Skip to main content

Gentlemen, there are five thousand million dollars at stake. Of course there are risks.


Gold
(1974)

Strange to think there was a time when Alistair MacLean and Wilbur Smith novels were regularly adapted for the big screen. It would be unfair of me to take swipes at their literary abilities, as I studiously avoided their page-turners as a lad. I have seen a fair few of the movies based on their works, however, and I suspect I’m not missing all that much. In most cases the finished articles have been forgettable, workmanlike productions, indistinct except to all but the fiercest devotees (okay, everyone knows Where Eagles Dare). Gold’s greatest claim to fame is closer to one of infamy; the production made the dubious choice of filming in South Africa under the apartheid regime.


Smith’s plot (he shares the screenplay credit) concerns a dastardly plan to flood a gold mine. The resulting shortages will send the stock price sky high. Since we find this out during the first 10 minutes, there’s still another 90 minutes to trudge through before the plan gets results. Most of that is taken up by Roger Moore’s dalliance with delectable Susannah York (particularly so in tennis whites and pigtails). Moore is Rod Slater, the mine’s general manager. Rod Slater is just the kind of inevitably dull, square-jawed name that heroes in yarn of this ilk always labour under. But Moore plays Slater as he plays all his roles; charm personified, with a smirking wit. Unfortunately, the part as a whole doesn’t play to his strengths. As the straight romantic lead he’s on the starchy side, even though he and York have a jolly chemistry (does Moore ever not have a smooth rapport with his co-stars?) His bedroom shenanigans leave little time for heroic stuff until the finale (action stylings have never been Rog’s strong point either) so he must make a virtue of cuckolding his boss Bradford Dillman. That’s okay, as Dillman represents the inhuman corporations, ready and willing to sacrifice a few 100 (or 1,000) mineworkers in the name of profit.


Moore made this between Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, and the Bond connections don’t end there; Peter Hunt, former Bond editor and director of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, makes his sophomore feature while the Bond helmer throughout the ‘80s, John Glen, is the editor and second unit director. It’s clear that a sense of 007 adventuring is intended; this is a widescreen affair, introduced by a Don Black-penned theme song with Maurice Binder titles and featuring a Machiavellian plan not very far removed from the ones seen in Goldfinger and the later A View to a Kill. It also shares a feature with fellow Bond Connery’s ex-007 one-word movie titles from the period (Cuba, Meteor); it’s a bit crap. Any commentary on the status quo in South Africa is oblique, personified rather than posed as a political challenge. Not really all that surprising that they refrained from insulting their hosts.


So Slater is nominally positioned as the good (white, British) slave master, considerate of workers’ rights and butting heads with hateful racist (white, South African) Kowalski. This isn’t a film for subtle shadings, and Bernard Horsfall (who also appeared in Hunt’s solo Bond feature) manifests his intolerance through savage beatings rather than abusive language (the film is free of racist slurs, as far as I recall, so there’s no danger that will be on the side of realism; Moore even speaks of it’s apolitical qualities as if it should be a badge of pride, which is very strange).


Predictably then, black South Africans get short shrift. The one significant supporting role goes to Simon Sabela as Big King, a noble fellow who receives a gold mining helmet for bravery and gets involved in staging traditional dance numbers for the white masters (it’s very nearly that stereotypical; presumably the producers thought they needed to advertise that they’d shot on the continent by including some Zulu garb, as that’s the first thing everyone equates with Africa?) Being noble, he is also consigned to noble self-sacrifice. Moore obviously felt he was making a positive statement by shooting pictures under apartheid, as he would return to South Africa for several more features. His autobiography is equivocal over the issue, but you wouldn’t expect Rog to present a discerning examination of the moral and ethical issues involved. He appears to consider his greatest Gold achievement to be a financial one. He forwent part of his salary in order to cover the costs of a remount of the mine flooding sequences at Pinewood,. When he received no royalties as recompense, the legal wrangles that ensued resulted in his ownership of the picture. When his character claims to hate lousy gold, you can be certain it’s a sentiment Moore doesn’t share.


Hunt stages the climactic action with some aplomb; it may be set-bound, but there is a visceral quality that even Moore’s man of inaction can’t neuter. Both in the opening cave-in scenes and the finale, Hunt doesn’t stint on the ketchup. Moore’s arm is mashed into a bloody mess, there are amputations and miner’s head looks like it has been pulped (just the sort of thing to show during a Saturday afternoon on Channel 5, then). He less sure of himself during the protracted romance, clearly kicking his heels and trying to find some way to remain alert. Hence Moore and York at diner, shot through a wine glass. Or York’s leaving Moore’s house signalled by the removal of her foregrounded hat. And York’s left nipple (well, it distracted me).


The supporting cast are mostly a bunch of rotters, and their strong showing belies that they aren’t too well-served by the script. Bradford Dillman has a slight Anthony Perkins vibe, and does good work showing Steyner’s masked insecurities. He’s the reluctant underling to boss man Ray Milland (the “good” corporate, cigar-chewing and ignorant to price-rigging plan), but it’s the shot of him sitting in his car outside the hotel where Moore and York are canoodling that speaks loudest of his weaknesses. Still, he’s quite willing to let the affair continue if it means more greenbacks. The magnificent Tony Beckley (Camp Freddie in The Italian Job) plays Dillman’s Number Two, Marais. He gets the best line, “Just run along and get Santa Claus, and I’ll give him his instructions about going down the chimney”. John Gielgud picks up the cheque for a couple of days work as the ringleader. Also on the conspiratorial board is an Arab sheikh, complete with sunglasses.


The movie (which was released in December) takes place at Christmas, although it is thoroughly unfestive. The most striking scene takes place at the home a syndicate member who gets cold feet. A parcel arrives and the children gather round to discover what the present is. Then it explodes. Gold could have done with more of that sort of ballsiness and fewer longueurs. But, to an extent, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s exactly the sort of non-Bond movie you expect to see Roger Moore in during the ‘70s.

** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).