The Golden Salamander
The Golden Salamander was the first major film production directed by cinematographer/screenwriter Ronald Neame; he had previously directed a low-budget crime thriller in 1947 entitled Take My Life. When Neame first offered the film to Howard, he turned it down but then changed his mind and was soon delighted to be playing opposite French actress Anouk Aimee, who was the love interest. Aimee was at the very beginning of her film career and had just attracted international attention for her role in Andre Cayatte's Les Amants de Verone (1949). During the filming Howard and Aimee became very close, resulting in rumors of an affair but no evidence exists that it did, much to the relief of Howard's wife, who was genuinely concerned for awhile that the picture might ultimately cause the breakup of her marriage.
The Golden Salamander was nothing more than a standard genre thriller but it afforded some comical moments during filming. "One of the best scenes on location was, Neame recalls (in Trevor Howard: A Gentleman and a Player by Vivienne Knight), unfortunately not for the picture. Shooting was taking place in an open market of a native village which was filthy, squalid and filled with Arabs buying and selling fly-covered local produce: a nice natural scene with thousands of free extras. The script called for Trevor Howard to work his way through the crowd in the market place. The camera was set up, creating a stir in itself since none of the locals had ever seen one before. Then came a loud hailer emitting interpreted pleas to the crowd to behave quite normally and naturally, just as though the camera wasn't there and, this above all, "Please don't look at the camera." It was a crane shot and there could be no rehearsal. It was all set. Ronnie Neame lifted his megaphone, shouted "Action!" and all hell was let loose: the Arabs started to fight, stalls were knocked over and a number of participants were knocked out. In the middle of it all Trevor Howard strugged with shock, amazement and other people. When, with some difficulty, a degree of order was restored and Arab had stopped tearing into Arab, it transpired that the word 'action' had triggered off something they had either seen in films, or thought should happen in films: action equalled fighting. But Ronnie Neame found out that, once they got the hang of it, many of the voluntary extras were quite good. So, up to a point, was the film."
Typical of the critical reviews that The Golden Salamander received upon its theatrical release is this one by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times: "The Britishers' taste for the exotic in their romantic adventure yarns is quite evident in "Golden Salamander," which came to the Little Carnegie yesterday. And this liberal indulgence of preference is most fortunate in this case, for the authentic Tunisian backgrounds and atmosphere of this film are its best points-these and a pretty young lady who now goes by the name of Anouk...As the scientist, Trevor Howard delivers his usual sincere and forceful job, demonstrating as much evolution into a bold adventurer as the script will allow. Under Ronald Neame's easy-going direction, he emerges from his academic calm rather abruptly but with absolute assurance once the melodramatic heat is turned on. Herbert Lom is extravagantly evil as the gunman of the gun-running gang and Walter Rilla is exquisitely silky as the lord of a Moorish villa and boss of the mob. A vast lot of outdoor action within the crowded streets of a Tunisian town and in the midst of a noisy native boar-hunt (for the climax) brings color to the film. The atmosphere is even augmented by a wistful pianist who plays dreamy bar-room tunes."
Producer: Alexander Galperson
Director: Ronald Neame
Screenplay: Lesley Storm, Victor Canning, Ronald Neame
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Music: William Alwyn
Film Editing: Jack Harris
Cast: Trevor Howard (David Redfern), Anouk (Anna), Herbert Lom (Rankl), Walter Rilla (Serafis), Miles Malleson (Douvet), Jacques Sernas (Max), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Agno), Peter Copley (Aribi), Marcel Poncin (Dommic), Kathleen Boutall (Mme. Guillard)
by Jeff Stafford