Five years before we saw the mystique of life in the desert with Lawrence of Arabia, and decades before we saw archaeologists in action with Indiana Jones, there was Henry Hathaway’s now almost unknown, Legend of the Lost.
This movie is good and bad all at the same time, which is surprising because of the trio of cast members.
American screen legend John Wayne stars alongside two Italian icons of cinema, Rossano Brazzi and the up-and-coming Sophia Loren. One would think that with such a cast, the film’s acting would be of legendary status, but in fact, the acting ended up being its downfall.
Wayne plays a hard-drinking, tough-as-nails trailblazer Joe January, who is hired by Brazzi’s character, an archaeologist, to guide him through the Sahara desert to find a lost city that his dead father reached, but never returned from. There is also said to be a lot of treasure, in gold, rubies, and emeralds there. Along the way, Loren, who plays a prostitute in Timbuktu, joins in, and helps the two in their quest for lost treasure.
This was a film that was a new idea at the time, and no doubt inspired other archaeology themed movies in the many decades to come. Hathaway’s cinematography is visually stunning, and the movie was filmed on location in Libya, which posed as the Sahara, and on the actual site of a lost Roman city, Timgad. This added to the realism at the culmination of their journey, because it was not some back-lot set.
However, as visually appealing as it was, it was brought down by just plain bad acting. No complaints about Wayne’s character, who plays his normal tough-guy self. Brazzi, on the other hand, was just awful, and Loren was not much better. There was absolutely no chemistry between the three, and the script could have been written by a child.
There is also very little action, save for a fist fight and a few gunshots towards the end. This is a story that required peril along the way, but all we saw is the trio struggling to keep their wits about them as they wandered through the desert with little water.
Legend of the Lost was so very close to becoming an iconic work of cinema, but it missed, and now ends up as an almost unknown project in both Wayne and Hathaway’s film careers.
My final grade of this film will be a 6 out of 10, because of an original storyline and once again, the beautiful camera work and scenery. But this movie leaves an uneasy feeling in me, wondering what could have been a landmark achievement in the adventure genre.