Attempting to do for Westerns what his Guns of Navarone
had done for World War II action epics, director J. Lee Thompson crafted Mackenna's Gold
as a lavish, absurdly ambitious variation on Erich Von Stroheim's Greed
, resulting in a last-gasp Western so eager to encompass the genre's traditions that it turns into a big, silly, wildly entertaining mess. Gregory Peck surely had more serious intentions when he signed on, and he brings prestigious gravitas to his glum role as Marshall Mackenna, who gets shanghaied into searching for the gold-filled canyon of an elusive Apache legend. The rest of the 1969 film labors to undermine Peck's respectable demeanor; how else to explain Omar Sharif as a Mexican villain, Julie Newmar as a hot-blooded Apache temptress (with underwater nude scenes that were celebrated in Playboy
magazine), and a jaw-dropping finale that's so ridiculous it's impressive in spite of itself?
Formerly blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and composer Dimitri Tiomkin joined up to coproduce the film, and one can only imagine how Anthony Mann or Howard Hawks might've handled Foreman's sensible script. Thompson goes for scenic splendor, heavy action, and heavier emotions, casting everything at a fever pitch that's wildly enjoyable without betraying his "serious" intentions. A stable of Hollywood veterans (Eli Wallach, Raymond Massey, Edward G. Robinson, and others) appear in lively supporting roles--they're all dispatched in a garish Apache ambush--and Camilla Sparv is an ingénue with plenty of fighting attitude. Gold fever reaches its peak, along with some awesome special effects, and divine intervention reaches new heights of intensity. Top it off with José Feliciano's theme song, and you'll be in zany Western heaven. --Jeff Shannon