Here's a quick review of Elmer Bernstein's score for 1974's pot-boiler Gold (aka The Great Gold Conspiracy), starring a then super-hot Roger Moore, a striking Susannah York and the terrific Ray Milland in one of his most memorably irascible roles.
“Dyin' every day for gold ...
Why is there this lust for gold?
If the falling rock don't get you,
then you can bet the black dust will.”
During the seventies, Bernstein was going through a period of transition. He'd done westerns and war movies and decorated filmdom with some of its most iconic and influential main themes - most notably those for The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape - but now, in this darker era, he became even more versatile, tackling urban thrillers such as McQ, historical dramas like Zulu Dawn and irreverent, knock-about comedies like Animal House and Airplane! But Gold represents the composer at his brashest, funkiest and most culture-savvy, his score for the film so fundamentally entrenched in the decade's style and larger-than-life ethos that it can't help but make you grin. The African setting of the film is also bountifully reflected and this, too, helps to give the score a 70's flavour as Black beat and funk was steaming heavily into disco music at the time. It is also cited by many to be almost Bondian in its swaggering title song and the main theme with its various permutations heard throughout. Personally, I don't think that Bernstein was actively attempting any sort of Bond-style approach, despite the fact that the film had a great many connections to the super-spy franchise, as we shall see. Films other than those with 007 at the helm had big, bold title songs, lush romance and heavy action and Bernstein was simply moving with the times, yet embracing the trend with his own rich and melodic panache.
The film was based on Wilbur Smith's best-seller, Gold Mine, and the prolific author actually helped to write the screenplay with Stanley Price. Telling the story of a sinister plot to flood a South African gold mine by its own nefarious investors in order to manipulate the company's shares on the stock market, the exotic locations - Johannesburg - and the action - trapped miners, raging water, explosions - were formula ingredients to the celebrity-studded disaster movie genre that reigned supreme during the period. With the underrated Bradford (Bug/Compulsion) Dillman playing the effete but deadly operations manager with an axe to grind and John Gielgud leading the band of unscrupulous “suits behind the scenes”, the film offered much skulduggery and scheming. Moore, only naturally in a follow-on to his success as Bond in Live And Let Die, was the hero, playing the mine's newly drafted general manager, a suave womanising man of action who keeps putting a thorn in the evildoers' collective side by not only continually saving the day but snaffling Bradford's unsatisfied wife from under him. Unwittingly a pawn in their master-plan, he nevertheless wins the day, saves lives from a couple of spectacular action set-pieces that bookend the movie, and ... gets the girl, Milland's granddaughter played by Susannah York.
Bernstein's score begins with the title track Gold, a short but searingly ballsy ballad that wouldn't have gone amiss issuing from Tom Jones' Vegas-bound tonsils. Written by lyricist Don Black, who had also helped Bernstein find a way to put the words True Grit into the title song for the classic Wayne Western, and with wildly disco-flavoured vocals from Jimmy Helms, the main title is a wonderful blend of John Barry's “big band” sound and delicious, emphatic sweeping thematics and the pulsating tribal beat of the African setting, itself. This is rich and fun, Bernstein turning his penchant for brazen and driving signature motifs into a delirious mock-ballad that is shot-through with streaks of bullion. The theme would be revisited in the action cues and elsewhere on the score, but this is cocksure stuff and leaves you under no illusion that Gold is a macho, testosterone-fuelled endeavour.
