Wed
Mar 26 2014 11:00am

Connery. Sean Connery. Goes West… and Beyond

Sean Connery filmed one traditional Western: 1968’s Shalako. But two others have strong Western bonds (no additional charge for the bad pun) and deserve viewing by anyone who enjoys the genre.

It would have been interesting to see the individual seeking finance for the film: “So, what do you think about a Sean Connery Western featuring French sex-kitten Brigitte Bardot and directed by Edward Dmytryk—yeah, one of the Hollywood Ten during the McCarthy-era 'red scare.' Oh, and we’ll have Woody Strode playing a Native American. … Sounds kinda strange? Didn’t I mention that we’re adapting the Louis L’Amour book Shalako for screen?”

I can just imagine, though, the mention of the name Sean Connery at the time —1960’s biggest actor and cultural phenomenon—immediately got the green light for the project.

Well, the film went on and lost money at the box office. But how does it look through 21st century eyes?

The central plot revolves around a hunting party of European aristocrats led into Apache territory in 1880’s New Mexico by an opportunistic guide. Among the social elite is a beautiful French countess, Irina Lazaar (Bardot), who wanders off by herself. When she is attacked by Apaches, Shalako, a former Cavalry officer sent by the Army to escort the party off Indian land, shows up. He helps fight off the attackers, killing many, and Irina also kills a man in self-defense. Shalako is able to make a treaty with the Apache that if they give him until sundown, he will get the aristocrats off their land.

Shalako and Irina return to the main camp to tell them they need to leave. But the hunting party’s arrogance gets in the way, and they are determined to stay to Shalako’s annoyance.

Irina says to Shalako, “You don’t like us very much do you?”

Shalako, “No. You’re trouble. Stone-dumb, useless trouble. But, you, well, you’re too beautiful to die.”

Actually, he recognizes the countess has more humanity than the rest of the party, because when she had told the others she had shot an Apache, they seemed to think killing a “savage” wasn’t any worse than killing an animal. She’d reminded them he was a man and showed considerable remorse. And that, dear readers, is the only reason I can imagine that Shalako gives a damn beyond it being his job. With the rest of the party he’s been assigned to protect being so greedy, it’s a puzzle that he helps them at all.

Before Shalako leaves them, he shows them how to stave off an attack, and then begins his journey alone to convince the Army to help the wandering idiots. Hours later, from quite a distance, he sees the Apaches attacking and sets a fire high in the mountain to scare them off. It works and with a change of plan, he returns to the party to lead them out of hostile territory himself.
This time, he succeeds in convincing the party to leave, though several more in the group die and he has a climatic mano-a-mano with Mako (Strode), the Apache who had been gunning for him, with a bit of compassion from Mako’s wizened father.

Bardot is an acting standout in a uniformly fine cast that includes Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, and Honor Blackman. Having an African American play a Native American may ruffle many modern viewers. The story itself is well worn but having Connery and Bardot present gives the proceedings a fresh take. Worth a look but with reservations.

Just because the next flick is set in 1854 and involves a train doesn’t make The First Great Train Robbery (1979) a true Western, but there are enough fundamentals in play that most Westerns enthusiasts won’t nitpick. (Known in the U.S. as The Great Train Robbery, it’s not to be confused with the 1903 Edwin S. Porter film of the same name.) This particular movie was adapted and directed by Michael Crichton from his own more intricate novel based on an actual event—the first hold-up of a moving train in 1855.

Connery didn’t seem too out of place, to me, in Shalako but he certainly looks more at home playing Edward Pierce, a member of London's high society, who's also a crook making plans to steal a shipment of gold being transported cross-country to finance the Crimean War. Helping him out is his mistress Miriam, (the charming and underrated Lesley-Anne Down). She’s in love with Pierce, though she’s not so sure of his intentions toward her, especially when he must romance a socialite to further his scheme. Miriam inquires, “Do you ever tell anyone the truth?” Pierce pauses a moment before coldly responding with a calculating smirk, “The truth. No.”

The plan for the robbery is pretty straightforward. They must make copies of four bullion keys to gain access to the money. Each key is housed with a different individual. Enter Donald Sutherland who plays Robert Agar, a pickpocket and infamous screwsman, who makes duplicates faster than you can yell “Stop, thief!” The highlight of the film though is Connery’s daring traversal atop a speeding train; although one might wonder why he decided to don a Scottish cap at the last second, which may have been because if the actor’s toupee flew away, it wouldn’t be too hair-raising (last bad pun in this article).

The First Great Train Robbery is a lot of fun with Sutherland and Connery as perfect matches. It is not to be missed.

Much darker horizons await 1981’s futuristic Outland, a space Western set on Jupiter’s moon Io. Connery plays Marshal William T. O'Niel recently stationed at the base with his wife and son.

It’s a hardship tour-of-duty made worse when his wife unexpectedly leaves him to take their son on the one year trip back to Earth. However, he is quickly distracted as several individuals begin to go mad. One worker goes into the atmosphere without his pressure suit. Another cuts his suit open on purpose. “It happens here,” a doctor soberly informs him. With the doctor’s assistance,

O’Niel learns a strong amphetamine is being given to the workers to make them more productive. But the drug has one potentially lethal side effect … it can make them psychotic after 10-11 months of use, and, of course, the greedy corporate money-makers are willing to take that chance at the worker’s expense.

O’Niel intercepts a message from a corporate chief (played by the magnificent Peter Boyle) that an inside contact will spread the word on base not to trust O’Niel or protect him. This is coupled with the news that a shuttle is delivering a set of thugs to do in the meddlesome marshal.

