Golden Rendezvous was the first Alistair MacLean novel I actually wanted to read. I’d spent a year flipping idly through the pages of The Guns of Navarone on the recommendation of a friend and had never been able to really get into it with all the other stuff lying around my room waiting to be read. But one rainy day during the summer vacation when I couldn’t think of a single other thing to do, I noticed a copy of this book lying around my grandma’s house and picked it up.
I loved it. It’s not the best of MacLean’s novels, but it’s crisp and stacked full of his trademark touches: ironic wit, manly heroes carrying the weight of the world on their broad shoulders, beautiful blondes with rich daddies and an attitude problem, villainously villainful villains who need to be taught a lesson, and lots of action. As an introduction to his work, it has a little bit of everything that MacLean has to offer and you honestly couldn’t do better.
For years, I’d heard that there was a movie version of Golden Rendezvous and I wanted to watch it. I’d seen the famous three: Where Eagles Dare, Guns of Navarone, and Ice Station Zebra, and I wanted to see all the other versions too. I should have realized that the reason those three are so famous is because they’re the only good ones.
Oh well. It’s not like I’m getting particular in my old age. So this week is all about The Lost MacLeans. Little known movies based on the novels of Alistair MacLean. Perhaps you all wished to know what I thought of Khatta Meetha (it’s crap and shame on you for even asking!), Salt (very fun – kick some more ass, girl!), or Inception (instant obsession), but this is what I’ve got instead.
1977’s Golden Rendezvous promises “The action of The Guns of Navarone. The suspense of Ice Station Zebra. The drama of Where Eagles Dare.”
In that spirit, we start at the cruise ship where all the action takes place: an odd-looking man with long, 70s-style, thinning blond hair is directing sailors and being busy. I’m immediately confused because in the book, these are the actions of Johnny, our hero – a solid block of handsome manliness who I’m pretty sure had all his hair.
Suddenly, a taxi comes flying across the docks and screeches to a halt so a pretty, 70s-style, young woman built like a gazelle (that is to say, kind of elongated everywhere – there is a disconcerting shot of her in profile later on, where her neck looks disturbingly like that of a turkey’s except she doesn’t have flaps of skin hanging off it) can leap out.
Johnny Unlikely (Richard Harris) calls her Mrs. Beresford (Ann Turkel). In the book, she’s most definitely a Miss and traveling with her sweetheart, millionaire parents.
I decide to stop using the book as a reference point.
So… a bunch of things happen: An old man is gambling on board the ship and winning heavily by using some complicated system he’s invented that is apparently foolproof and legal. A crew members shows up late for duty. Mrs. Beresford is very cozy with some guy called Conway whom she “loves very much” but also spends her evenings flirting with some Latin type called Tony while Conway drinks in his cabin. A cancer patient and some coffins are transferred on board right before the ship leaves. A waiter delivers meals. A woman with big peroxided hair evidently doesn’t want to be on the ship but is there anyway while her husband is kidnapped from some top-secret facility by men with accents. A terrible waiter steals a drink and goes outside to sneak a cigarette, and is promptly paid for his sins by getting his head bashed in. Johnny Unlikely sees his body getting dumped and is only saved from the same fate thanks to his colleagues.
If you’ve never read the book, then I have no idea what you will make of it all except Very Bad Things take place and Johnny fakes a leg injury after the ship is hijacked so he can wander around in the rain inflicting, we later find out, absolutely no damage whatsoever other than killing the Big Meanie’s son in a severely anti-climactic fight as well as a couple of other random baddies in assorted skirmishes. In fact, his greatest battle takes place with Mother Nature as he struggles against rain and sea to snoop on people and look thoughtful.
Somewhere along the way Harris pulls out his inner magic (jokes!) and manages to convince you he’s Johnny rather than Johnny Unlikely. And he mainly does it by randomly planting a big wet one on the attractive Mrs. Harris Beresford – although even that bit of charm doesn’t get her to give up her unnecessarily secret subplot.
Directed by Ashley Lazarus, who appears to be someone with a knack for assembling a talented cast so he can direct them into oblivion, Golden Rendezvous chooses to zig where the novel zagged and falls right into the ravine of mistakes in the middle.
The novel wasn’t merely about “Nuclear Terror”, the title chosen for Rendezvous‘s TV debut. In fact, it was about a lot of things but nuclear terror was absolutely not it. Golden Rendezvous was a fantastic conjob as well as an action-packed thriller in which superman John Carter doesn’t merely get bloody revenge for the shipmates the crooks killed, he outsmarts them out of their money and then blows them up to kingdom come – coz if that’s the way they wanted to play it, he was more than game.
The movie John Carter smashes through a few things to a potentially great Jeff Wayne soundtrack that was apparently just slapped on, bumbles the one big switcheroo and stumbles upon the way out by pure luck. Phooey.
The best part of the movie was undoubtedly the luckless Preston (Keith Baxter) whose is introduced – in one of the three scenes he is allowed to speak – by the back of his head. I forgot to mention the camera work on this movie is insane and not in a good way. Things don’t get much better for the poor fellow.
He gets shot in the stomach, is medicated with a glass of brandy, then is knocked out and locked up in isolation at the infirmary because Johnny is suspicious of him, and subsequently spends the rest of the movie saving Johnny’s and everyone else’s ass without so much as a word – all liberally interspersed with scenes in which he is randomly tossing and turning in bed or crawling about the deck on his wounded tummy. It’s like something out of Monty Python.
Too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t match up.