Romance is given the lilting, sentimental touch in The Lovers. Violins croon and soft woodwinds cradle what is actually a slowed-down orchestral version of the Bernstein/Black song “Wherever Love Takes Me”, which is sung by Maureen McGovern in Track 7. But, personally, I prefer this take on the material and, quite nicely, the theme is returned to in two more incarnation later on, Track 8's Flight and Track 13's Aftermath. Very obviously a soft 70's ballad, there is, nevertheless, a great combination of the lyrical and the melancholic interwoven in it that makes it quite bewitching in that old-school sunny holiday style painting an image of majestic sunsets viewed from a plush hotel's balcony. McGovern seems to have been the go-to voice for disaster movie love-songs, with her providing vocals for The Towering Inferno's “We May Never Love Like This Again” and The Poseidon Adventure's “The Morning After” - both of which won Best Song Oscars. Gold's “Wherever Love Takes Me” was not so lucky, however, losing out, believe it or not, to McGovern's track for Towering Inferno. Bernstein and Black provided another song for Gold, the rather naffly worded “Where Have You Been All My Life”. Sung by Trevor Chance, doing a fine Jack Jones impersonation, this is one of those awful, slow cocktail-lounge efforts that will have your parents twirling about on the dance-floor and you reaching for the skip button. There is something of The Love Boat echoing through this and whilst it fits the era and possibly the film as well, it is certainly the low point of the score.
The African beat and the exotic soul of the film are nice new avenues for Bernstein to explore and the disc even presents us with several cues that are pure tribal pieces. It is worth noting that John Barry, the composer to whose work this score is so often compared, did much the same thing with his work for Zulu. That classic score has only a scanty amount of actual orchestral music in it - a phenomenal main theme reworked several times - and is then given over to some tracks of Barry experimenting with contemporary Black lounge bump 'n' grind, his infamous Zulu “stamps” jazzed-up the wazoo and back again. Bernstein does a similar thing here with a couple of crazy ethnic rhythm tracks that denote the miners at work down in the stagnant air and black dust with Track 10, Sunday At The Mine. Combining two cues - The Music and The Gum-Boot Dance - these are native songs and authentic African music put together by the composer who, whenever he had the chance, would incorporate colloquial sounds into the drama of his scores, such as the hefty Mexican influence and fiesta celebrations from The Magnificent Seven. He then follows this with a piece of his own creation, the fabulous Diggin', Track 12, which is a prime example of the contemporary Blaxploitation sound that American Cinema had sinuously adopted. Heard only the radio in the film, the track gets the full treatment here. With rib-rumbling sax, sensual trumpets and lazy piano tinkling, the piece rolls about from easy lounge to seedy bar, electric guitars creeping in to lend some cool arrogance to a great track that seems very reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin's early 70's work. However, Schifrin would be referenced even more in the stand-out Track 4, The Mine, which is infinitely more catchy and features a fabulously playful sax and some slower-beat funk that can't help but sway the hips and the shoulders. Sounding remarkably similar to Schifrin's Strip-Club cue from Dirty Harry (score CD and Blu-ray reviewed separately) this also sounds like something that may have sneaked in from The New Avengers or The Professionals TV shows. To be honest, this track actually dragged my wife in for a giggle. She may be used to some of the weirdest scores, or the most brass-dominated action cues, or those really dark and unconventional ambient and tonally textured soundtracks that I regularly play - The Shining or Invaders From Mars, say - but this still sounded utterly alien in our house. I loved it, though!
But Bernstein also caters for the film's tense sequences of man-made disaster and subterfuge. Track 5, Trapped, is a terrifically atmospheric little cue. Ethnic percussion joins in with the bold brass four-note motif that drives the track. Edgy suspenseful strings accompany slow daggers of brass until deep bass and a tense rendition of the Gold's main theme brings the cue to a pulse-pounding finale. Somewhere in here is the genesis of the ominously beautiful music that Bernstein composed for An American Werewolf In London's haunting East Proctor moor scenes, as well. Track 12, Flood, in which Moore's character must struggle to blow up the mine wall in order to stem the death-dealing flood-water is heard here in a way that those who have only seen the film will not recognise. Where effects, rather ironically, drowned out the score during the film's exciting climax, the CD reveals the tense tick-tocking build-up that Bernstein created. Big bass drums appear in the background, a xylophone and waves of frantic strings propel the action and Bernstein adds muted brass flurries to give dramatic weight until a shrill finale sets the nerves on fire. Some of this material was reworked and expanded-on for his great score to Saturn 3 (also reviewed).
