A wealthy treasure hunter employs a brawling, jailbird adventurer to help him find a hidden treasure in the Sahara, but eventually a young woman, along for the ride and looking to marry the wealthy man, comes between them.
"The desert is full of bones that went looking for treasure."
No matter what film he was in, John Wayne was always John Wayne. The Duke as we affectionately call him always played the standup hero with gumption and his natural charisma. He may have played variations, sometimes a drunk, sometimes a broken down fighter, sometimes a tired lawman - regardless, he was always reliably the same character. With Henry Hathaway's' adventure film Legend of the Lost, Wayne is partnered up with Rossano Brazzi and the ever-beautiful Sophia Loren as a man tasked with finding a lost treasure. The film may be a tad familiar, but Wayne's swagger and Hathaway's flair for exotic locations make this film a rousing adventure steeped in action, suspense, and romance.
It ain't easy for a guy like Joe January (John Wayne). After serving his time in the French Foreign Legion, he makes due in Timbuktu as a tour guide for rich tourists who want to get a good look at the wild and untamed Sahara desert without dying. Between jobs, he spends his days and nights in a drunken stupor or locked up in jail by the crooked local magistrate. His chance for a new life and a way out of Libya arrives in the form of Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi) who is searching for his father who went missing shortly after discovering a lost treasure. Joined by local prostitute Dita (Sophia Loren) on her own path for redemption after earning the affection and respect of Paul, the three strike out into the hot and deadly desert with only cryptic clues Paul's father sent in letters a decade before.
As the story comes together about three desperate people of different backgrounds searching for a new lease on life and redemption comes together, Legend of the Lost starts to feel a tad familiar. When the trio head out in the wild desert on a crazy dream of uncovering lost riches and the infighting and suspicion starts to grip them, you begin to feel like you've seen this film before. In point of fact, the story structure and some of the character dynamics are so similar to a famous film by John Huston that Legend of the Lost could easily have been retitled "The Treasure of the Sahara Desierto." All you'd need to do is swap out Walter Huston for John Wayne, Tim Holt for Sophia Loren, and Humphrey Bogart for Rossano Brazzi and you'd very nearly have the same film only in a different location and a love triangle.
While breaking down Legend of the Lost in that way may seem dismissive, I would be amiss if I didn't say how enjoyable the whole thing was. There's very little surprise as it's very clear that John Wayne won't be the man to lose his marbles and become a threat to the party, but at the same time, how the film unfolds is interesting, exciting, and very entertaining. While Wayne may well be playing to his typecast signature "Cowboy" role, he brings a charming swagger and nuance to the character of Joe January. Basically, at any point in the movie, you're supposed to love and hate the man but ultimately like him because he's John Wayne. His Joe January is mean and bitter and treats Dita horribly while being endlessly condescending to Paul and his efforts. You get the sense that through his years Joe has been down this path before people and has become embittered and cynical. But by the time he's called on to be a selfless hero, not only is it natural to Wayne's persona, it's also natural to the character that doesn't feel forced or faked.
Working well alongside Wayne's Joe are terrific turns from Sophia Loren and Rossano Brazzi as Dita and Paul respectively. Brazzi can be a bit hammy - especially when he starts to go paranoid and batty, but he's a welcome counterpoint to Wayne's stalwart masculinity. Loren may not be able to move past her Italian roots in order to play a convincing Arab prostitute, but she ads a welcome femininity to the show and holds her own. The ensuing and expected love triangle plot may be a bit thick for some, but at the same time, her character's vacillations between Joe and Paul feel natural and never out of place. When suspicions and paranoia take hold, the love triangle dynamic helps this familiar story move along in a way that would have otherwise just been weird in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Obviously, this film isn't nearly as good as that classic piece of cinema. Legend of the Lost is content playing itself to the masses as a popular piece of adventure movie making. And it works at that. Shot on location in the deserts of Libya, director Henry Hathaway makes great use of the desolate yet exotic locations. Without faking the locations in a safe and tidy soundstage, you believe it when the three characters struggle to find water because that horizon looks to extend out into a vast ocean of brown sand and grit. While being a relatively uncomplicated film, Legend of the Lost at the very least entertaining. True Grit may be Wayne and Hathaway's best feature together, you can see that they worked well together making having made six films together starting with 1941's The Shepherd of the Hills. If you've yet to take a ride with Legend of the Lost, give it shot. It's a better than average John Wayne movie that I'm sure most fans of adventure movies will enjoy.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Legend of the Lost arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover artwork for other Studio Classics releases. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
No information was presented on the cover artwork about the vintage of this 2.35:1 1080p transfer for Legend of the Lost, but if I had to wager a guess I'd have to believe that it was done fairly recently as this is a damn beautiful looking film. Aside from some very slight speckling and a little more debris around the optical transitions and effects, but that slight quibble is the only issue I can take with this fantastic transfer. Film grain is present but never too heavy or noisy and gives the image a nice film-like quality. Detail levels are strong allowing for terrific facial features and costuming details to come through, as well as some obvious studio shoot locations where the background conveniently stops short of being natural. However, those desert location vistas are damn impressive to see making this film as much of a travelogue of sorts as it is an adventure flick. Colors have that Technicolor sparkle to them with beautifully saturated primaries. Skin tones are even and healthy - at least for the cast who hasn't had some ethnic makeup applied. Black levels are strong allowing for some decently inky blacks and shadows giving the image some terrific depth. Day for night shots are a little softer with muted colors and a flattened appearance but they still offer up decent details. All around, this is a splendid looking film and fans should be happy with this one.
Legend of the Lost also arrives with a rock solid English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and never at odds with the sound effects or the film's lush score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. Direct sound effects have a natural punch to them while some can feel canned and dubbed in. You can tell when various scenes were shot in the safety of a soundstage as there is a notable echo quality to them. Nothing out of place for a film of this period so that's not something to worry about. Even though this is a mono track, there is a nice sense of imaging as the sound of blowing winds give the sense of movement and expanse to the vast desert. Free of any hiss, pops, dropouts or other age-related anomalies, this is a pretty fantastic audio mix to accompany an impressive video transfer.
Unfortunately, no genuine bonus features were compiled for this release beyond the standard trailer gallery that most Studio Classics releases are given. It's a shame because some behind the scenes stuff or a nice film historian commentary would have been great considering the cast, director, and where the film was shot.
Theatrical Trailer (SD 3:43)
Cast A Giant Shadow Trailer (SD 3:40)
Brannigan Trailer (SD 2:22)
Rawhide Trailer (SD 2:27)
23 Paces To Baker Street Trailer (SD 2:15)
Five Miles To Midnight Trailer (SD 3:19)
Boy on a Dolphin Trailer (SD 2:25)
What more can I say at this point? If you're a fan of John Wayne, Legend of the Lost is one to keep on your radar. Sure, a lot of the plot mechanics can mirror The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it does its own thing with the material creating a suspenseful, dramatic, and romantic adventure movie. It's a lot of fun and features The Duke in his stalwart standup cowboy hero role opposite a terrific Sophia Loren and Rossano Brazzi and director Henry Hathaway makes terrific use of the film's desolate location. I had a blast with this one. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a terrific job bringing Legend of the Lost to Blu-ray with a topnotch video transfer and effective audio mix. Unfortunately, bonus features are lacking. While there might not be any exciting bonus content on this Blu-ray, I'm still calling it a recommended release. It's a fun movie that looks and sounds fantastic. Fans of the flick should be very happy to add this one to their collections.