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  MacKenna's Gold In Them Thar Hills
Year: 1969
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Camilla Sparv, Keenan Wynn, Julie Newmar, Ted Cassidy, Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Massey, Burgess Meredith, Anthony Quayle, Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, Eduardo Ciannelli, Dick Peabody, Rudy Diaz, Victor Jory
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: MacKenna (Gregory Peck) is riding through this stretch of desert land when someone begins shooting at him and he dives from his horse to seek cover, drawing his pistol. He notes that his whisky bottle has been broken, but this gives him an idea and he throws it some distance away from him to distract the shooter, a ploy which works. He manages to get close to and overpower the would-be assassin, who turns out to be an old Indian chief who now lies dying as MacKenna tries to coax out his reasoning. He relents and tells him that he was sure the lawman was going to steal his gold - but the old Indian may have got the wrong man...

1969 was the year of both The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but most of the Westerns emerging from Hollywood of that time were more like this, a bloated super-Western with a familiar face in practically every noteworthy role, and an uncertainty as to whether they should be updating the genre or playing to the conventions, as after all they were tried and tested and the newfangled stuff was more of a chance proposition. So most of those involved with MacKenna's Gold were very much the Old Guard of what these types of films had to offer, and their attempts to sustain audience interest verged on the ridiculous.

Peck was an old hand at this kind of thing, but at least not looking too aged, and an unexpected Omar Sharif as the main villain Colorado grinned his way through the movie in a charm offensive, while backing them up were a collection of cast members who would have been well known to the viewers of the day, and indeed may still be recognisable to many now thanks to their prolific careers. But possibly the most celebrated person to appear in this was Julie Newmar, Catwoman herself, who remains mute as an Indian warrior woman, but more crucially to the men in the audience had a nude swimming scene about halfway through.

That bit has offered the film a little notoriety down the years, but compared to the kind of thing that came along in the seventies and beyond, it's pretty tame stuff, even if Newmar was acting out an attempted murder as she swam. The object of her ire was Camilla Sparv's love interest for MacKenna, who gets recruited against her will by Colorado's gang to tag along on their quest to uncover the huge seam of near-legendary gold that the old Chief was trying to keep everyone away from. Unfortunately for him, well, unfortunately for him he's dead, but more than that there appears to be a whole raft of gold fever afflicted chaps out to track down their potential riches.

In a strange way, although these characters are punished for their greed, the film respects them as dreamers, so while there is much untimely end-meeting going on, that naive optimism associated with striking it extremely lucky indeed is their redeeming trait, in many cases their sole redeeming trait. MacKenna is dragged along with Colorado because he's the only one to have seen the Chief's map and therefore has memorised it (he's described as an expert card player, which must have appealed to Sharif at least), and there follows something of a marathon of not especially captivating incident that amounts to running away from the Apaches and Telly Savalas' cavalry over the course of the next two hours. Director J. Lee Thompson had a go at jazzing this up with the odd bit of kerayzee camerawork or editing, and even a brief psychedelic sequence, but it simply serves to show just how behind the times they were even as they tried to keep up, with obvious sets not helping. This passes the time, but no more than that. Music by Quincy Jones.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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J. Lee Thompson  (1914 - 2002)

Veteran British director frequently in Hollywood, usually with stories featuring an adventure or thriller slant. Among his many films, including a number of Charles Bronson movies, are capital punishment drama Yield to the Night, adventures Ice Cold in Alex and North West Frontier, the original Cape Fear, Tiger Bay, wartime epic The Guns of Navarone, What a Way To Go!, horror Eye of the Devil, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes and slasher Happy Birthday to Me.

 
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