Gregory Peck, Telly Savalas, Omar Sharif, Ted Cassidy, Julie Newmar, Camilla Sparv, and Keenan Wynn in Mackenna's Gold (1969)


(director: J. Lee Thompson; screenwriter: from the novel by Heck Allen/Carl Foreman; cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald; editor: Bill Lenny; music: Quincy Jones; cast: Gregory Peck (Mackenna), Omar Sharif (Colorado), Telly Savalas (Sergeant Tibbs), Camilla Sparv (Inga), Keenan Wynn (Sanchez), Julie Newmar (Hesh-Ke), Ted Cassidy (Hachita), Lee J. Cobb (Editor), Raymond Massey (Preacher), Burgess Meredith (Storekeeper), Anthony Quayle (Older Englishman), Victor Jory (Narrator); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Carl Foreman/Dimitri Tiomkin; Columbia Pictures; 1969)
“Overlong, absurd bore.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

J. Lee Thompson (“Cape Fear”/”The Guns of Navarone”/”St. Ives”) helms this overlong, absurd bore as if he were contemplating ways to torture the viewer with his failed ambitions. The convoluted and clichéd gold-lust screenplay is by Carl Foreman, trying to duplicate The Treasure of The Sierra Madre success but coming up only with a handful of fool’s gold. It’s based on a novel by Will Henry. The film’s only noteworthy accomplishment is its beautiful scenic shots but, I must say, the special effects for this big budget film were not that good. Victor Jory acts as narrator for a pic that didn’t need one; what it needed was a lucid script. There are numerous cameos by such illustrious stars as Keenan Wynn, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, Raymond Massey and others, who just stagger in and out of the film for no great purpose.

In the Arizona of 1874, Marshal Sam Mackenna (Gregory Peck) of Hadleyburg learns the location of the hidden canyon, known as the Valley of Gold, that the legend says is where the Apaches stashed sacred gold. The marshal is ambushed in the desert and forced to shoot Prairie Dog, an old Apache chief. Before dying, the Indian for some reason entrusts Mackenna with a map of the mythical canyon but warns him that the Apache gods watch over their gold. The marshal memorizes and then burns the map. He is then captured by a ruthless gang of Mexican bandits, led by Colorado (Omar Sharif). The outlaw wants the gold so he can emigrate to Paris to become a gentleman and holds as hostage Inga (Camilla Sparv), a young Swedish immigrant and the daughter of the town judge. When he threatens to kill Inga, the marshal leads him to the canyon. They are followed by young Apache warriors who want the gold to support them in their fight against the white men. Also, some Hadleyburg prospectors and some locals come out to the desert having caught the “gold fever.” Added to the mix is a U. S. Cavalry troop after Colorado. All the warring factions have a go at each other, and when the dust clears the only survivors are Mackenna, Colorado, Inga, and two renegade Apaches–the alluring Hesh-Ke (Julie Newmar) and Hachita (Ted Cassidy), a silent brave. By this time it’s obvious the story is going nowhere, that the flabby Sharif is miscast in a Western and that I can’t wait for this dud to end. It ends ironically with the Apache horses causing an avalanche that wipes out the canyon, but not before Mackenna, Colorado, and Inga escape. The marshal’s saddlebags are filled with gold and a smiling Inga is by his side, as he threatens to someday find Colorado and kill him. It was a dumb and unsatisfying ending, but at least it concluded.