Roger Moore, I think of James Bond. To be fair, I do that with all the actors to play 007. Unfortunately typecast -- like Connery, Dalton and possibly Craig -- for one part, it's easy to forget that Moore was a solid actor before and after his Bond days. As a fan of Moore no matter the part, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a western he starred in, 1961's Gold of the Seven Saints.
Partners in trapping furs for three-plus years, Jim Rainbolt (Clint Walker) and Shawn Garrett (Moore) have hit it big, finding a gold vein in a creek that produced over 250 pounds of gold dust and nuggets. Trying to get the gold to a town, the partners are in trouble. Shawn gets caught stealing a horse to help carry the gold and is forced to buy that horse...with a gold nugget. Now people in this little western town know gold is in the area. Racing across the desert, Jim and Shawn must keep ahead of a murdering gang led by McCracken (Gene Evans). They pick up a third partner along the way, a drunken doctor, Gates (Chill Wills), and find themselves with little water and supplies, the gang drawing ever closer.
Thanks to Turner Classic Movies I found this western by accident recently, and am I glad I did. From underrated director Gordon Douglas, 'Gold' is a hidden gem lost in a sea of bad westerns from the 1950s and 1960s. It is shot on location in Dead Horse Point State Park (along the Colorado River), Arches National Park, and Red Rock Canyon State Park and offers some of the most stunning views I've ever seen in a western. Filmed in black and white, it looks amazing, but I can't help but wonder what it would have looked like in color. The story though is what sets it apart, and not for the reasons you'd think. For all the twisting and turning so many movies offer, 'Gold' is on the straight and narrow, good vs. bad to a point but more so survival and greed.
Throw large amounts of gold into any equation, and you can sit back and watch the fireworks go off. Treasure of the Sierra Madre showed that the best, greed can make men do a lot of bad things. 'Gold' early on though is as simplistic as they come (and for the better), an extended chase as Jim and Shawn desperately try to make a getaway with their hard-earned treasure. Evans' McCracken is a particularly nasty opponent, willing to dispatch anyone in his way, and even Jim's old friend, Gondora (Robert Middleton), a bandit turned "respectable" rancher, has his eyes set on the gold. There isn't anything flashy about the story and how it develops, we know eventually Jim and Shawn will have to defend their gold, but getting there can be a lot of fun. It isn't just good and bad as I mentioned before. 'Gold' has just enough of a darker, more cynical side to help it rise above the rest.
One of the key character elements to come out of the western maybe more than any other genre is the two partners, the sidekicks, the friends who back each other through thick and thin. Nearing the end of his run on TV's Cheyenne, Walker paired with a very young-looking Moore (he was 34 at the time) is a great pair in the vein of any number of western buddies. Yes, it's the buddy western relationship. At first glance, the pairing of Walker -- built like an NFL linebacker -- and the very-British Moore wouldn't seem to work, but it does. They're partners and friends first and foremost, arguing and talking like two people who have worked together for several years. They bitch and moan at each other, poking fun, but mostly they look out and back each other when the chips are down. And there's just a bit...a bit...of tension to keep things interesting, especially when a woman (curvy Leticia Roman) is involved.
I was a little worried when Middleton's Gondora arrived in the story, but it adds another dimension in the second half of this 88-minute flick. The last half hour is the darker part of the story, all the different individuals coming together to fight it out for many lifetime's worth of gold. The ending has a surprising twist of fate, but not a cruel one, the movie ending on a still positive note. The supporting performances are good, Wills hamming it up as the drunken doctor (he did this part a lot and excelled at it), Middleton the larger than life bandit who loves money, killing and women, and Evans is the sneering, murdering gunslinger. I really liked this movie and came away impressed. It deserves more recognition. Not a classic, but an above average, highly entertaining western.
Gold of the Seven Saints <---Youtube clips (1961): ***/****