Saturday, 2 June 2018

Movie Review: Mackenna's Gold (1969)

If you're watching along with my 100 Classic Must-See Movies (That I've Somehow Never Seen), I have a suggestion for you before you start Mackenna's Gold (1969). Did I say suggestion? I meant drinking game.
You see a buzzard: take a shot
You see more than one buzzard: down your pint
You hear someone singing about a buzzard: chug the bottle
I'll admit now that I'm not a fan of Westerns. That's why there are so many of them on this list. (And almost no horror, since I've seen so much.) I mean... horses, to start. Plus, all that dust. Even as the movie started with sweeping shots of desert landscapes, I found myself thinking, 'Damn. That's a whole lotta nope.'

Nope! The West is not for me! But, I promised to give Mackenna's Gold a chance, so let's do this. First, the plot.

Mackenna's Gold is about a panhandler turned sheriff, Gregory Peck's Mackenna, who gets dragged into a hunt for a mystical Apache valley of gold by a gangster called Colorado (Omar Sharif.) The valley is a sacred place no one is supposed to know of or visit, lest it upset the gods -- when you see what becomes of the valley, you can decide if the gods are upset.

There's some romance, action, betrayal, and jealousy in there, too, but that's the gist of it. Not a bad plot, really.

I have to go back to the fact that I dislike Westerns. One of the reasons I struggle to watch them is the inevitibility of seeing someone "browned up". Gah. It's painful to see. Are there any Westerns from the 60s/70s that actually hired Native/Mexican actors when they were needed?

Since I'm already having a grumble, I'm going to point out a few cinematography techniques Mackenna's Gold utilizes that annoyed the hell out of me. Firstly, any time a gunshot ricocheted, it lasted forever and came with a ridiculous sound effect. Secondly, the camera swung wildly at some points (like when Mackenna was hanging off the back of a horse) in a way that made me feel ill. Finally, the film could have been a lot shorter if the camera hadn't lingered over inconsequential shots. Yes, yes, we know there's a gold vein there. You don't have to focus on it twenty times for us to get the point.

Aside from many instances of "BUZZARD!" written in my notes for Mackenna's Gold, there's also a question: "Does every Western use a cliche checklist?!" I wrote that when the group of Apaches and gangsters reached a rope bridge. (And, yes, it did break when Mackenna was halfway across because... cliche.) I came back to it later, when they cut to an "Indian" chugging booze. *cringe*

I also couldn't help but notice the casual sexism in Mackenna's Gold. The men are absolutely stinking dirty (aside from Colorado's teeth which were whiter than... well, most of the "Apache" actors were under their makeup) but the women were always immaculate and beautifully made-up. *eyeroll* And, of course, they were treated like property. Totally expected, of course, but always annoying.

The cast got large pretty quickly because "You can't keep gold a secret. It travels in the air." By the end, though, it was down to just a handful -- including the gorgeous, swaggering Telly Savalas as Sergeant Tibbs. Mackenna's Gold has a happy ending for those who deserve it and a fitting ending for those who don't. That's really the best thing I can say about it.

I won't say that Mackenna's Gold is a bad film because that's unfair. The story is good enough -- everything else is just my own pet peeves. (Julie Newmar's Hesh-Ke is crazy obsessed with killing Mackenna's love interest but you don't know why and she barely speaks a word. WTF is that about?) But, I won't lie and say I recommend it, either.

If you're a Western buff and have a different opinion about this one, please let me know. I'd like to get a take on it from someone who actually likes this kind of movie.

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