It is a dark and stormy night.
No, really! It is a dark and stormy night as archaeologist David Redfern (Trevor Howard) drives across Northern Africa in the 1950 adventure flick, The Golden Salamander. His mission is to retrieve some artifacts that have been stored in a cellar since World War II.
But, on the way, Howard encounters a mud slide and discovers that a mysterious truck has been ditched. Upon closer inspection, he sees the truck is carrying a shipment of guns. Now, Howard is an academic who works for a British museum. He decides that a suspicious truck full of arms is none of his concern.
Yet, when he rummages through the artifacts that he is to catalogue and ship to England, he finds a statue of a salamander – a stout, ugly creature made of pure gold with an inscription: “Not by ignoring evil does one overcome it, but by going to meet it.” Howard then decides to take all gun-related matters into his own hands.
The Golden Salamander has exterior scenes that were actually filmed in Tunisia. Because of this, we are treated to some really interesting landscapes and unusual scenes such as a groom’s wedding processional and a boar hunt. (Who doesn’t love a good boar hunt!)
Howard is terrific, as he always is. He’s believable as a man who’s determined to get the job done, whether it’s packing up artifacts or telling locals they should not be running guns. Still, there is the one scene where Howard runs down a steep hill and we rather thought he moved like a girl. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The big problem with The Golden Salamander is the stupid mistakes the characters make. Plot holes are one thing, but to write sloppy mistakes into the script to advance the story is another. For example, a character has a letter that will help him escape the gun-running biz and flee to France. This letter sticks enticingly out of a coat pocket that is left in a busy cafe. We ask you: If you were fleeing to Paris, would you treat such a letter this carelessly? We didn’t think so.
However, there is a great supporting cast in this movie. Anouk Aimee is a young woman who lives and works at the Cafe des Amis that Howard frequents. Of course she falls in love with Howard, but there is one very satisfying scene where she screams at him to mind his own business and go back to England. As much as we like Howard and his character, we think this outburst was long overdue.
Herbert Lom, best known for his work as Chief Inspector Dreyfus in The Pink Panther movies, is the stereotypical heavy that the movie needs. He’s a menacing character who is capable of anything. However, Lom isn’t given much work with in this script, and his character is so dense at times, you actually smack your forehead.
The best character in this movie is the evil mastermind, played by Walter Rilla. Rilla is a smooth, cocktail-drinking, cigarette-smoking villain in pressed suits and groomed features. We are suspicious of him right from the start. After all, the artifacts were stored in his cellar all those years and he wasn’t curious enough to even look at them. Someone who is not tempted by the prospect of stealing such riches is either a saint, or already has a hefty illegal cash flow.
We think you might enjoy The Golden Salamander if you don’t expect too much. The cast is worth it, as are the scenes of Tunisia. You just have to resolve to not analyze the plot. You’ll only drive yourself crazy.
The Golden Salamander: starring Trevor Howard, Anouk Aimèe, Herbert Lom. Directed by Ronald Neame. Written by Lesley Storm, Victor Canning, Ronald Neame. The J. Arthur Rank Organisation, 1950, B&W, 93 mins.