Big International Co-Productions

In the late 1960’s, Sean Connery hung up his tuxedo and made a Western called “Shalako.”  Based on a Louis L’Amour book, it was one of those big, international co-productions that usually come a cropper.  Like most moviegoers, I did not beat a path to the theater, but a few years after its initial release it showed up in a town where I was attending college, on a double-bill with a John Wayne Western.  Of the pair, I have to admit that I found “Shalako” the more interesting offering.

Film critic Pauline Kael once asserted that Westerns came in only two flavors, Revenge Westerns and Water-Rights Westerns.  “Shalako” was definitely neither of these, the story a European hunting party which wanders off-course in New Mexico, runs afoul of native inhabitants, and must be rescued by a legendary Army scout.  Essentially, it is a Tarzan film set in the Old West.

Connery makes a surprisingly believable cowboy, although I remember reading a review from one critic who complained about the actor’s “strangely non-Western accent.”  That phrase has stuck in my head for forty-plus years, because even back then I could not imagine what it was supposed to mean.  Growing up in Jewell County, I was aware that post-Civil War America was populated by newcomers from many far-off lands, and they spoke with a wide variety of accents, few of them anything that could be mistaken for “Western.”

Thomas and Orel Jane Lovewell’s good friends the Charles family were from Wales.  In Republic County, Thomas’s neighbors immediately to the south were Pontus Ross and Erik Bergland from Sweden.  After they fled in the wake of an Indian attack, Prussian immigrant Gust Heldt replaced the Swedes, although Lovewell and Ross would be neighbors again when both families relocated to Jewell County.  Thomas’s frequent hunting partner in Jewell County was John Adam Rosenberger, a German whose profane, guttural speech pattern was held up to ridicule in the 1878 “History of Jewell County.”  Peter Kearns, the settler whom Thomas Lovewell hauled to Nicholas Ward’s old claim in Jewell County in 1869, was born in France.

Little wonder that New Yorker Harry Wallin, taking shelter from Cheyenne Dog Soldiers in the colony house at New Scandinavia in 1869, spoke of the place as “a perfect bedlam and the building of the tower of Babel was no comparison...”  Many of Wallin’s fellow colonists had come to America from England or Scotland, and so at least spoke a language he found comprehensible.  Patrick Edward Connor, the regimental commander of Lovewell’s California Volunteers was born in Ireland, as was Captain Nicholas O’Brien, the man in charge of the defense of Camp Rankin at Julesburg.  It was also the birthplace of Thomas Lovewell’s son-in-law Edward McCaul, whose daughter Alice married another Prussian, Charles Kruskopp.  A few of the Buffalo Soldiers Thomas Lovewell scouted for in 1867 could have been born in Africa.  By 1869 Bohemian settlements were starting to pop up on the eastern side of Republic County.

The West may not have been quite the Tower of Babel Harry Wallin claimed he discovered in New Scandinavia, but it was certainly one big, international co-production.  A man from Ohio with a bit of a river-country drawl may have been the one who sounded like the odd man out.  To his nearest neighbors, at least, his accent would have sounded strangely non-Eastern.   

© Dale Switzer 2023