However, there is no escaping that Bondian influence. For a start, besides starring new 007 Roger Moore, the film was directed by Bond-alumnus Peter Hunt, who had edited the series from Dr. No to Thunderball, and even made his directorial debut with, arguably, the best Bond film of the lot, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. 2nd Unit Director on OHMSS and actual director of For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View To A Kill and both of Dalton's outings, The Living Daylights and License To Kill, John Glen, Bond production designer Syd Cain and immortal Bond titles designer Maurice Binder all came along for the ride as well. This certainly fuels the notion that both Gold and its score were intending to catch the same bus as Bond and Barry's inimitable music, but Bernstein wasn't such a cosy pushover and his own style, even as it evolved throughout this decade, still shines through.
Gold represents Bernstein at his breezy and confident best. It is up for debate how well he moved through the seventies. His writing was usually upbeat, exciting and fast-paced. The decade of nihilism and bleak realism would certainly prove to have an affect upon his work. You only have to listen to his scores for the latter half, and then on into the early eighties, with Zulu Dawn, Saturn 3 and Heavy Metal revealing a more adventurous and considerably more daring attitude to his scoring. I believe that those three particular scores track the pivotal turning point for Bernstein - the sweet Americana-cum-high exuberance of his fifties and sixties compositions seguing into the grittier and more jazz-influenced seventies, and then his scores burning over into a fantastic fusion of everything, possibly culminating in his Oscar-winning music for Far From Heaven.
This limited edition comes with some fine liner notes from Steven Y. Mori that discuss the film and the score and the CD also boasts the movie's wild original poster art, complete with 70's-style 3D invitation - Moore's hand, with golden nugget in it, seems to extend beyond the second dimension. Although this disc does not contain any extra music, or previously unreleased tracks, it is nice to know that even back in the seventies, when a film's soundtrack release - if it was fortunate to gain one in the first place, that is - was usually severely truncated, Gold was actually bestowed such a generous presentation from the ABC label that Intrada have seen fit to prepare their release from its original album masters. The quality of this CD, as produced by Intrada's Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson, is excellent. Clear, warm and offering a decent stereo image, Gold is definitely recommended for fans of Elmer Bernstein.
Track Listing is as follows -
1. Gold (Main Titles) (Vocal by Jimmy Helms) 2:08
02. The Lovers 4:17
03. The Apartment 1:59
04. The Mine 4:08
05. Trapped 2:12
06. Johannesburg 3:55
07. Wherever Love Takes Me (Vocal by Maureen McGovern) 2:54
08. Flight 2:14
09. Where Have You Been All My Life (Vocal by Trevor Chance) 3:45
10. Sunday At The Mine 5:44 a) The Music b) The Gum-Boot Dance
11. Diggin' 3:12
12. Flood! 2:43
13. Aftermath 2:22
14. Gold (End Titles) (Vocal by Jimmy Helms) 2:09
Gold may have some terrific Bernstein components - that title track and a couple of great action cues - but there is no escaping the fact that it is one of the composer's lesser efforts, despite his innovations and the cool disco-licks that give the score its hip credentials. The movie was a big melodramatic vehicle for Moore, but the aggressive industrial scenario wasn't quite to everybody's taste, but even if the production didn't exactly strike Gold at the box-office, it did enough to warrant its major players returning for another Wilbur Smith adaptation, Shout At The Devil. But Bernstein still provided an exciting score that propelled the intrigue and a lush romantic melody to balance out its muscular theme. Intrada have done extremely well in bringing the score to us though, and many Bernstein fans will no doubt lap it up. In fact, Elmer Bernstein's distinctive work has seen quite a few eminently collectible titles over the last year or so - Heavy Metal and True Grit (both reviewed separately), the wonderful boxset of his unreleased scores for The Journey Of Natty Gann, Gangs Of New York and The Scarlet Letter, and the relatively little seen or heard Anna Lucasta and Desire Under The Elms. With Gold now having been unearthed and polished up to a high gleam, maybe we will finally get a release of his full score for An American Werewolf In London. Well, I'll keep my claws crossed for that one, anyway.
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