Henry Hathaway’s Boys Own adventure Legend Of The Lost is given extra curiosity value by Ben Hecht’s philosophical script. John Wayne leads Rossano Brazzi and Sophia Loren on a journey of self-discovery as they search the Sahara for hidden treasure.
Wayne is transported from the Wild West’s rocky outcrops to the exotic expanses of the Sahara to play desert guide Joe January. He’s hired to lead seemingly pious Paul Bernard (Brazzi) to his father’s grave – and a cache of hidden treasure – located in a long lost city deep within the dunes. They’re accompanied on the trek by Dita, a sultry, stray prostitute, played with great allure by Loren in only her second Hollywood film.
The journey is arduous, and the two men entertain themselves by vying for the ample affections of their young companion. However, when the trio finally arrives at the city and finds the loot, Bernard’s true colours shine through. He makes off with the stash and leaves his accomplices for dead. A fitting end awaits him, but can Joe and Dita escape to safety?
Like most of director Hathaway’s films, the narrative is straightforward, allowing for action, romance, a simple dramatic conflict between good and evil, an acceleration of pace and a lingering appreciation of panoramic landscape (beautifully captured by Michael Powell’s regular cameraman, Jack Cardiff). But what sets Legend Of The Lost apart is its metaphysical aspiration. The journey to the lost city sees the characters hypnotised by the desert’s mystique. Mirages take on spiritual significance, the mighty horizon lulls them into contemplation, and their search for the hidden treasure becomes nothing less than a symbolic quest for the Holy Grail.
Things improved for everyone concerned after the film’s poor performance. Everyone, that is, except Brazzi. Hecht followed up with A Farewell To Arms, Hathaway and Wayne went on to make True Grit, and Loren became one of her generation’s greatest sex symbols. Brazzi? He ended up on trial for arms smuggling (fully acquitted).
USA / 1957
Director: Henry Hathaway
Writer: Ben Hecht, Robert Presnell Jr
Cast: John Wayne, Sophia Loren, Rossano Brazzi, Kurt Kasznar, Ibrahim El Hadish, Sonia Moser, Angela Portaluri