Wilbur Smith's bestselling novels haven't been viewed by film-maker's as a good source of screen material. In spite of the fact that Smith has spent forty years writing one acclaimed novel after another, only a handful of his books have been adapted for the big screen - and of those films, none have been hugely successful. Gold is based on one of the author's shortest novels, originally entitled Gold Mine, and features a very attractive cast including the then-Bond Roger Moore, Susannah York, archetypal villainous actors Bradford Dillman and Tony Beckley, and old stalwarts Ray Milland and John Gielgud. Much of the film was shot in South Africa, amidst a volatile environment of political controversy, while the more dangerous-looking underground action sequences were done on an impressive studio stage back in the UK. On the whole the film is highly watchable and polished, though it is never quite as absorbing or exciting as it was obviously meant to be.
An accident at a South African gold mine results in the mine's general manager being trapped and crippled. The underground manager Rod Slater (Roger Moore) tries his best to save his superior, but his efforts fail and the general manager dies. Later, it transpires that the managing director of the mine, Manfred Steyner (Bradford Dillman), is actually a member of a secret syndicate that is deliberately trying to destroy the mine in order to increase the value of their own gold stocks. Steyner has had his workers drilling in a highly dangerous area close to a water dyke, insisting that they are close to a precious gold strike when in reality they are metres away from flooding and destroying their own mine. Steyner is the grandson-in-law of the mega-rich gold entrepreneur Hurry Hirschfield, and is married to Hurry's grand-daughter Terry (Susannah York). However, Terry is having an affair with Slater, so Steyner's plan is to fulfil his act of sabotage for his syndicate whilst simultaneously exacting revenge on his cheating wife by ruining her family business. Eventually the dyke is breached and the mine is on the verge of catastrophic flooding, with Slater the only man brave (and foolish) enough to go underground and trigger an explosion to seal off the flooded areas before it is too late.
Gold begins and ends with two very powerful and convincing underground sequences that are extremely well put together. In between, the plot unfolds rather slowly and laboriously, seeming to take a long time to reach its conclusion, though certain scenes along the way are quite well handled. Moore plays the hero fairly well, even though it is a much grittier role than his Bond persona. York is even better as the deceitful wife, while Dillman and Beckley provide thoroughly ugly baddies. Elmer Bernstein's very-70s music score adds a sense of drama to the proceedings, in spite of its dated sound. Peter Hunt (formerly a Bond editor and director) directs the film competently without doing anything out of the ordinary with his material. At 124 minutes, Gold is a pretty exhausting movie - certainly worth one, maybe even two, viewings but beyond that it doesn't particularly endear itself to repeat screenings. Still, if you like big, old-fashioned adventure flicks or are a fan of the stars, this movie is worth catching.
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