Saturday, 24 May 2014

Gold (1974)

Roger Moore enjoyed immense success in the 70s with the Bond movies but in that decade alongside those Bond movies he made many others that are perhaps even more interesting. Moore clearly realised he was going to be stuck playing heroes in thrillers but if this was the case then he might as well make good interesting thrillers. And he showed very good judgment in accepting roles in some very good thrillers indeed. One of these thrillers was Gold, which appeared in 1974.

Gold was based on a novel by Wilbur Smith, the author of some unusual and very entertaining thrillers.

Gold chronicles some very shady goings-on in a gold mine in South Africa. Rod Slater (Moore) is the underground manager at the Sonderditch gold mine. The chairman of the company is the crusty, cantakerous but shrewd Hurry Hirschfeld (Ray Milland). The day-to-day running of the company is in the hands of Manfred Steyney (Bradford Dillman), a decidedly oily character with two passions - he is a cleanliness-obsessed health freak and he is avaricious to the point of insanity. As we will soon learn he is involved in a complex conspiracy to manipulate the gold market in order to make a killing for a cabal of crooked financiers led by the smoothly sinister Farrell (John Gielgud).

The movie opens with a collapse in one of the mine shafts. Several people are killed, including the mine’s general manager. There is no satisfactory explanation for the accident, or for the general manager’s presence in the shaft.

A new general manager is now needed for the mine and Steyner is determined that Slater should get the job. Slater doesn’t know it but he’s being set up.

Slater is a man with a reputation for chasing women and for having been hot-headed in his youth but he knows gold mining and he is popular because he also has a reputation for treating the miners well and not taking chances with their lives.

Slater’s fondness for women soon lands him in a very tricky situation when he begins an affair with Steyner’s wife Terry (Susannah York), who happens to be the grand-daughter of Hurry Hirschfeld.

The miners have struck a formation of very hard rock and behind that formation there is water. Lots and lots of water. Enough water to flood the entire mine. A veritable underground sea. Needless to say the miners are being very cautious about all that water and any blasting anywhere near that rock formation is out of the question. Slater is therefore rather surprised to be handed a geologists’ report that indicates there is a major gold seam behind the rock and further indicates that it would be quite safe to go after that gold. Slater is only half-convinced but he’s persuaded to go ahead. He does however intend to take precautions, setting up explosive charges that will seal off that portion of the mine if they strike water rather than gold.

The syndicate led by Farrell has its own reasons for wanting that rock formation blasted and the safety of the miners is not a concern for them.

It’s a rather unusual setup for an action movie but it works. The main weakness of the screenplay (by Wilbur Smith and Stanley Price) is that it spends too much time on the romance between Slater and Terry and consequently the movie drags a bit in the middle. It does however build to a tense action-filled finale. Peter Hunt had already shown himself to be a fine action director with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (regarded by many aficionados as the best of all the Bond movies) and would go on to direct the excellent and underrated Shout at the Devil.

Roger Moore does well as Slater, the reformed (well semi-reformed at least) bad boy who finds himself faced with the task of trying to save the mine and the lives of a thousand miners. Susannah York is fine as the rebellious Terry and the chemistry between Moore and York helps when the pace starts to flag in the middle in the film. 

Ray Milland was nudging 70 when he made this movie and he looks every day of it. This doesn’t stop him from turning in a great performance as the ageing but feisty company chairman. Gold boasts an array of very nasty villains, all of them played splendidly. 

The location shooting in South Africa is spectacular and the mine sequences are particularly well-executed and look terrific.

This movie’s reputation has suffered as a result of some truly abysmal DVD releases. Odeon Entertainment have put matters right with a fine Blu-Ray release that finally gives us the opportunity to appreciate this fine unconventional action film. The main extra is a lengthy biographical documentary of Roger Moore, obviously made a few years back but giving a nice overview of his career.

Despite its minor pacing problems Gold is a great deal of fun. It’s pure old-fashioned entertainment with villainous villains and heroic heroes. Highly recommended.

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