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MOTHER LODE

From the Nov. 19, 1982, Deseret News

MOTHER LODE — Charlton Heston, Nick Mancuso, Kim Basinger, John Marley; directed by Charlton Heston; written & produced by Fraser Clarke Heston; rated PG (violence, profanity).

When Charlton Heston appears on the screen in "Mother Lode," his imposing figure is wrapped in darkness and we only gradually become aware of his presence. That's the first indication of what is to come, as the tension begins to build in this odd mix of gold-fever adventure and horror-plotting in a script penned by Heston's son, Fraser.

"Mother Lode" is the second film collaboration from the two Hestons, and it is by far the better of the two. "The Mountain Men" a couple of years ago was a very violent exercise in bad taste.

This time around the younger Heston produced as well as wrote "Mother Lode," and in addition to the elder Heston's major screen role, he plays a second part in the film, and directed it as well.

Heston main character is a Scottish prospector in Northern British Columbia, having spent some 20 years digging a mine for gold that he claims has eluded him. Enter Nick Mancuso and Kim Basinger (two relative newcomers to films and both very appealing), searching for a missing friend who disappeared with a mysterious map. Mancuso is struck with a severe case of gold fever, invades Heston's mine and is bound and determined to find the precious yellow stuff. But Heston has other ideas.

"Mother Lode" starts out as an adventure film, with some gorgeous photography of the Vancouver wilderness and a few good stunts (including an unplanned plane crash on a lake; it was photographed, so they wrote it into the script). Then, as the conflict between Heston and the younger couple begins to build, it gradually degenerates into a horror movie, with shadows and light indicating that danger lurks around every corner.

There are a few good jolts and enough excitement to justify the genre switch, though, and despite a number of plot holes and illogical sequences (and, at one point, the laughable picture of Heston hoisting a body that is obviously a very light dummy), "Mother Lode" delivers more than its fair share of thrills.

The thanks for this goes more to Heston's tight direction, which successfully builds the tension so that we don't mind it turning into a "haunted cave" story, than his son's script, which relies on a number of clichés and a plot-character twist that makes little sense. (To Fraser Heston's credit, though, the characters seem to be well drawn.)

Heston has also mastered a Scottish accent with an authentic ring but sometimes it's so authentic that his lines are occasionally lost. (Couples were constantly turning to one another during the screening I attended and asking, "What'd he say?") Dialogue is secondary to action here, though, so that's not a fatal flaw.

Rated PG for violence and profanity, "Mother Lode" should please the action crowd and it's nice to see Heston fit so comfortably into a character role in a strong picture, after such dismal films as "The Mountain Men" and "The Awakening."

And for the trivia buffs, it's interesting to note that this is the second film this season to feature a major star in a dual role, with one of the characters being an eccentric gold miner who's been at it for 20 years. Remember Kirk Douglas in "The Man From Snowy River?"