Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gold (1974)

          After becoming James Bond in 1973, suave British star Roger Moore was cast in a slew of leading roles outside the franchise, yet was singularly unlucky in picking projects; none of his non-007 pictures became a significant hit, and many were outright disasters. Thus, it’s a great surprise to discover that Gold, which did very little business during its initial release and subsequently fell into the public domain after legal squabbles between Moore and the producers, is quite watchable.
          Depicting the adventures of a mine supervisor who discovers he’s merely the pawn in an outrageous scheme, the movie takes place in the colorful milieu of the South African gold business. The main villain is Manfred Steyner (Bradford Dillman), an ambitious executive conspiring to destroy his own mine in order to drive up worldwide gold prices. He’s keeping his plans secret from his wife, Terry (Susannah York), and her imperious father (Ray Milland), who owns the mine. When the supervisor who was rigging the scheme for Manfred dies in a mining accident, Manfred recruits hot-tempered Rod Slater (Moore) to take the supervisor’s place; Rod is told that a new vein is being tapped, when in fact he’s being coaxed into opening an underground quarry that will flood the mine.
          Although Gold is far too long, getting lost for a while in the romantic subplot of Rod’s illicit affair with Terry, there’s a lot to enjoy in the film. Several veterans of the Bond franchise participated, giving the movie energy and scale: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service helmer Peter Hunt directed the film with gusto; Maurice Binder contributed a lively title sequence; and frequent Bond director/editor John Glen supervised the mining scenes, which are claustrophobic and intense. (There’s even a corny title song performed by Jimmy Helms in a Tom Jones-lite mode that evokes brassy Bond themes like “Thunderball.”)
          Moore doesn’t leave his comfort zone, laying on the charm with tools like his arched eyebrow and seductive speaking voice, but it’s a pleasure to see him being manipulated, rather than strutting like the master of all he surveys, since vulnerability becomes him. York is fine in a thankless role (even though she’s swathed in godawful ’70s fashions), and Dillman is fun as an unscrupulous climber who goes to pieces when Rod starts mucking up his grand scheme. Milland scowls and shouts in his usual style, which is always entertaining, and supporting player Simon Sabela is compelling as the most prominent native miner, Big King.
          The film’s exciting conclusion, which has everything from an emergency plane landing to a vehicular assault to workers getting obliterated by explosions and floods, isn’t edited as tightly as it should have been, but Gold is nonetheless quite satisfying, offering an agreeable mixture of escapist adventure and simplistic social commentary.


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