Between The Searchers in 1956 and Rio Bravo in 1959, John Wayne made a handful of films that I’m fairly certain most of us Duke fans would agree are not exactly his most memorable. Sadly his union with the latest bombshell to saunter across movie screens falls into that category. Duke was teamed with Sophia Loren for this Batjac (Duke’s company) desert treasure hunt production that looks beautiful thanks to Loren of course but also director Henry Hathaway and the famed director of photography, Jack Cardiff. Alas instead of treasure hunting they should have gone looking for a better script. Or if I might suggest they should have brought in Dick Foran to hunt down the tomb of the Princess Ananka.
OK now that I’ve got that out of my system let’s get on with the show and just appreciate the fact that the previously mentioned crew minus Mr. Foran got together in a desert local to make a movie.
Character actor Kurt Kasznar plays a local official in a whole in the wall town where we’ll meet Rossano Brazzi looking for a guide to lead him into the Sahara desert in search of a lost city said to contain untold riches. PAGING INDIANA JONES. What Brazzi gets is the world’s most beautiful pickpocket, Sophia and a drunken layabout, Duke Wayne. One look at Duke’s outfit and he’s ready for a western adventure. This may not be an actual western but that hasn’t deterred Duke from donning his customary duds.
Brazzi and Duke set out alone but are followed by the beautiful Sophia who has become smitten with the fatherly Brazzi. Brazzi is actually following the same route his long lost Father took into the Sahara ten years previously, never to return. Duke’s against Sophia tagging along but will have little say in her staying as this is Brazzi’s expedition. It’s become fairly obvious by this point that Duke and Loren have previously tangled in the bars and dives that Duke frequents and Sophia is more than accustomed to men like Duke pawing at her. The pair start out with a distain for each other but knowing Hollywood, that is bound to change.
As this is a desert locale, we can be sure that camel riding bandits and sandstorms are bound to turn up adding some dramatics to the journey and of course the desire to quench one’s thirst when there’s barely a drop of water remaining in the canteens.
When that sand storm hits, Duke and Sophia must get a might too close under that tarp protecting them from the grains of blowing sand because they seem to develop a burning desire for one another. At least Duke does anyway though Sophia is bound to come around.
What’s a Duke movie without a fist fight? With no barroom in sight for a donnybrook, Brazzi steps in to protect the fair maiden when Duke gets a little too close. It’s an odd scene in that it’s the customary Duke brawl with Sophia subbing in for Maureen O’Hara as she gets pushed and brushed aside in a comical vein while the men go toe to toe. All the time making goofy faces and finally laying Duke out with a frying pan. Yup, it’s a Maureen O’Hara imitation if I’ve ever seen one. Heck, I half expected Chill Wills to stop in for a roundhouse right hook.
There is still plenty of foolishness to come including the reason why they are briefly out of water, locating the lost city that isn’t exactly buried or in some subterranean world but is actually the lost city of Timgad in Libya standing upright for everyone to see if you make the journey and of course just how are we going to remove Brazzi from the romantic triangle. Surely Brazzi must have looked at the pages in the script and realized this is as hokey as they come. In little time at all, he turns from the gentle fatherly type to a murderous madman brought on by greed and a jealous rage.
Surely he knew going in that this is a Duke Wayne-Sophia Loren adventure and he’d have to step aside in the final reel.
OK, I’ve tried to direct some fun at this Hathaway production and why not. I’m trying to find some enjoyment in a rather boring effort considering the talents involved. Duke wouldn’t fare much better in his next film either, The Barbarian and the Geisha but thankfully Rio Bravo would set the box office straight after that. 1957 was the breakout year for Sophia in Hollywood. She had three films released opposite Hollywood heavyweights. Her co-stars in that one year thanks to the movies, Boy on a Dolphin, Legend/Lost and The Pride and the Passion were Alan Ladd, Duke, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. Brazzi himself would fare far better with his next release, Joshua Logan’s South Pacific.
Pretty to look at, Lost has been released on blu ray by Kino Lorber if you Duke/Loren collectors are looking to upgrade from your DVD or VHS tape copies.