determination and blind faith on his side, but he needs an experienced guide. Enter rough-and-ready American, Joe January (Wayne), who has serious doubts about Bonnard's enterprise but cheerfully agrees to guide him when Bonnard ponies up enough cash to get Joe out of hock to the corrupt local prefect (Kurt Kazner). Joe is a carouser and frequenter of the seedier side of Timbuktu, and has spent some time in the company of a gorgeous gypsy prostitute, Dita (Sophia Loren). Dita despises Joe and other men like him but, after spending a chaste night talking to the gentlemanly, spiritual Bonnard, is moved enough to change her life to the straight and narrow. Here is a man who seemingly wants nothing from her, someone more interested in her soul than her body.
Fascinated by the righteous Bonnard, she follows the two men into the desert. Joe wants to send her back to Timbuktu, reckoning she's nothing but trouble and having no wish to drag her along, but Bonnard agrees to take Dita with them, and since he's paying the bills, Joe reluctantly acquiesces. He's skeptical of Bonnard's piety and do-gooder ways (he plans to use the treasure to open a hospital for the poor and needy), but Joe grows to grudgingly respect the man's courage and tenacity. Similarly, he begins to look at Dita in a new light. The rest of the film is taken up with pure desert survival adventure, intermingled with the drama of a burgeoning romantic triangle. The trio eventually do make it to an ancient Roman city, find the promised treasure, and learn the fate of Bonnard's missing father...but will they manage to make it back to civilization alive?
Opinionated ramblings about new and old movies (mostly old, as that's the way I like 'em!)
Blogs of Note
Stuart Galbraith IV's World Cinema Paradise
Movie Morlocks (TCM's Classic Movie Blog)
50 Westerns from the 50s
Riding the High Country
Tipping My Fedora
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Classic TV and Film Cafe
Just a Cineast
She Blogged By Night
Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema
Out of the Past -
A Classic Film Blog
Pretty Sinister Books
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To
In So Many Words...
Greenbriar Picture Shows
My Love of Old Hollywood
Tales of the Easily Distracted
Another Old Movie Blog
Lasso the Movies
Kevin's Movie Corner
Films From Beyond the Time Barrier
Carole & Co.
Rupert Pupkin Speaks
Vienna's Classic Hollywood
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
ClassicBecky's Brain Food
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