SHALAKO (Dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1968)

Shalako, a ragged Euro-Western, opens with the bombastic lyrics of Jim Dale, another high point of late 1960s kitsch, before giving the false promise that this is going to be a story about Western imperialism. A detestable hunting party, made up of unpleasant British, German and American imperialists, haughtily enter an Indian reservation, provoking a group of Apache who naturally want to defend what little land they have left. The aristocratic tendencies of the hunting party are crystallised in the memorably bizarre image of Eric Sykes as a butler serving dinner in the desert. Shalako, Connery in another post Bond role, as a conventional outlaw and peace-maker, forewarns the hunting party from going up against the Apache. Naturally, the hunting party refuse to heed the warnings with the aggressive aim of teaching ‘the Indians’ a lesson.

The promise of a political Western which could have critiqued class never truly materialises and instead chooses to frame the narrative as a half-baked cat & mouse thriller, culminating in Connery and Woody Strode (cast as one of the Apache) settling their differences in a mundane spear fight. Shalako refrains from killing the Apache at the end because we mustn’t forget the white man understands the limits of savagery unlike the Native American who is totally abhorrent and resigned to violence. While the film does signify the white imperialists, be they from Britain or America, are no match for the superiority of the Apache, the Native American still remains as the savage Other who rapes and kills indiscriminately. Bardot co-stars along with Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins.

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