Cult Movie: Moments of magic in Nicholas Roeg's epic Eureka

Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann who is the richest man in the world but who is also deeply unhappy
Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann who is the richest man in the world but who is also deeply unhappy Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann who is the richest man in the world but who is also deeply unhappy

THE year is 1925 and prospector Jack McGann has been scrabbling around lucklessly in the Canadian wilderness for gold. A chance encounter with a rock that appears to fall directly from space and a meeting with a mysterious fortune teller change his luck, however, and he suddenly strikes it rich.

Fast forward to 1940 and Jack is the wealthiest man in the world but also deeply unhappy, living in a mansion in the Caribbean with his drunken wife and his beloved daughter Tracy, who has a sleazy boyfriend called Claude who Jack hates with a passion. Then there’s the small matter of the ruthless mob boss Mayakovsky who wants to build a casino in Jack’s island at any cost.

That is, essentially, the story of Eureka which is given a debut blu-ray release by, appropriately enough, Eureka Entertainment this month.

Directed by Nicolas Roeg, whose impressive CV includes the likes of Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell) and The Man Who Fell To Earth, it was made in 1981, met with general indifference and drifted off into relative obscurity pretty quickly.

That’s a shame for, although it’s far from Roeg’s best work, there are enough moments of magic among the ponderous arty interludes to make this a hugely enjoyable cult experience.

Based, pretty loosely it must be said, on the true life story of Harry Oakes, a man who earned his fortune in Canada before moving to the Bahamas where he was murdered in deeply shady circumstances, it was a big production with locations as far apart as London, Jamaica and Yukon County being utilised to capture its vast, yawning themes of greed, guilt and the supernatural.

Like many a Roeg epic, it experienced difficulties on its journey to the cinema screen; rumour has it MGM continually tried to pull the plug on proceedings, feeling that it was pompous and lacking in direction, and it didn’t make it to the public for more than two years after its completion. Such mundane production struggles shouldn’t mask the film’s odd, slightly creepy genius, however.

At times it is too ponderous and self-aware for its own good but the first hour kicks along beautifully as we follow Jack through the old abandoned mining town where he has his life-changing experiences and the moment where Jack uncovers the gold as Wagner’s Der Ringgold blasts out on the soundtrack is truly magical.

Less appealing is the decidedly odd obsession that taints Jack’s relationship with his daughter. The faint whiff of incestuous desire leaves a bad taste and slows things down to a crawl at times.

The whole plot of the Mafia wanting to take Jack’s land for their own purposes is handled better but still drags. The murder at the film’s curious core is gruesome in the extreme and delivered with an almost gore-obsessed grandeur that leaves you reeling.

Theresa Russell and Gene Hackman acquit themselves admirably in the lead roles and there are supporting roles, as bad to the bone mobsters, for a pre-Goodfellas Joe Pesci and a pre-plastic surgery Mickey Rourke.