Mackenna's Gold (1969)

A Giant of a movie

The gangster Colorado kidnaps Marshal McKenna. He believes that McKenna has seen a map which leads to a rich vein of gold in the mountains and forces him to show him the way. But they're not the only ones who're after the gold; soon they meet a group of "honorable" citizens and the cavalry crosses their way too - and that is even before they enter Indian territory.

How to succeed by failing big?
Mackenna's Gold is directed by J. Lee Thompson and adapted for the screen by Carl Foreman from a novel of the same name written by Henry Wilson Allen (AKA: Heck Allen, Henry Allen & Will Henry!), which in turn is loosely based on the legend of the Lost Adams Diggings. It stars Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Camilla Sparv, Julie Newmar, Ted Cassidy & Telly Savalas. It's photographed by Joseph MacDonald in Technicolor and Super Panavision, with a music score by Quincy Jones.
It begins so well, the credits inform us that not only do we get Peck, Sharif and Newmar in lead roles, but that we also have in support a role call of quality thespians: Eli Wallach, Edward G. Robinson, Raymond Massey, Burgess Meredith, Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn & Anthony Quayle. We are then treated to some gorgeous aerial photography of Monument Valley, a Vulture glides gracefully thru the air, and then, we hear the awful strains of "Old Turkey Buzzard" warbled like it belongs in a seventies porn movie by José Feliciano. It's there that the true marker for Mackenna's Gold is set.
The idea and source for the plot is safe, Lawman Mackenna (Peck) has the knowledge of where the legendary Canyon of Gold is. A fabled place awash with gold but guarded religiously by the Apache. With the map safely tucked away in his brain, Peck is quickly captured by blood thirsty Mexican bandit, Colorado (Sharif), and his companions, one of which (Newmar playing Indian Hesh-Ke) has past history with Mackenna. But that's not all, pretty soon Mackenna's party are joined by a whole host of other gold seekers, all seemingly gripped with Gold Fever. So in fighting and suspicion ensues, and with the Cavalry in pursuit of Colorado and the Apache still to come, this is as dangerous as it gets. If only the film wasn't so choppy and flat.
The film was originally a three hour epic, complete with intermission, but the budget probably all went on securing the cast and the producers don't seem able to deal with the task of making a big budget epic. Thus the film was cut to just over two hours; thank god for small mercies! Looking at the cast assembled it's obvious that this was a very ambitious project meant to keep the Western flag flying high and enthral the adventure seeking cinema goer. And you can see why such a quality cast signed on for the film, tho Peck was second choice after Clint Eastwood wisely chose to make Hang Em High instead. But what plays out is a series of clichés and absurdities that makes one unintentionally laugh. The effects are awful, I mean OK we don't expect back screen work to be high class, but here, with the actors half heartedly pretending it's real, it belies the fine work of MacDonald for the exteriors.
The problems don't just stop with the effects, before we even get to the issues in the cast, there's Jones' dreadful score to try and ignore. It sounds like he thinks he's scoring a Keystone Cops Gold Rush type movie! Dimitri Tiomkin, along with Foreman, is on production duties (hmm), I'm sure he could have knocked up something better for this film in his sleep. Peck is actually OK, with that laconic way of his, he suits the tone of the narrative. Sharif is grossly miscast, while Sparv is simply woeful. Newmar raises the temperatures of audience and cast alike, which you sense was her only instruction, while the lauded support cast file in and out without time to impact on proceedings. All of which leads to a finale of ham, model work and predictability. Yet there's been just enough to make the undemanding stay to the end. We wonder if indeed there is a Canyon of Gold, and Peck is so likable we just want to see him win out and defy the baddies.
Does it succeed by failing big? Well it is fun, but coming as it does from the makers of the Guns of Navarone, you have to believe that the end product is not the sort of entertainment they originally set out to craft. 3.5/10

Highroad Productions, Columbia Pictures by J. Lee Thompson, Heck Allen, Carl Foreman.
Stars: Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Camilla Sparv.

Genres: Action, Adventure, Romance, Western

Keywords: gold marshal

03/18/1969

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