A long-time victim of shoddy, unauthorized video releases, Peter Hunt’s appealing and highly-prescient adventure thriller GOLD (1974) finally arrives on North American Blu-ray in yet another first-rate release from the ever-prolific folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Unfolding in South Africa at the height of the Apartheid regime, GOLD gets off to an equally exciting and disturbing start when a major cave-in at the Sonderditch gold mine not only threatens to halt production in its tracks, but also results in the general manager being killed. In the ensuing chaos, Rod Slater (Roger Moore), one of the company’s more rebellious, risk-taking foremen, is primed to take over the dead boss’ position. However, unbeknownst to Slater, it’s all just a ploy so he can be used by his employer as a patsy to take the blame for an elaborate scheme to flood the mine, which was slyly orchestrated by its managing director Manfred Steyner (Bradford Dillman) and an unscrupulous group of financial investors, led by Farrell (Sir John Gielgud); an intentionally-fabricated disaster which, in turn, would cause the going rate of gold to skyrocket to astronomical levels on the world market.
Although that’s the main crux of the film as based on Wilbur Smith’s bestselling novel Gold Mine (1970), GOLD has plenty more on offer as it weaves its way through the conspiracy angle of its script, whose subject matter remains every bit as topical today as it did back then. In what amounts to a glorified cameo, respected thespian Sir John Gielgud’s Farrell is undoubtedly one of the more frightening characters in the film, who keeps everyone (i.e., his fellow financial investors) in check by means of his quiet resolve and obvious superior intellect. Playing one of the criminal scheme’s prime architects, Bradford Dillman’s restrained performance as Manfred Steyner is soft-spoken throughout (albeit menacingly so), and his character’s actions are motivated by pure avarice and the promise of still more wealth and power than he already possesses; so much so that when his adulterous wife Terry (Susannah York), daughter of the mine’s cantankerous owner Hurry Hirschfeld (Ray Milland), begins an illicit affair with Slater, he represses his obvious anger, knowing full-well that Slater’s recklessly impulsive nature will come in handy when they conspire to implicate him with the flooding of the mine. In what would normally be a superfluous diversion, this romantic subplot becomes one of the film’s main narratives, and at one point, it even resorts to showing a montage of them flying in her single-engine Cessna light airplane high above the stunning South African landscapes (beautifully shot by veteran DP Ousama Rawi) and visiting one of her father’s wildlife reserves. These picturesque detours in the narrative puts the already laidback pace still further at risk. It’s all so well-realized, though, that it never detracts from the viewer’s overall enjoyment of GOLD.
A tremendous opening and final act frame the film beautifully, which not only depict the harsh, unforgiving reality of working down the mines (a stunning static shot looking above as an elevator [known as ‘the cage’ in mining vernacular] descends into the mineshaft is particularly frightening), but just how precariously life hangs in the balance that deep underground. At the outset, men are horribly crushed by falling rock, their faces smashed into pulp, while one poor miner’s leg is irremovably trapped amongst the rubble, which results in an impromptu emergency amputation that seriously pushes the envelope of GOLD’s PG-rating. The film’s climactic flooding also doesn’t hold back in showcasing additional moments of bloody mayhem.
Shot in South Africa (and at Pinewood Studios in London), further violence ensues due to the obvious rising racial tensions, which is represented by the extremely challenging working conditions in the mine itself and the ongoing scuffle between Kowalski (Bernard Horsfall), a racist white foreman (“You hit them because they can’t hit back! …The next time you touch a face darker than mine, you’re OUT!” exclaims Slater) and Big King (Simon Sabela), a seasoned and exceedingly skilled mineworker who even receives an award for courage and (quote) “the saving of human life”. In an interesting aside, the ‘harmonious’ viewpoint of the Sonderditch mine proves to be nothing more than a cynical public relations façade, and outside of the very few (including Slater, who obviously represents the filmmakers as well), Apartheid’s multi-tiered system of segregating the races into separate castes is still very much in evidence, with most of the native Africans in the film being treated as nothing more than expendable beasts of burden.
Sandwiched between Roger Moore’s starring roles as James Bond in Guy Hamilton’s LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE MAN WITH THEGOLDEN GUN (1974), GOLD likewise borrows plentiful elements of the 007 franchise, including Slater’s ability to be rough-and-tough when needed one moment and then dapper and dashing the next. He’s charismatic as hell and has great chemistry with his co-star Susannah York, so even when the film focuses its attention on the far-less-exciting romantic subplot, the action never really flounders. Outside of the Moore connection, director Hunt also worked on a number of Bond pictures, firstly as an editor on the early Sean Connery classics (such as both Terence Young’s DR. NO  and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE ) and then graduated to directing when he helmed the superb – and once-controversial – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969), starring one-time-only 007 George Lazenby, so it comes as no surprise that GOLD is very much in the same vein. Even Maurice Binder, a veteran of over a dozen Bond films, designed the simplistic, yet impressive title sequence, which is perfectly accompanied and complemented by Elmer Bernstein’s remarkable score.
After years of substandard DVD releases from such dubious outfits as Diamond and Platinum, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Blu-ray is a very welcome edition indeed! Remastered by Pinewood Studios (which may have been carried-out as far back as 2013 for Odeon Entertainment’s All-Region U.K. BD), Kino’s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p disc is a hugestep-up in picture quality, but the transfer’s biggest asset is its retaining the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which finally allows viewers to appreciate the full scope of the film, as well as many of the intricate details in the mines themselves, which are far easier to make out this time around. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio also sounds solid, with a nice range between many of the film’s action scenes and the contrasting quieter, insidious moments in the boardrooms. Kino have also included English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
As nice as the transfer is on Kino’s new disc, they’ve also included an audio commentary with film historians Howard S. Berger and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, and for anyone that has listened to any of their previous commentaries will undoubtedly find plenty to enjoy here once again. Their love for the film is evident right from the start, which they both saw as youngsters and it was the film’s tough violence that left an indelible mark on their impressionable psyches, which they now claim to be one of the (quote) “harshest PG films of the ’70s”. They go on to discuss the film’s unusual genesis; the film’s aforementioned many Bond series connections; some of the (quote) “adults-only stories” between Moore and Milland (many of which are recounted from Moore’s various autobiographies); the interesting character arcs; and of course, the claustrophobic mine settings themselves. All-in-all it’s a great listen, and makes an ideal extra for an already topnotch Blu-ray. An original trailer for the film (“Four tons of rock produce one ounce of the most precious metal in the world: GOLD!”) as well as trailers for some of Kino’s other titles – such as Bryan Forbes’ Roger Moore headliner THE NAKED FACE (1984) and Ray Milland’s Roger Corman-directed pre/post-apocalyptic survivalist drama PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) – finish off the extras. Completing the package, Kino also provide reversible artwork, both of which are excellent. Order it from Amazon here.