Golden Rendezvous (1977)

Golden Rendezvous (the filmmakers dropped the word "The" from the book title) is an extreme example of the highs and lows of converting an Alistair MacLean thriller to the big screen. The cast, featuring a few well-known actors and a lot of relative nobodies, turns in strikingly uneven performances. Even less calming is the script, which follows MacLean's story for much of the way but occasionally takes some wild swings. Viewers of this ship-borne adventure get the sensation of being on a posh cruise ship that is sometimes buffeted by large waves, leaving them mildly seasick.

This was only a middling book, with vintage MacLean writing but a somewhat hackneyed plot (see my review here). Hence, I didn't mind the plot alterations, and I even liked some. There's no mention of the stereotypical third-world "generalissimo" who was behind the book's shenanigans. The ship, a converted freighter with luxury cabins in the book, is now a floating casino. The tangential and weak story about a stolen American nuclear device has been skipped. Many new characters are introduced (so quickly that it is difficult to keep them all straight). And the leading lady, Susan Beresford, has changed from the available daughter of the ship's owners to some mysterious femme fatale with a "Mrs." before her name.

Despite all those initial changes, the plot proceeds directly along the book's lines. Crew members start to turn up missing or dead, especially in and around the ship's wireless office. Just when protagonist John Carter has captured the leading bad guys, a team of machine-gun-wielding guerrillas takes over the ship. (The outcome of this invasion differs greatly, though, as the ship's captain is killed rather then merely wounded, and some passengers are also gunned down.) With the aid of the ship's doctor (an amalgam of MacLean's doctor and McDonald-the-Scottish-bosun), Susan, and a couple of added characters of mixed loyalties, the wounded Carter rises from his sick-bay bed and sets out to wreck the evildoers' plans.

That's all fine as far as it goes. But just when the story has reached its apparent denouement — the point where, in the book, the baddies go sailing off to their unexpected doom — the plot changes completely, and dishearteningly. The filmmakers must have wanted to throw in a couple of final twists, but by removing some of MacLean's cleverness and adding trite bits about a bomb about to detonate, they ruined a perfectly good ending. I could only shake my head and wince.

The day before viewing Golden Rendezvous, I had seen the final Harry Potter movie, and my reaction was largely the same: when a film has followed a book author's vision faithfully for so long, why throw in a sudden monkey wrench by drastically altering the climactic scenes? In both cases, those changes were clearly for the worse. I'm no expert on cinematic theory ... but I can't understand why filmmakers feel the need to express their creative visions in ways that spoil the final product.

The celebrated actor Richard Harris acquitted himself reasonably well as Carter, despite a dreadful Prince Valiant-ish hairstyle. His romantic moments with Susan seemed unnatural, largely because she looked like she was in her 20s and he struck me as nearing 60. Only later did I discover that Harris was actually in his 40s at that time; Ann Turkel, who played Susan, was in her early 30s; and in fact, they were married in real life!

Veteran actor John Vernon made a career of playing black-hearted characters well (including his defining role as Dean Wormer in the movie and TV series Animal House), and his turn as evil schemer Luis Carreras here was no exception, though the Latino surname didn't match his persona. Burgess Meredith had a small but vital role as a mysterious gambler who somehow (it wasn't clear how) was part of the conspiracy. Some of the bit-part actors were just going through the motions and/or hamming it up too much.

This isn't a bad adventure film (especially compared to some of the other MacLean-based movies). Most of the actors are very watchable, and if you've read the book, you'll enjoy recognizing many of the same developments. Just be prepared for a major letdown at the end.



(5 out of 10)