John Carter (Richard Harris), sadly not of Mars but first officer aboard the combination cargo ship-cum-floating casino the Carribean Star, is suitably bemused when a taxi comes crashing through the dock bringing a late arrival, glamorous passenger Susan Beresford (Ann Turkel). Initially intrigued as to whether Mrs. Beresford is involved with enigmatic alcoholic Charles Conway (David Janssen), Carter is drawn to a more pressing problem. There is a killer on board bumping off crewmen one by one. Carter and ship's medical officer Doctor Marston (Gordon Jackson) suspect it has something to do with the mysterious Mr. Sadan, a supposedly paralyzed passenger locked in his room with a sinister nurse. By the time Carter figures out what is going on it is already too late. Armed terrorists led by Luis Carreras (John Vernon) hijack the ship, hold everyone hostage and smuggle an atomic bomb on board as part of an elaborate plan to steal a fortune in gold from a U.S. Treasury ship.
By the late Seventies Richard Harris had already saved passengers on one ocean liner from a mad bomber in Juggernaut (1974) and a deadly virus aboard a train in The Cassandra Crossing (1976), making him arguably the progenitor of the one-man-against-all-odds action hero Bruce Willis made famous in Die Hard (1988) and Steven Seagal rendered charmless in Under Siege (1992). Unfortunately for Harris, Golden Rendezvous was an embarrassing flop. Based on a novel by the great Alistair MacLean, of The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Where Eagles Dare (1969) fame, and first optioned as a vehicle for Laurence Harvey fifteen years earlier, this troubled South African co-production bypassed theatres in the United States, premiering as an ABC TV movie of the week three years later, and was barely released elsewhere. In Britain it shared a double-bill with of all things That's Carry On! (1977) with saucy poster art showing a lingerie-clad Ann Turkel toting a machinegun. For the record the then-Mrs. Harris does both though not at the same time.
If Golden Rendezvous, also released under the alternate title Nuclear Terror, is remembered at all it is for being tied up in a political scandal in South Africa where an investigation uncovered evidence of corruption and misappropriation of public funds to bankroll the film. All of which proved pretty embarrassing for Richard Harris who found himself uninsurable and also slammed for alleged drunkenness on set. Despite a well-earned reputation for intoxication this turned out to be untrue. Under Ann Turkel's influence Harris sobered up. He even toiled on the script to try and salvage the sinking ship. Happily he bounced back with The Wild Geese (1978) though his career remained inconsistent until a return to form in the late Eighties. Another notable aspect of the film would be the pulsating disco soundtrack by Jeff Wayne the producer-composer behind The War of the Worlds concept album. Wayne's electro-pop beats, which go "oo-ee-oo-ew!" at every suspensful moment, paper over the cracks of a crazy, silly, trashy fun action-adventure romp.
Filming began under the direction of legendary British cinematographer Freddie Francis until, for whatever reason, South African filmmaker Ashley Lazurus took over. His humdrum Seventies TV style fails to harness the potential in MacLean's frankly outrageous plot. The film crawls through a painfully arch and stilted first act murder mystery where Carter, Marston and the awfully posh, remarkably dim Captain Bullen (Robert Flemyng) try to figure out what is going on and which passenger might be responsible. Once the terrorists (who all resemble Fidel Castro) take over and Richard Harris changes into that same black polo neck he wore in almost all his action roles things get livelier albeit crazier with a kidnapped nuclear scientist, an atom bomb in a coffin and fairly exciting action scenes where our one-man army rappels down the storm-battered ship or blasts bad guys away. In time-honoured disaster film fashion lots of crusty character actors pop up in special guest roles. Try not to laugh yourself silly when John Carradine returns from the loo to find his fellow passengers now bullet-riddled corpses, David Janssen calmly orders another drink and Burgess Meredith remains at the roulette wheel even while people are shot to bits and the room bursts into flame. Dorothy Malone appears to be performing in an entirely different movie until a poorly revealed plot twist. Also a hoot is the would-be flirty banter between Carter and Susan Beresford that Harris most likely scripted himself. She keeps telling him he has "the weirdest little hang-ups" while he threatens to "smash her face" before their big romantic moment sees her slap him before he lovingly calls her a bitch. Love was strange in the Seventies. Also ask yourself why David Janssen and Ann Turkel's characters felt the need to hide their perfectly innocent relationship? Golden Rendezvous is certainly no classic and deviates extensively from MacLean's novel, but the old Harris charisma just about carries it through the many absurdities and the oddly cordial climactic face-off with the surprise villain is rather engaging.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).