Mackenna’s Gold (1969) – Gregory Peck and the Temple of Dumb

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Sometimes when the stars align and the cinema gods smile upon you, you see a film that defies all thought and reason. A film so bad, so bizarre that you’re not sure of your own sanity. “Mackenna’s Gold” is not a film. It is a Lovecraftian nightmare designed to push you to the edge of sanity. It is a picture so poorly crafted that it feels like it was made specifically for Mystery Science Theatre 3000. How else could you explain the poor editing, ridiculous shots, incomprehensible story, and this song? This movie goes beyond the description of “bad movie” and descends into the realm of the surreal.

“Mackenna’s Gold” tells the story of Sheriff Mackenna (Gregory Peck) a lawman who at the beginning of the film shoots an Apache chief. As the chief dies, he tells Mackenna about CURSED APACHE GOLD. Let me repeat that. The MacGuffin for this movie is CURSED APACHE GOLD.

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Mackenna learns the location of the gold, but then a desperado named John Colorado (Omar Sharif…yes that Omar Sharif from Lawrence of Arabia) kidnaps Mackenna. Colorado is also seeking the CURSED APACHE GOLD and forces Mackenna to lead him to the treasure. The raiders of the CURSED APACHE GOLD set on the expedition while eluding the cavalry, and a band of Apaches who wish to protect their CURSED APACHE GOLD.

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There’s so much I could list about what’s wrong with this picture. The story makes no sense. The editing is a mess. Halfway through production they switched from 65mm stock to 35mm stock that was blown up, so a lot of the shots are grainy and have bad color. I’ve watched student films with better green screen effects than this movie. And again this song.

Yet the most amazing thing about this movie is the cast. When I first saw the credits I couldn’t believe who was in it. If I told you there was a movie staring Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Eli Wallach, Burgess Meredith, and Edward G. Robinson you’d be right in thinking that had to be the greatest movie of all time. Yet it’s not. Wallach, Meredith, and Robinson are nothing more than glorified cameos, and Peck and Sharif have zero chemistry. Sharif is doing his best to play a Mexican bandit, which is problematic on so many levels, and Peck just looks miserable.

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That all being said, I would strongly recommend this film to everyone. If you’re a fan of “The Room”, or “Trolls 2,” or any other film so bad it’s good this is definitely worth a watch. It’s a nice reminder that bad films have always been around, and they will always be around for us to make fun of.

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For another Gregory Peck Western check out my review of “The Big Country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Big Country (1958) Review

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William Wyler’s “The Big Country” is big, so big it’s unwieldy. At two hours and forty-six minutes long, the film is meant to be an epic, and while there’s breathtaking cinematography and towering performances from the supporting cast, the overall pace of the film is uneven. We shift from epic stampedes and gunfights to painfully slow reactions shots that feel like the editor fell asleep at the Steenbeck.

The film opens with James McKay (Gregory Peck) arriving at a dusty small town in the middle of nowhere. McKay is an ex-sea captain from back East, a literal fish out of water who has come to marry Patricia Terrill (Carroll Baker). Patricia is a spoiled ranch heiress who is doted upon her father Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford), a wealthy landowner who is embroiled in a water war with the Hannassey’s, a rival clan of uncouth cowboys. As McKay adapts to life in the West, he soon finds himself in the middle of this war. To make matters worse, he must deal with the jealousies of Steve Leech (Charlton Heston), the ranch foreman who is not impressed with the dude from the East.

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The film’s plot is like a mile long train. It takes a long time to get going. The first scenes are slow and meandering, and it’s a chore to sit through some extremely long shots. Yet the film picks up the pace when we’re introduced to the real star, Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives) the patriarch of the rival family. Like Olivier’s Lear, Ives’s performance is staggering and Biblical in scale. He truly makes the film epic and steals every scene he’s in. (Burl Ives would win Best Supporting Actor for his performance.)

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The other saving grace of the film is its second act, where we see both sides march headlong into oblivion. The building tension is nearly perfect, and the film shifts from a standard Western into a Greek tragedy. At the end we realize that this massive country is capable of consuming all who dare to tame it.

Released in 1958, the film was President Eisenhower’s favorite movie, and it’s easy to see why. The cinematography is so gorgeous it would make John Ford proud. Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston do admirable jobs, but Ives overshadows them. At one point Heston and Peck duke it out, which should be the fight of the century. Yet like many scenes, the set piece is plodding, uneven, and really could have been left out of the film. There is also a terrific performance by Alfonso Bedoya who starred in “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” and has arguably the greatest line in movie history (“Badges? We ain’t got no badges.”)

“The Big Country” tries to impose its will through size alone. The scenery is epic, the music is swelling, and the performances are awe-inspiring. Yet like the Big Bertha howitzers of World War One, the film sometimes misses the mark.

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