In the Old West, it was a custom for visiting dignitaries from Europe to travel the American plains and go big game hunting there. So it is that the guests of Senator Henry Clarke (Alexander Knox) have ventured onto the Apache reservation and are bagging big cats: Countess Irinia Lazaar (Brigitte Bardot) has just shot one. However, she is growing tired of the company and wanders off alone where she finds a man staked to the ground by the Indians, and if that's not bad enough they are still around and heading in her direction. There's only one man who will save her now: army scout Shalako (Sean Connery)!
It all sounds quite exciting, doesn't it? So where does it go wrong? With the unusual cast it features, one would have thought this film would have created a few sparks - Connery and Bardot, together at last! - but you're never convinced their characters are attracted to each other, not least because they only have about three scenes where they are alone together in a film that lasts almost two hours. It's a pity, because it starts well, with an interesting premise: the Europeans straining for civilisation in an area where such airs and graces are not welcome.
This was a British western, shot in Spain, but as you may be aware the list of great British westerns is a short one with Shalako notable in its absence. This was the film Connery opted to make instead of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, wanting out of the whole Bond circus before being tempted back for one more after he had made this. Too often his protagonist is sidelined for the others to make their mark, and this weakens his position when, say, bad guy guide Fulton (Stephen Boyd) takes centre stage to catch the eye of straying noblewoman Lady Julia (Honor Blackman).
So it's more of an ensemble than a star vehicle, and among its international cast there are eccentricities such as Woody Strode playing the son of the Apache chief or funnyman Eric Sykes in a straight role as a butler. Another aspect that stands out is the more adult tone, obviously attempting to take on the more ruthless handling of the European westerns hailing from the Continent, so we get someone bloodily shot in the face just a year after Bonnie and Clyde, gaping wounds and that bloke who was staked to the ground goring himself on a spike.
A more memorable demise comes when Lady Julia is caught by the Indians when her fleeing stagecoach is overturned, the lesson being, don't play dead and don't offer your attacker your jewellery if he is preoccupied with pouring dust into your mouth. Yes, those Apaches are angry at the invasion of these whites, no matter that there aren't many of them, and this being a British western the question of class inevitably intrudes. This we see when the posh party can barely conceal their arrogance as Shalako demands that they leave only to receive the reply that they don't think they will be much troubled by "savages". There's a sense of just desserts when the attacks commence, but we're supposed to be on the Europeans' side as Shalako is (for reasons of keeping the peace), and they're an unsympathetic bunch. Also, how much makeup does Bardot have on? She wears more warpaint than Strode. Music by Robert Farnon, with lyrics to the theme song by Jim Dale, funnily enough.