Paul Bonnard arrives in Timbuktu in search of a guide to escort him into the Sahara desert. American Joe January takes the job despite misgivings about Bonnard\'s plans. Dita, a prostitute who has been deeply moved by what appears to be Bonnard\'s spiritual nature, follows the two men into the desert.
Eventually the trio arrives in the ruins of a lost city, where Bonnard hopes to find the treasure his father sought years earlier before disappearing. But what Bonnard finds alters him in unexpected ways, with tragic results.
John Wayne ... Joe January
Sophia Loren ... Dita
Rossano Brazzi ... Paul Bonnard
Kurt Kasznar ... Prefect Dukas
Sonia Moser ... Girl
Angela Portaluri ... Girl
Ibrahim El Hadish ... Galli Galli
Legend of the Lost is a film that could have been pretty good, but was destroyed because of the lack of chemistry between the leads, John Wayne and Sophia Loren. They don\'t relate or react to each other at all, and every \"intimate\" scene between them seems forced.
On the bright side, you have cinematographer Jack Cardiff\'s gorgeous on-location Technirama cinematography. The deserts of Libya never looked so good. And the script by Ben Hecht was actually quite good.
But Legend of the Lost is a member of an entire genre (or sub-genre) of films that might best be called \"Two-person Films.\" That is, the entire film centers on two or three characters that are somehow isolated from society and exist on their own in some desolate or deserted place. John Huston was a master of this genre, and his films The African Queen and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison may very well be the best examples of the genre. Unfortunately for Legend of the Lost, this type of film mandates that there be great chemistry between the leads, or the whole film breaks down. Look at the great chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen and the great chemistry between Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. This is where Legend of the Lost begins to come apart. Wayne was an actor who was legendary for his ability to relate to his leading ladies on screen. Throughout his six decade long career, he played opposite a wide variety of actresses (from Jean Arthur to Marlene Dietrich to Lauren Bacall to Katharine Hepburn) and was able to light up the screen with just about all of them. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the chemistry between him and Loren just wasn\'t there. In hindsight, of course, its easy enough to clamor for Maureen O\'Hara (who had done similar roles in the many \"Arabian Knights\" type adventure films she had spent most of the 40\'s doing), but I do give Wayne credit for taking a chance on the then almost unknown Loren. Unfortunately, things just didn\'t work out.
Veteran director Henry Hathaway directed Legend of the Lost, and after its failure placed most of the blame on Loren, saying something to the effect that she was gorgeous to look at, but wasn\'t a very good actress. Although he might have had a point, Hathaway was also likely trying to deflect blame away from himself for the failure. The fact remains that he failed to overcome the casting problems that beset the film. And this is why Hathaway is remembered as a good, but not great director (and I say this as Hathaway\'s biggest fan). The great directors have the ability to elevate a film above script and casting problems, and Hathaway failed to do that here. Of course, Hathaway would say that given the material and genre it would have been very hard, if not impossible to do that here. And he may very well be right. In hindsight it might have been better to get John Huston himself to direct the film, though considering Wayne and Huston\'s equally disastrous joint project The Barbarian and the Geisha was still waiting in the future, perhaps its better Huston wasn\'t involved here.
I\'ve always felt that Legend of the Lost was Batjac\'s attempt at a \"prestige picture.\" I think that Wayne was trying to impress the critics by producing an \"artsy\" film that would appeal to them, and when it failed, he went back to the familiar places and faces that he had found success with earlier in his career. It was probably a very wise decision on his part.
Legend of the Lost is not for everyone. With different casting the film could have become a classic. As it is, it survives best as a remembrance of \"what might have been.\"
Legend of the Lost paired John Wayne and Sophia Loren for their one and only teaming on the silver screen. Too bad it wasn\'t in a much better film than this barely disguised rip off of Rain.
The setting for this film is French West Africa as it was then known in 1957 before it became several new African countries in a few years. The Duke is Joe January, a freebooting American expatriate who hires out as a guide on the desert.
Rossano Brazzi wants to hire Wayne as a guide to take him to a fabled lost city that he swears his father found out in the middle of the Sahara. The father disappeared on a return trip and Brazzi is also looking to find out what happened to him.
In Timbucktu both of them encounter Sophia Loren who\'s a working girl. She\'s got the both men going, but it\'s Brazzi she really loves. Brazzi\'s a spiritual sort of fellow, talking about doing some good for the native population. When they go out in the desert, she trails after them.
They find the ruins of what was an old Roman city, bet you didn\'t know the Romans got that far south. Brazzi also learns what happened to his father with a letter found on his remains and two other human remains and some forensic conclusions. For the rest of the story if you\'ve seen any adaption of Somerset Maugham\'s Rain you know what\'s going to happen.
I have to say that on the plus side Jack Cardiff\'s color cinematography of the Libyan desert because that\'s where the film was shot is breathtakingly beautiful. The rest of it is kind of silly. Forgetting the fact that Sophia with two men on the desert is going to lead to obvious complications, I cannot believe that Wayne was taking booze on the trip. In his role here and in real life Wayne was a prodigious drinker. But alcohol except some small amount for medicinal emergencies is an outright hazard on the desert. The sun will dehydrate you that much quicker if you keep drinking alcohol as well as water. Not to mention traveling by day instead of by night.
My conclusion is that since this was a Batjac production, John Wayne wanted to do something that could be classified as arty. Since he had already done well in The Long Voyage Home, I\'m not sure what he felt he had to prove.
I do wonder what Somerset Maugham must have thought when he saw this film though.
Three years before,Hathaway had made \"garden of evil\" a western which dealt with almost the same subject;in spite of the general opinion,I think that \"legend of the lost\" surpasses the former work.
The audience must be disturbed by the slow pace and by the fact that there are only three characters .Like in \"garden of evil\" ,danger does not come from the outside ,it\'s already here ,in man\'s heart.And what\'s really puzzling is the psychological evolution of these characters:Paul is the most interesting;it\'s very unusual that the \"good \" hero,with whom we side during the first half of the movie,should turn into the \"villain\".
Hathaway makes a wonderful use of the location ,as he did some years before with his masterpiece \"Niagara\" :he works wonders with the infinite desert and its mirages and the old lost Roman city.The part in these ruins climaxes the movie:as Dita says ,there are ghosts in this place ,and some ghost do not come from a remote time.The discovery by the raiders of the three skeletons is a good example of \"the plot repeats itself\" ,a trick that many directors have tackled (see for instance Branagh\'s \"dead again\" ,1991):Joe \'s sinister \"archeology\" -trying to piece together the drama which happened some twenty years before- will trigger Paul\'s lunacy:little by little,he who was a virtuous man will become more and more threatening.He who was raised on Bible ,will adorn Dita with jewels,like a pagan idol.
I say it again,Spielberg\'s aficionados won\'t be satisfied:action takes a back seat to psychology and to the splendor of the settings.But it will reward people who like offbeat works.Too bad Hathaway should have ruled out any ambiguity of his ending;had he allowed some doubt,we would have had a Dino Buzzati (Il deserto dei tartari) style conclusion.