Tuesday 7 February 2017

Movie Review: Legend Of The Lost (1957)

A creaky adventure set in the desert, Legend Of The Lost borrows heavily from better movies and aimlessly scatters good ideas into the sand dunes.

Rich European Paul Bonnard (Rosanno Brazzi) arrives in Timbuktu, quickly demonstrates sympathy for scrappy street thief Dita (Sophia Loren) and connects with experienced guide Joe January (John Wayne). The trio set out on a multi-week trek, and Bonnard gradually reveals his motives: he is following clues from his father's writings to search the unforgiving desert for a lost city with buried treasure.

Joe is disgusted that Dita has fallen for Bonnard's smarmy charms, and despite the surrounding dangers of oppressive heat, limited water, uncharted terrain and dangerous tribes, the two men never get along and fight often. Finally they arrive at their destination, but nerves are frayed and nasty secrets await.

Taking elements from 1948's The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and 1950's King Solomon's Mines, Legend Of The Lost throws three people together and sends them off on an ill-defined quest. The script, co-written by Ben Hecht, is a cheap excuse to delve into lust and greed themes at the most superficial level while combing American and Italian acting talent in search of an international hit. None of it works. The emotions are always close to boiling, the jealousies are juvenile and whatever is supposed to pass as passion never ignites. The two men continuously circle each other and break into tiresome fisticuffs at almost every rest stop.

Neither the characters nor the events come close to passing a basic rationality test. Bonnard and Dita fall for each other based on one night of psychobabble. Joe is suddenly jealous although theoretically he had every opportunity to win Dita's heart before Bonnard ever set foot in Timbuktu. The film never explains how Bonnard contrived to received his father's letters, but worse is to come when the trio arrive at the ruins of an ancient lost Roman city. Three skeletons are quickly interpreted as a love triangle gone wrong, and Bonnard slips off the edge of reason, triggering an astonishing round of assault, mistrust and violence.

Filming in Libya, director Henry Hathaway and cinematographer Jack Cardiff do capture a few impressive vistas and exotic flavours in "Technirama" widescreen. And despite the almost laughable story, the presence of John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Rosanno Brazzi ensure that the film is at least passably watchable. Wayne emerges with some dignity intact, while Loren and Brazzi suffer more in roles requiring whiplash-inducing emotional u-turns.

Despite some nuggets of interest, Legend Of The Lost is a lot more lost than legend.

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