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As a James Bond fanatic, the pedigree of the 1974 flick Gold proved too intriguing to pass up. The film stars Roger Moore, and was initially released in the gap between his first two appearances as Bond, 1973's Live and Let Die and '74's The Man with the Golden Gun. The film is directed by Peter Hunt, who not only edited the first five Bond films, but who made his directing debut with one of the franchise's most unusual and excellent entries, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Hunt's editor and second unit director here, John Glen, would go on to have those jobs on a few '70s-era Bonds before directing all five (!) '80s-era entries in the franchise. And for good measure, Maurice Binder, who designed the original iconic Bond credit sequences, also designed the less iconic (but still quite snazzy) titles for Gold.
It comes as a bit of letdown then, to realize that Gold is essentially a handful of brutal and thrilling setpieces in search of a more compelling story.
The set-up for this yarn is quite good. Roger Moore is Rod Slater, a manager at the Sonderditch gold mine in Johannesburg, South Africa. The mine is owned by Harry "H.H." Hirschfeld (Ray Milland), a crotchety old coot unwilling to cede power to his son-in-law, Manfred Steyner (a positively oily Bradford Dillman). So, Steyner puts in with a conglomerate of shady businessmen, overseen by John Gielgud's deceptively proper Farrell, to flood the Sonderditch mine and drive up the price of gold everywhere else in the world. After early efforts to realize this disaster lead to the premature death of the mine's veteran General Manager, Steyner tries to put Slater into the position. Steyner hopes that the younger man won't sniff out his real plan, but Slater naturally isn't such a foolish pushover.
Where the film falters is in the decision to seemingly recreate the story dynamic of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, by spending a large chunk in the middle of the film developing a love story. Rod Slater is naturally an unrepentant playboy who naturally falls for the neglected wife of the villainous Steyner, Terry (Susannah York). Steyner even uses Terry as bait to get Slater on board, without her fully being aware of it. The problem is that, even with the tension inherent in pulling off an extra-marital affair, there's not much meat (or heat) to this romantic thread. For all their natural charm, Moore and York don't click together, and their scenes just feel like filler that somehow overtakes the show for roughly a third of this 124-minute film.
On the other hand, Hunt also brings over the idiosyncratic toughness and visceral violence of OHMSS in staging the hand-to-hand fight scenes and moments of big action. After sitting through that soppy love story, the least the film can do is provide a stirring climax where Roger Moore and his partner (the excellent South African actor Simon Sabela as "Big King") have to battle the flooding mine head-on. In this respect, the film more than delivers. In fact, this sequence provides a few moments of gore so shocking that this film might give Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a run for the title of most gruesome action flick to somehow score a PG rating.
While an argument can be made that Gold could benefit from being a half-hour shorter, its good bits are good enough that action/thriller fans won't mind sitting through (or fast-forwarding through) the unconvincing mushy stuff.
Gold comes packaged with reversible cover art, featuring two different vintage poster options.
A mostly strong AVC-encoded 1080p 2.35:1 presentation. Colors look accurate, and there is no noticeable film damage. Detail reproduction is good, although the original cinematography seems soft here and there. The image gets grainy during certain low-light scenes, although much of the high-contrast gold-mine photography translates well.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio mix is similarly strong, hindered only by the realities of some of the shooting locations (ya know... a gold mine deep underground) and the age of the recording technology. Dialogue is typically clear. The SFX and Elmer Bernstein's music are effectively showcased without interfering with the talk. Optional English subtitles are also included.
- Kino commentary regulars Berger and Thompson (heard recently on the The Long Riders and Blame It On Rio discs, among others) exploit their chummy rapport to provide another entertaining and fairly edifying examination of the flick in question. The sound recording itself is plagued by sporadic distortion, but it's a worthwhile listen all in all.
The visceral and eye-grabbing setpieces in Gold offer further evidence that Peter Hunt is one of the great underrated action directors. Having the dashing Roger Moore in the lead doesn't hurt either. Unfortunately, the padding-filled script too often bogs down the momentum of the film. For action fans who don't mind keeping their thumbs poised on the fast-forward button, this flick is still good enough to come Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new single, Don\'t Depend on Me, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.