- Produced and Directed by Henry Hathaway
- December 17, 1957
An American living in Libya is hired by a man to take him into the desert in search of treasure but complications arise on their journey.
Legend of the Lost is a John Wayne adventure film from 1957 whose cast only really includes Sophia Loren and Rossano Brazzi. For much of the film these are the only three characters on screen. The only other character of significance in the story is the police captain Prefect Dukas (Kurt Kasznar) but once these three are on their adventure he no longer factors into things with the rest of the story being carried by the trio.
John Wayne is local guide Joe January who is an American living in Libya. For some reason I really like that name. Joe is a cocky individual who finds himself at the start of the film sitting in the prefect’s jail. The local prefect is fond of levying “fines” against Joe in exchange for his freedom but this time has decided to take the prison time because he owes too much.
Joe is hired by Paul Bonnard (Rossano Brazzi), ostensibly go look for his missing father in the desert in exchange for enough money to get financially out from under the prefect but what it really turns out to be is an expedition to locate a fabled lost city and its treasure that his father claimed to have found years before. As this story goes along it seems that Paul finding his father is practically secondary. It becomes clear that this endeavor is more about satisfying his greed than discovering the fate of a lost relative.
Sophia Loren is Dita who becomes attracted to Paul because he is willing to overlook her questionable past. Unwilling to be without him, she invites herself along on their adventure. She is a soul who wants to be better but keeps finding herself doing wrong. Paul thinks of her as better but Joe can get her to be better.
A bit of a love triangle grows between the three. It is clear Joe is competition for Paul for the heart of Dita. Joe and Dita are clearly developing romantic feelings for each other despite an initial antagonism and she is moving emotionally away from Paul.
Joe is the tougher than tough man and Paul is the inexperienced city boy. Dita is the beautiful woman who woos them both. Sophia Loren was one of the great screen beauties as well as being a talented actress. She was just always a stunning woman and physically outshined anyone she was on screen with. Do you really notice John Wayne or Rossano Brazzi when Sophia Loren is in view? No. No you don’t. If you say otherwise you are a liar.
The story focuses on their trials and tribulations traveling through the desert until they reach their destination which is not the fabled lost city Paul believed to have been located but rather an ancient Roman city. Legend of the Lost itself reminded me a touch of the old-school adventure serials. A condensed one anyway. A valuable treasure. A mysterious lost city in the desert. Passions flaring between a man and a woman. It has so many of the elements that made those stories enjoyable.
There is something you do not realize until Joe, Dita, and Paul arrive at the lost city and locate three skeletons-one of which is definitely Paul’s missing father. It is not clear until this point but the events of their trip parallels what happened to Paul’s father 10 years prior. A love triangle developed on his journey which ended in the death of all three and that appears to be happening again.
Hathaway was a good director and worked with Wayne on such films as The Shepherd of the Hills, Circus World, the great The Sons of Katie Elder, and the amazing True Grit. He also directed Marilyn Monroe in her breakthrough role in Niagara. That right there is not too bad.
Here Hathaway crafts an entertaining adventure yarn with an exotic feel. Real Tuaregs, an ancient desert tribe, were used in this film. Legend of the Lost is slow and steady with things really picking up once our trio reaches their destination. When Paul loses his mind things get exciting and dangerous as his paranoia and realizations about his father overwhelm him and cause him to descend into madness.
One thing that tells you not only the age of this film but how much times have changed is that in the credits the producers thanked the United Kingdom of Libya for their assistance during the production. What a difference at 64 years makes. Not only is Libya no longer a kingdom but the guy that came after is no longer in power.
Legend of the Lost is a must see for Wayne fans but not so much for the general film viewer. What we see here has been repeated many times before and since and younger viewers may not be able to enjoy it having seen the stuff that has been done since.