Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sean Connery Quit James Bond To Make His First & Only Western (But It Bombed)

 Following his exit from the James Bond franchise, Sean Connery starred in his first and only Western, which proved to be a bomb upon release.

Screen Rant

By Padraig Cotter

September 15, 2023

Sean Connery exited the James Bond franchise to make his one and only Western. The success of Dr. No would kick off one of cinema's most iconic franchises, and there had never been a movie phenomenon quite on the same scale before. However, Connery began to tired of both the role and the producers behind the series. He feared being permanently typecast and that he wasn't being fairly compensated, given the overwhelming success of the franchise. He first departed 007 following 1967's You Only Live Twice, his fifth outing as Bond.

Connery struggled somewhat to escape the shadow of Bond, but in the decades that followed, he would prove with films like The Untouchables that he was a movie star independent of his most famous role. He dipped his toes into just about every genre along the way, from fantasy (Highlander), romantic drama (Robin and Marian), disaster movies (Meteor), and more. Despite being a self-professed fan of Westerns, he only jumped in the saddle once, which was also his first movie after leaving the Bond series.

After Connery left the James Bond franchise, he was swiftly replaced by George Lazenby for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Connery himself jumped straight onto Shalako, a Western adventure based on the novel by Louis L'Amour (Hondo). Connery plays the title character, a former U.S. Army scout who helps guide a bunch of snobby European aristocrats whose hunting party wanders into Apache territory. Connery's co-star was Brigitte Bardot, who turned down On Her Majesty's Secret Service to work on the Western.

Despite having little in common with the 007 saga in tone or style, Shalako still made sure to cash in on the popularity of the films. Connery was hired precisely because he was fresh off the series and was paid $1 million for starring, alongside a percentage of its grosses (via The New York Times). The film also nabbed his Goldfinger co-star Honor Blackman for a supporting role, alongside longtime cinematographer Ted Moore and Bond stuntman Bob Simmons, who "played" 007 in the gun barrel scene that opened the first three movies.

Why Shalako bombed upon release

Shalako was released when Westerns were in something of a decline in Hollywood, and the Italian Spaghetti Westerns exemplified by Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy were bringing a darker, meaner edge to the genre. Despite having a major cast and a big budget. Shalako bombed upon release, having been greeted with lukewarm reviews by critics such as Roger Ebert, with the film feeling too old-fashioned compared to the Westerns being fronted by the likes of Clint Eastwood.

Shalako is a disappointingly drab effort too, with little in the way of exciting setpieces. The film's backers no doubt expected some serious sexual chemistry between Connery and Bardot, but their onscreen connection is a non-starter. While Connery is perfectly fine in the lead, he feels somewhat miscast too, and his Scottish accent has rarely felt more out of place than when playing a cowboy. Overall, Shalako isn't without its plus points, but there's a reason it's one of the genre's more forgotten outings from the '60s.

Why Didn't Connery Return To Westerns?

Following Shalako's failure, Connery was later lured back to Bond by EON for Diamonds Are Forever. While it took a while for him to fully break out of being viewed as 007, he still went on to a rich career filled with varied roles. That said, he never saddled up for another Western, despite giving interviews stating how much he enjoyed making Shalako. That's likely because the genre itself was waning by the time the '70s began and even John Wayne outings like Rio Lobo were underperforming.

Major studios began to focus on more contemporary projects and given that Shalako had bombed hard, it's doubtful studios put Connery high on their casting lists for the few Westerns that were being produced. The closest he came to returning to the genre came with 1981's Outland, a sci-fi thriller that riffed on High Noon. This cast Connery as a Marshal who uncovers corruption at a mining facility on Jupiter's third moon and is targeted for assassination. There's even a High Noon-esque showdown in the finale, where Connery's Marshal has to outsmart gunmen who arrive at the facility to kill him.

While ultimately a much better film than Shalako, it can't be considered a Western in the traditional sense, and visually owes much more to Alien. Shalako remains a real curio on Sean Connery's filmography, and while it doesn't quite work, it showed his willingness to take risks with his image and try new genres.

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