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,Legend of the Lost

Legend of the Lost

In the mid to late 1950s, John Wayne, always identified with either the Western or war movie genre, found himself in some exotic locales playing unusual roles with unlikely co-stars. In The Conqueror (1956), he was Genghis Khan, building a Mongolian empire and winning the love of a Tartar princess (played by Susan Hayward!). Two years later in The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), he was surrounded by a largely Asian cast as a diplomat sent to Japan. Smack in the middle came this curiosity, in which Wayne, as ne'er-do-well Joe January, assists a Saharan treasure hunting expedition that includes Rossano Brazzi as an unhinged religious man and Sophia Loren as a Timbuktu bordello babe along for the rough ride. Despite such Indiana Jones-like assets as being able to use a sextant in the desert and translate inscriptions carved on Roman ruins, Wayne is basically the same laconic tough guy he played in his more typical movies.

Legend of the Lost was put together by film industry veterans with impressive credentials. Director Henry Hathaway worked with John Wayne nine times, beginning with The Shepherd of the Hills (1941) and ending with Wayne's Oscar®-winning role in True Grit (1969). Co-author Ben Hecht, nearing the end of his career by the time of this movie, was one of Hollywood's most successful and acclaimed screenwriters with such films to his credit as Nothing Sacred (1937), Notorious (1946), and Monkey Business (1952) - as well as dozens of even more famous pictures for which his important contributions remained uncredited. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff's remarkable longevity has seen him at the lens of the historical disaster movie The Last Days of Pompeii in 1935 as well as its 1984 TV mini-series remake. In between, he shot pictures as varied as The Red Shoes (1948), The African Queen (1951), and Death on the Nile (1978). Winner of numerous international honors, Cardiff earned an Academy Award® for his stunning color cinematography on Black Narcissus (1947). None of this wealth of talent, however, managed to keep Legend of the Lost from being brutally panned by critics on its release.

Regardless, the shoot was an enjoyable one for Wayne, who welcomed the location work in Rome and North Africa. At one point in production, he cabled his wife, Pilar, back in the States where she was caring for their baby daughter. "Come over right away," the message said. Thinking her husband might be ill (he had injured his foot and temporarily been on crutches), Pilar made the arduous trek to the desert and found him in perfect health. Asked why he had her join him so urgently, he replied, "Wait til you see the sunsets!" She didn't share his enthusiasm for the location, where she had to sprinkle water on the dirt floor of their hut to keep the dust down.

Loren didn't have such an easy time of it, either. In fact, she later said it was physically one of the most difficult pictures she ever made, in the course of which she almost died. Shooting in the ancient Libyan town of Ghadames, the only accommodation was what Loren called "a flimsy, primitive, unheated motel." At night the desert cold was unbearable, and the only warmth in her room was a gas space heater installed by the crew. Because her room was on the ground floor, she locked the doors and windows every night. One night she began having terrible nightmares from which she could not rouse herself. Then suddenly with a violent crash, she fell from her bed onto the tile floor, gasping for air. The space heater had eaten all the oxygen in the room and the actress found herself half comatose, struggling to drag herself toward the door while she became overcome with deadly carbon monoxide fumes. Calling on her remaining reserves of strength, she crawled to the door and grabbed the knob, tumbling out into the hallway where she was discovered by her co-star Brazzi, and saved at the last minute.

Not only was he a literal life-saver, Brazzi was also Loren's greatest compensation during the production. She enjoyed his constant performing, mimicry and singing (usually "Some Enchanted Evening" from his hit musical, South Pacific, filmed prior to this but not released until 1958).

Director/Producer: Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Robert Presnell, Jr., Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Editing: Bert Bates
Art Direction: Alfred Ybarra
Original Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: John Wayne (Joe January), Sophia Loren (Dita), Rossano Brazzi (Paul Bonnard), Kurt Kasznar (Prefect Dukas).
C-109m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon



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