The Legacy (1978) Sam Elliott’s Supernatural ‘Stache
When I was picking out a Sam Elliot movie for Movemeber, I wanted to stay away from a lot of the obvious choices. So that meant that The Big Lebowski and Road House were stricken directly from consideration. I then looked to his Westerns where his mustache is always large and in charge, and despite having found one that stars Elliott with the mustachioed Tom Selleck called The Shadow Riders, it still wasn't really what I was looking for. I wanted something that I would enjoy watching and my wife would as well. For, if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that, should I shuffle off this mortal coil, there is a fair to middling chance that my wife might then take up stalking Sam Elliott in her spare time. Last night she said, and I quote, “Sam Elliot is the hottest brunette of all time.” This both spared my feelings (as she still considers my ever darkening hair to be blonde) and sent shock waves through the likes of Josh Brolin and Clive Owen who both thought they would be up for top honors. The film I eventually landed on was an obscurity from 1978 called The Legacy, and it was described to me as an “erotically charged thriller”. With the idea of erotic Sam Elliott in her head, my wife and I sat down to The Legacy last night, and at least one of us walked away happy (there was a shower scene after all.)
Margaret Walsh and Pete Danner (Katherine Ross and Sam Elliott) is a couple involved in architecture and interior design. At least, I think they are as it was never quite clear or important to the plot. Katherine is lured to England with the promise of a lucrative job, and Pete tags along transporting Margaret on the back of his Triumph motorcycle. When they run off the road and total the bike, they are rescued by English gentleman Jason Mountolive (John Standing) and taken back to his palatial estate. The couple soon finds that other guests have begun to arrive such as swimmer Maria (Marianne Broome), a German munitions supplier (Charles Grey), Clive Jackson (Roger Daltrey), a rock star and producer, hotelier Jacques (Lee Montague), and the lustful Barbara (Hildegard Neil). Margaret is lured to Mountolive’s bedroom where he places a strange ring on her finger which she cannot remove. She has been drawn into an ancient ritual where Satanic powers will be passes down to one of the attendees of Mountolive’s death, and try as they might, Margaret and Pete can find no way to escape.
The Legacy is the type of slow burn 70s horror film that I really enjoy. I could see putting this on a triple bill with Burnt Offerings and The Sentinel, two of my favorite 70s gems which have a similar tone and pacing. While The Legacy was billed to me as an “erotic thriller”, there’s very little erotic here (though my wife did make me run back Sam Elliott’s butt shot and shower scene a couple of times) and I would scarcely call the action thrilling or suspenseful. It does lock in with many of the satanically/supernaturally themed titles of the time, but its plot is ingenious and doesn't fill derivative of anything directly. The original story (and co-writing of the screenplay) comes from Jimmy Stangster. If the name doesn't ring a bell, it should. Working for many years with Hammer films, Sangster penned some of their best and most beloved titles including Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, and The Brides of Dracula. That might be the reason that The Legacy felt very much like a Hammer film. Deliberately paced, supernatural in a very British kind of way, and filled with gothic situations and locations, The Legacy is the very staid model of U.K. based horror.
Katherine Ross, best known for her role as Elaine Robinson in The Graduate, is supposed to be the star here, but her role is basically whittled down to walking about looking forlorn. Which leaves the movie at Sam Elliott’s feet to own, and own it, he does. Under a thick, bristly brown mustache he glowers around the English manner and countryside in such a way it makes you think that he doesn't know the Revolution ended. By 1978, Elliott was 10 years into screen roles with a litany of film and TV credits to his name, so he certainly had the cops to match wits with British stalwarts like Charles Grey (best recognized as the narrator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Lee Montague. He also had the sex appeal to almost bring erotic into the film by his presence alone, and judging from the tightness of his pants, the number of times he gets wet, and the general time spent on his character, I don’t think Elliott’s appeal was lost on the film makers. In fact, for my money, there’s little other sexy on display as Ross, Marianne Broome, and the other ladies all have a very particular waifish 70s vibe which did absolutely nothing for me. Also doing nothing for me was Roger Daltery. The lead singer of The Who has nabbed several film roles, but I enjoy his acting as well as his singing. Which is to say, not at all.
Hearts of Fire. While only having seven feature film credits to his name, Marquand has made quite an impact on the film industry and the cult film world with his small output. The Legacy is another great reason to remember Marquand as a director. The film has a definite tone and style to it, and working with cinematographer Alan Hume (Return of the Jedi, Octopussy, Carry On Screaming) The Legacy had a look that matched the tone and style of the Hammer-ish activities.
While The Legacy could go on a triple bill with those other 70s spook shows I mentioned earlier, it doesn't quite have the same quality and eeriness as the other two. It would definitely be the first of the three I would show (with Burn Offerings in the middle and The Sentinel closing it out if you wondered.) Not to give any spoilers, but the ending of The Legacy is one that could have only existed in the wild world of 70s cinema. The Legacy both left me slightly confused and with a smile on my face as the credits ended. Speaking of credits, I have to mention that the opening theme is sung by none other than Kiki Dee, a singer I have never heard a single note from apart from her hit with Elton John, “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”, which was number one when I was born. Sadly, it is not reprised in the ending credits. Now if you’ll excuse me, to make sure that I’m still attractive in my later life to my significant other, I have to really focus on my mustache growing skills. Sam Elliott’s shadow is bad enough to be in, but the shadow of his mustache now that is a big, big shadow.