Like Will Kane in High Noon, O’Neil finds himself standing alone.
When the sympathetic doctor asks why O’Niel is willing to risk his life, he responds wearily, “There’s a whole machine that works because everybody does what their supposed to. I’ve found out I was supposed to be something I didn’t like. That’s what’s in the program. That’s my rotten little part in the rotten machine. I don’t like it. So I’m going to find out if they’re right.”
Outland is very much a testament that human weaknesses will predominate and it takes just one human to stand up and fight the good fight. Though, the movie is a bit dated tech wise, it’s still worth the time, not just for Connery’s reliable acting but also the relevant message.


Edward A. Grainger, aka David Cranmer, is the author of the Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles series and recently edited BEAT to a PULP: Trails of the Wild.

Read all posts by Edward A. Granger for Criminal Element.

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23 comments
1. Macavityabc
Saw (and enjoyed) all these in the theater. I don't have as many reservations about Shalako as you do.
Edward A. Grainger
2. EdwardAGrainger
Devout aficionados should have no issue with Shalako. And it makes me wish Connery had made more traditional Westerns.
Jennifer Vandenberg
3. LadyJay
I've never heard of any of these movies but I want to see them all. I love watching Sean Connery in anything and I also love old westerns. Thanks for the suggestions.
Brian Greene
4. BrianGreene
Nicely done, David. I haven't seen any of these and am now especially eager to watch Outland.
5. Ron Scheer
I remember liking Outland. Frances Sternhagen (the doctor) is an old favorite. The Great Train Robbery sounds like fun.
Scott Adlerberg
6. ScottAdlerberg
Good piece. I saw THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY years back when it opened. It is indeed a fun stylish movie , a nice change of pace for Crichton. Never saw SHALAKO so have to catch up with that. Excellent cast at the very least.
Edward A. Grainger
7. EdwardAGrainger
LadyJay, I’m glad I could introduce a few Sean Connery films to your viewing schedule. And, I agree, I could watch him in anything.
Brian, OUTLAND is a good place to start. Very much a film of the time but still quite enjoyable.
Ron, Frances Sternhagen is a solid talent. Enjoyed her grit in the film.
Scott, And whenever I watch TRAIN it makes me wish Hollywood could find more films like that for Anne Down. She’s an effortless comedienne that’s a lot of fun to watch.
8. nigel
I'll be checking out Shalako - it seems familiar, but I don't remember seeing it. Mr Connery does have a touch of class, even when his tongue is firmly embedded into his cheek.
9. Cary Watson
I saw SHALAKO a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty unremarkable except for having an amusing mish-mash of unlikely accents in the lead roles. Connery with his Scots accent, Bardot reading her lines in phonetic English, and Jack Hawkins being dubbed (by Charles Gray, I think) because of his throat cancer. And it has the worst title song I've ever heard, bar none. THE WIND AND THE LION could count as a western given that Bond takes a role that equates to that of an outlaw or Indian chief.
Edward A. Grainger
10. EdwardAGrainger
Nigel, He has class to spare, that's for sure. Like James Coburn (who I reviewed recently) he enhances every film.

Cary, I didn't mention the title tune and, agree, it is head-scratching bad. THE WIND AND THE LION. Yeah, another fine Connery performance equaled by Candice Bergen. Been awhile since I've seen LION and am already stretching for my Kindle Fire to see if they have it listed. Thanks for the tip.
11. mates
Love Sean Connery, I did not realize he starred in so many western films. I will look these up, Great review.
13. Kayla Knapp
I have THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, that I enjoy, and will have to check out these films now.
14. Kevin Casey
I absolutly love almost all of Sean Connery's films. I never guessed that he would star in so many old westerns. Thank's for the informational article!
Edward A. Grainger
15. EdwardAGrainger
Kayla, I prefer the Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill graphic novel of GENTLEMEN a bit more but enjoy the hell out of Connery’s take on Allan Quatermain.
Thanks for stopping by, Kevin. And the kind words. Appreciated.
16. Richard Prosch
When OUTLAND came out, I read the novel first, then saw the movie. Connery was terrific, but I remember my inner geek being upset at astronauts smoking in space! Great post!
Edward A. Grainger
17. EdwardAGrainger
Rich, Yeah. There may be issues with smoking in space. Ha. I didn't even think about that as I was watching OUTLAND.
18. dMix
When I think of Sean Connery I think of THE NAME OF THE ROSE but I've never seen one of the Westerns and will have to check them out.
Edward A. Grainger
19. EdwardAGrainger
dMix, Liked ROSE but haven't seen that Connery film since the 1980s. And have been meaning to read the Umberto Eco novel for as about as many years.
20. Oscar Case
Saw Shalako. Forgot Shalako. Remembered Bardot, though.
Edward A. Grainger
21. EdwardAGrainger
I know what you mean, Oscar. Bardot was stunning—the height of her allure.
22. Garnett Elliott
I never gave Outland enough love as a kid--not lasery enough. But as a teen, and later an adult, I grew to appreciate it. Connery does an excellent job portraying a principled (and lonely) lawman in a corrupt solar system.
Edward A. Grainger
23. EdwardAGrainger
Garnett, And it's that lone principled Federal Marshal that makes this film a winner for me. Maybe OUTLAND's a bit too straightforward in its storytelling but still a very nice homage to HIGH NOON and similar movies like THE GUNFIGHTER.
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