Books to Movies: L’Amour’s Shalako
How many books did Louis L’Amour write before he died in 1988 at the age of 80? 105 novels and other books, almost all of them westerns or set in the West. This one was written in 1962. It’s a western genre piece by a king of western genre and the book is often called a real “page turner.” My clipped synopsis of the book follows.
The book: The namesake was a familiar western “wang” to it, as it should – “Shalako” is a series of dances and ceremonies conducted by the Zuni people for their at the winter solstice, typically following the harvest.
In the book, Shalako Carlin is a loner, a soldier of fortune who’d served in the Civil War, and described as a brooding white man as cunning as any Indian, who trusted nothing but his weapon and his horse. Shalako was determined to cross the bleak Sonoran Desert – the Apaches’ killing ground, by himself. But then he came across a European hunting party, and a beautiful Russian woman, stranded and defenseless, part of wealthy Europeans who thought they would go hunting in the Wild West, but ended up in the middle of an Apache war land. Their only hope of surviving is the hero who appears – Shalako. To make matters worse there’s an outlaw gang looking for them and a rogue Indian chief looking to kill our hero. Shalako also finds that this Russian woman is for him, and he knew that he had to stay and help them survive.
Shalako’s book action unfolds over a five-day period in southwestern New Mexico, and also tells of the historic Apache meute from San Carlos and their joining with the bands out of the Mexican Sierra Madres in the early spring of 1882. There’s should be little doubt that within the some 320 million copies L’Amour sold, Shalako was and is a huge portion of those sales.
The Movie: The 5 million dollar (Connery got one million of that), 1968 movie of the same name, was directed by the distinguished Edward Dmytryk, and though set in New Mexico it was actually shot in Almeria, Spain, a country where so many Italian westerns were filmed. But with this one, you can’t smell the spaghetti. It starred of course, Sean Connery with a good cast of Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Peter Van Eyck, Woody Strode, and second time around for Sean and Honor (I must be dreaming) Blackman. Boyd as a lead outlaw and Strode as the vindictive Indian chief Chato, turn in their usual best.
The movie follows the core essence-idea of the book. European hunting safaris in the ol’ western USA plots were not new. The concept has appeared in westerns dating way back like in TV westerns “Have Gun Will Travel” and “How the West Was Won” with James Arness to name two examples. Complainers also said that the movie was like “Hombre” (the group-party hunted on the run thing) and “Hondo” (the Indian vengeance thing). Movie critics even mention a replication of a trench fighting scene that was just like the one in Dmytryk’s “Anzio” war movie. Some movie customers and critics in 1968 complained about Scot Sean Connery as the “cowboy” star, and that his accent wasn’t totally buried when he speaks. But these folks must remember U.S. history! That the west was chockfull, jam-filled with immigrants with all kinds of accents and languages.
“Standard,” “well-worn,” “uninspiring,” “unexceptional,” and “ho-hum” where terms tossed around about the movie. IMDB review recognizes the commonly used theme, yet says… “Still, the film has merit for it’s collection of international actors, it’s inventive violence and it’s unusual approach to the western genre. (In some ways, it resembles a 1970’s disaster movie! An all-star cast gets dressed up, faces peril, gets dirty, and only a handful survive!).” Records show the movie didn’t even make back the one million dollars back they paid Connery.
For me, yes, when you watch the movie, it seems like you’ve seen it all before, but you still want to watch it. I do. I also eat the same kind of pizza a lot. Most of the world always found Sean Connery an engaging scene eater. When the movie opens up, (as seen in the theme song link I attached below), we see Shalako AND his horse down on the ground asleep side-by-side. I’d never seen that before and I was immediately impressed and paying extra attention. (I even bought the soundtrack album as a kid.) I think the movie is a top-notch, version-production of what you feel like you’ve seen before, what you’ve expected, and what you want in a western story like this.
Addendum: So goes Shalako…but did L’ Amour want the “Shalako concept” to live on beyond the timeless sales of his books? Bob Boze Bell of True West Magazine reported in 2007 that “L’Amour did dream of building an Old West town as a tourist attraction. He says…”My friend Jim Dunham tells me, ‘I got to meet Louis L’Amour on several occasions in Durango, Colorado, and he told me he had abandoned his plan to build a Western town called ‘Shalako’ on land he owned in the Four Corners area. Research showed it would cost millions and never reap a profit. He was probably right about that. Today, you’ll find a vacation resort about five miles from Mancos called the Shalako House.’ I’m guessing the old L’ Amour property was sold and somebody built a resort on it.”
For more on Shalako!
- Louis L’Amour’s New Mexico – https://www.historynet.com/louis-lamours-new-mexico.htm
- The Movie title and music, (worth watching for cematography and resounding music) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H1v4YRBvF0
- And a wild movie trailer with no titles, just scenes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xt0TV494OzA
- The town of Shalako, the unrealized dream https://louis-lamour.medium.com/shalako-the-unrealized-dream-ec43bad2f6f7