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Monday, May 12, 2014

Gold of the Seven Saints (1961)





The last of a trio of westerns directed by Gordon Douglas, all starring Clint Walker, following Fort Dobbs (1958) & Yellowstone Kelly (1959). Unlike the other two, this one wasn't scripted by Burt Kennedy. It also stars a young Roger Moore, on the eve of his glory days as Simon Templar, that other Saint, not related to the Seven Saints of the title (a place never reached by the two heroes of this movie).

Walker and Moore are Jim Rainbolt and Shaun Garrett, two fur trappers who had the incredible luck to find gold. When Garrett is caught stealing a horse (for the transport of the gold) he buys himself free with one of the gold nuggets, attracting the attention of a man named McCrancken, who starts following the two friends with his men across the desert. When cornered, Jim and Shaun are first saved by a wandering doctor, Doc Gates (Chill Wills in an excellent performance), then by Gondora, a Mexican landowner and an old friend of Jim, but gold has a habit of turning friends into foes ...

The screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Leonard Freeman (based on a novel by Steve Frazee) is very lively, offering a series of tension-filled situations and plot twists, but it also creates some inconsistencies. The message seems to be that gold corrupts the soul, but unlike the heroes from Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Walker and Moore are saved from moral decay: they must face friends who have become enemies, but never try to double-cross each other; there are only a few vague references to betrayal in the scene in which Walker hides the gold and Moore remarks that he will need Walker to get to the treasure while Walker doesn't need anybody but himself. They never fight over their fortune, actually the only thing they fight over, is Leticia Roman, during a brief interval on Gondora's hacienda. And then there's this up-beat ending that has bemused viewers over the decades: The two lose the gold but remain friends, the film ends with laughter and the two only seem happy to make a new start. As someone put it, it's a convenient but unconvincing conclusion.

Shot in a warm black & white, in and around Arches National Park in Utah, the film has a glorious look. It often feels like a chase movie in slow-motion (the men slowed down by the landscape, the heat and the gold); it's slightly sluggish (the part on the hacienda is too long, with too many laughing Mexicans) but never dull. It's not particularly violent but the tone is rather cynical; there's a scene in which one of the villains (okay, he had it coming) receives a few gold nuggets when his leg is trapped under a boulder, so he'll "die rich". It's the type of grim, tongue-in-cheek humor that fits an actor like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood very well, but feels a little awkward when brought by a suave actor like Clint Walker. It just doesn't fit his image. 

Apart from this one scene, Walker is his usual immobile self. Moore is overdoing  his British accent (to impersonate an Irishman!), but the contrast with Walker works and it's easy to see how this charming young man could become a mega star.
 

1 comment:

  1. I think Warners had high hopes for Roger Moore. He was in Warner TV series The Alaskans and Maverick. In Maverick he was an English cousin of Bret and Bart.

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