MacKenna's Gold Reviews
Once again, as in 'Lord Jim', here comes good old Eli to brighten up the story... for fifteen minutes, before his character is killed in an ambush. Nice knowing you, Ben.
Gregory Peck at his noblest is a town marshal who is ambushed by old Apache chief Eduardo Ciannelli. Peck kills him and finds out that the old man thought Peck was one of a gang of outlaws after a map of a lost canyon of gold. But as Ciannelli dies, Peck inherits the map which he burns.
Turns out Peck inherits a lot more than a map. Word of what the old guy had has reached the strangest places. The U.S. Cavalry, a group of settlers from the town Peck was the marshal, and unfortunately one unscrupulous bandit played by Omar Sharif. He kidnaps Peck and since Peck knows the location of where the lost canyon allegedly is, that fact keeps him alive.
Gold does terrible things to the human soul as we discover watching this film. Part of the problem here is that Peck somehow seems to rise above the whole business. Maybe he's just a bit too noble in this film and that's my problem with it.
The townspeople are an interesting crowd, the citizens that Peck has sworn to protect turn on him quite savagely. Gambler Eli Wallach, newspaper editor Lee J. Cobb, storekeeper Burgess Meredith, a pair of traveling Englishmen, Anthony Quayle and John Philip Law who think it would be jolly good sport, and even the local preacher who convinces himself God has ordained this so he can build a tabernacle. That role is played by Raymond Massey in his final big screen performance. And of course there's Edward G. Robinson as an old prospector who claims the canyon exists because the saw it and for that the Apaches burned out his eyes.
Camilla Sparv is another of Omar Sharif's hostages who's having a big problem choosing between Peck and the gold. One of the more ridiculous sequences in the film has Sharif and his band coming across an Eden like waterhole they spend a bit of time skinny dipping and satisfying some lustful desires.
The two best performances in the film are from Julie Newmar in a role with no dialog as a murderous Indian squaw who travels with Sharif's band and has a personal score to settle with Peck and from Telly Savalas as a cavalry sergeant who murders his own men and declares himself in on the gold hunt.
Hovering over the characters in the sky throughout the film is an old turkey buzzard and a song is sung intermittently throughout the film by Jose Feliciano. It's a kind of running commentary, the way some of the westerns in the fifties had Frankie Laine and other singers performing the same function.
A lot of the same themes were done better twenty years earlier in Columbia films classic Lust for Gold that starred Glenn Ford and Ida Lupino. Mackenna's Gold is an entertaining enough western, but considering all the talent in this film it should have been a lot better.
Entertaining but way to long. The song "Old Turkey Buzzard" is awesome!
Basically, everything that worked so brilliantly in Navarone - a terrific story that moved along at a perfect pace, interesting characters and exciting and suspenseful action scenes - falls apart here.
With this picture, the story meanders along at a sluggish pace, every-so-often coming to a dead stop so more characters can be introduced (probably because the leads are so damn boring), then get killed off during the next generic action scene, and concludes with an absolutely ridiculous climax that is completely wrong for the film.
Other than an interesting score by Quincy Jones and some nice location photography, courtesy of the Super Panavision cameras, of the Utah desert, this picture really has nothing to offer, which is a shame considering the talent involved.