MacKenna's Gold (1969)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Omar Sharif and Gregory Peck in MacKenna's Gold

All that Glitters is not Gold

There is a saying which goes "All that glitters is not gold" and what a perfect description of 60s western "MacKenna's Gold". Here we have a western which should work, alongside the leads of Gregory peck and Omar Sharif there is a surprising amount of well known stars such as Telly Savalas and Eli Wallach lurking in the cast. It also has director J. Lee Thompson who gave us "Guns of Navarone" and has some of the most impressive locations going. And to be honest the actual idea of a legendary Canyon of gold with several people looking to discover it isn't too bad either. But whilst all this may tempt and glitter "MacKenna's Gold" ends up boring and drawn out, to the point that you are desperate for it to end.

Whilst Marshal MacKenna (Gregory Peck - How the West Was Won) has heard of a legendary hidden canyon full of gold he doesn't believe it even when he comes across an old Indian with a map to the secret location. But when Outlaw Colorado (Omar Sharif - Doctor Zhivago) catches up with MacKenna he takes him captive along with the attractive Inga (Camilla Sparv) forcing him to lead him and his gang to the location on the map. But Colorado isn't the only interested in the location of the legendary gold as there is Ben Baker (Eli Wallach - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and a group of respectable business men who also want a share plus the cavalry lead by the ruthless Sgt. Tibbs (Telly Savalas) who are also on their trail as they head in to Indian territory.

Camilla Sparv and Julie Newmar in MacKenna's Gold

Now to be honest I like the idea to "MacKenna's Gold", this legendary canyon where a wealth of gold is supposed to reside and a group of Indians who protect it. I also like the wealth of mythical history we get fed about this legendary canyon and that only one person has seen it but then was blinded by the Indian's so he will never be able to find it again. It's a nice set up which raises our expectations that maybe this will be some clever movie.

But sadly that is as good as it gets as sadly it goes down hill surprisingly quickly especially as we then get a lot of cliche as we have Outlaw Colorado leading a group of men and forcing Marshal MacKenna to lead them to this secret location. The potential to be clever is still there as other groups enter the fray such as Ben Baker who leads a group of businessmen on a hunt for the gold as well as the Cavalry lead by the nefarious Sgt. Tibbs. But these other people enter with out adding anything to the story other than padding. For example when Ben Baker and his gang enter, which it has to be said features many recognizable actors, they are in it for a couple of scenes before being killed and so become an utterly pointless diversion.

Now in a way you get a sense that "MacKenna's Gold" was not meant to be about the actual journey to get to the gold but the characters and in particular Marshal MacKenna who falls for fellow hostage Inga whilst also having to deal with a former lover in the sexy Hesh-Ke. But the tension which should come from this love triangle with Hesh-Ke becoming jealous of Inga never materialises, we may see Hesh-Ke become jealous but you don't feel it. And the same can be said of the animosity between MacKenna and Colorado, the sense of mistrust never surfaces making the whole movie incredibly flat.

Now personally what doesn't help either is all the experimental camera work which whilst not dominating the movie does end up distracting. What I am on about is scenes such as when MacKenna and Colorado cross an old rope bridge, the blurring, zooming in and out as well as swaying off the camera maybe trying to demonstrate the danger it ends up more like someone is having a bad trip. And whilst not experimental the difference between the actual films used also ends up causing issues which I guess was more down to the studio trying to save money. Talking of which you get a sense that "MacKenna's Gold" had a lot of studio meddling, dogging proceedings and I would say that huge wads of explanatory narrative is missing in order to not only keep costs down but also the running length. Maybe if director J. Lee Thompson had been able to make a more faithful adaptation of Heck Allen's novel it wouldn't have ended up so dull.

Now there is a lot of star power going on in "MacKenna's Gold" we have Burgess Meredith, Anthony Quayle, Edward G. Robinson and Eli Wallach, just a few of the famous actors whose parts add up to little more than padding. And then you have the likes of Telly Savalas, Julie Newmar and Camilla Sparv who may have more to do but end up in both 2 dimensional and cliche characters. That basically leaves us with Gregory Peck as MacKenna and Omar Sharif as Colorado who to be honest make "MacKenna's Gold" worth watching despite both playing cliche characters. It's sort of amusing when you consider that Eli Wallach is in the cast that you have Omar Sharif playing a variation on the evil bandit, a part Wallach had done so brilliantly prior to this but in fairness Sharif is entertaining even if he is over the top. And whilst Peck delivers your generic tall, dark and handsome hero who gets the girl at least he gives MacKenna a bit more depth by being a calculating character.

What this all boils down to is that "MacKenna's Gold" ends up disappointing and honestly quite dull. Considering the story, the director and a cast packed with well known names and faces there is little which happens in the movie which really grabs your attention. In fact what ends up being attention grabbing is the experimental camera work which is more annoying than exciting.


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