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A group of arrogant European hunters takes to the North American West to pursue game. Apaches? Am I about to say, little do they know that they will have to encounter hostile Apaches? Nope. Actually, it is, once they find out there are hostile Apaches, the more they want to stay. That is the tone set by the group's arrogant leader, Baron Frederick Von Hallstatt (Peter van Eyck). He and his haughty group, a German and a bunch with supercilious British accents, do not want to yield to "savages," but desire to teach them a lesson, even though the Apaches have treaty rights on their side.
Sean Connery plays Carlin, a hunter and tracker, but he is known as Shalako, a name given to him by the Indians. The tracker who leads the group, however, is Bosky Fulton (Steven Boyd). Rivaling Connery's celebrity in the film are those beautiful European actresses Brigitte Bardot (Countess Irina Lazaar) and Honor Blackman (Lady Julia Daggett). The Countess is supposedly being matched with the Baron, but she and Shalako later have eyes for each other. As for Lady Julia, she is married to Sir Charles Daggett, who loves her, but Lady Julia and Fulton have something cooking. The other leading couple is Senator Henry Clarke (Alexander Knox) and his wife Elena (played by the also-beautiful Valerie French). There are a few others in the Europeans' coterie, and Fulton leads a slightly larger group of American frontier types who escort them. Toward the start of the movie, when the Countess is hunting on her own, the Apaches kill the Countess' companion but let her and Shalako, who was passing by, go. This is after Shalako promises to tell the group to get off Apache territory. The group does not cooperate, and the Apaches attack the Europeans' encampment, and I will stop my narrative.
By and large, the characters, including Shalako, are uninteresting. As the protagonist, he continues to make the right moves, in contrast to the loser Baron, but is given no character development and is not a compelling presence. Yes, Sean Connery is miscast and boring here. His character is not even worthy of the mediocre eponymous score. The Europeans have their boring and condescending say; sometimes, one gets the sense that director Edward Dmytryk deliberately has them muttering or whispering inaudibly to emphasize their emptiness, nothing to listen to anyway.
Still, I like the movie, and the reason is its atmosphere. I am not aware of other movies in which Indians are fighting not white American settlers but aristocratic Europeans. Not only is the tension grounded more tightly because the supercilious Europeans add the level of snobbery to the typical superior attitude of whites, but we also know they are unfamiliar with Indians. Like the men, Lady Julia thinks the Indians are savages. She has the stereotypical terror of them one might think a member of 19th-century European nobility might feel. Such a group is not made up of people of the land in the sense of American whites, but people with a silver spoon in their mouth. Perhaps the tension in "Shalako" is comparable to the tension in some flicks in which well-to-do Europeans go to African jungles. Here, the backdrop is instead the wide open expanses of Western plains and mountains, shot well by the cinematographers, who do very well with the distance shots as well as the closer-up action scenes.
Also, the story involves some intrigue, if uncomplicated, including the treachery of Fulton and Lady Julia. Honor Blackman is not a femme fatale Pussy Galore, but she is a traitoress of sorts. Some fairly graphic combat scenes are included, as was beginning to be the trend in the late 1960s in American and European films; Lady Julia screams in a gruesome scene involving a spearing, and in another, suffice it to say she is "handled" by the Indians. That is quite an intense one, worth seeing. However, as a final note, don't expect much from the ending, which as one might expect involves a face-off with the Indians. It befits the mediocrity of the overall script and characters, except it is perhaps worse.
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