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“FALCON’S GOLD”: CABLE TV’S FIRST FILM!

by Cary O'Dell

If you’ve ever seen the 1980’s made-for-TV movie “Falcon’s Gold” (a.k.a. “Robbers of the Sacred Mountain”) you may not have been aware of it, but you were watching a little bit of TV history.

Though now pay-cable channels are the home to some of the most popular and most acclaimed original films and series on the air, there was a time when HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax were strictly stocked with nothing but one-time theatrical film releases--titles that were then biding their time between being shown in brick-and-mortar theaters before making their way to the shelves of the video stores and then (gasp!) to free, network TV.

Consider: Showtime. It launched in 1976 and went national in 1978. Though they occasionally showed an original music special, their main bread-and-butter were theatrical films, aired uncut and uninterrupted. But in 1982, the cable-net ventured into brand new waters with the production and broadcast of “Falcon’s Gold.”

Also known under the title “Robbers of the Sacred Mountain,” “Gold,” as noted, has the distinction of being the very first TV movie produced specifically for airing on a pay-cable TV channel. Word of its production was considered important enough in those nascent days of pay cable TV that it even generated a handful of newspaper stories about its filming in September of 1982.

The need for something like “Gold” was multi-fold. First, new, exclusive titles on pay channels would, hopefully, attract new and keep old subscribers (much like today how Netflix, et.al., are producing their own original content). But original films were also needed to fill in the programming gaps—in terms of both reasons to watch and simply as basic time filler. For Hollywood, et.al, was just not at that time producing enough (quality) product to fill various cable channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at least not to constantly retain consistent audience interest. As a Vancouver newspaper put it at the time, “[After all,] for every “Das Boot’ there are five ‘Endless Loves’ and one or two ‘Honky Tonk Freeways.’”

Furthermore, though repetition of films, at all hours of the day and night, were the norm of pay-cable channels, it also worked to prematurely exhaust a channel’s inventory. For example, once a Showtime household watched a “Das Boot,” they probably weren’t going to watch it again, at least not within the next month or two. Hence, new movies, new programs, new specials—more! More! MORE!—were always in demand.

When it was finished, “Falcon’s Gold” debuted on Showtime on December 18, 1982 (and, as happens on cable, was then re-aired umpteenth times in the immediate days, weeks and months after over the Showtime channel).

Supposedly “Falcon’s Gold” was based on a short story by “Sherlock Holmes” creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, titled “Challenger’s Gold,” but, actually, it seems far more accurate to say that the film was inspired by the big screen’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” For, like “Raiders,” “Falcon’s” is the tale of a rakish, dashing adventurer (a reporter here, not like Indiana Jones’s professional archeologist) out to find the great and mysterious treasure of Cavite, a hidden golden artifact of great historical importance that also contains a fragment of a meteorite which—IN THE WRONG HANDS!—could be used to build a deadly laser!

Set in modern day (after a quick flashback prologue, c. 1931), “Falcon’s” starred the handsome British actor Simon MacCorkindale, previously of the UK’s “Quatermass” series and the big screen’s “Death on the Nile” and soon to be US TV’s “Manimal.” (And, after that, “Falcon Crest,” among many other credits.) MacCorkindale played the intrepid, pipe-smoking reporter Hank Richards.

Richards is set off on his quest by curmudgeony scientist Prof. Christopher Falcon, played by
veteran character actor John Marley, in one of his very last roles.

Joining Richards on his adventure are not one, but two leading ladies. Louise Vallance starred as Prof. Falcon’s plucky, spunky granddaughter Tracey who is, at first, an unwelcome addition to the expedition but eventually proves her mettle. Additionally, the film introduced (at least to US audiences) Latin American actress Blanca Guerra as sultry jungle guide B.G. Alvarez.

Filmed in Mexico—subbing for all of South America—“Falcon’s” is a jam-packed 90 minutes of, truly, action and adventure which includes ALL of the following: a kidnapping, fist fights (several), double agents, car crashes (again, several), and even a rock slide. And even though some of the film’s main set pieces (cut brake lines, a dark and dangerous cave, a secluded monastery with hooded monks lurking about) fully fall into full-on cliché, “Falcon’s” sense of commitment and sense of humor, wins you over. Further, various action sequences in the film--for example, an early fight sequence in a museum of anthology and a near-the-end-of-film helicopter stunt—are quite well done.

After premiering on Showtime, “Falcon’s Gold” was released theatrically overseas and, at that time, also given a title change to “Robbers of the Sacred Mountain,” a switch no doubt done to underscore its resemblance to “Raiders.” The film would also be released to home video—on VHS tape—with the “Robbers” title.

Assuming that the home video and theatrical versions of the film are identical to the one shown on Showtime, interestingly, “Falcon’s” is largely free of most made-for-cable trappings. There’s no excessive blood or gore and absolutely no rough language. Granted, however, there is some not-for-regular-broadcast nudity in it. The physicality of Ms. Guerra is on display in a couple of scenes and MacCorkindale dons a loincloth at one point, showing a heavy percentage of, oh, let’s call it his “hips.” This inclusion of “adult themes” might have, in many ways, actually, worked against the film as, without them, the movie would have been very kid-friendly.

What does make “Falcon’s Gold” “cable-worthy” is the lush look and great sweep of the film. Though that sort of high cost and high gloss was common for network mini-series of the era, regular TV movies of the time didn’t always get this much attention (or money). Certainly, this sort of high sheen is certainly absent from the (few and far between) made-for-TV movies that exist today on network and basic cable--think of the basic locales and often cookie-cutter camerawork of everything on the Hallmark Channel.

Reportedly, it was hoped that after this film aired, it would spawn a series, assumedly also starring MacCorkindale and Vallance. That never happened.

Today, of course, Showtime, HBO and new “platforms” like Netflix and Hulu, are as much known for their original films and series as they are for their repeating of one-time theatrical features. But that wasn’t always the case—until, of course, the debut of the rope-swinging, high-flying adventures of “Falcon’s Gold.”

 

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