“MacKenna’s Gold” is an overlooked western. The great Gregory Peck plays a marshall who’s given a map to a lost canyon filled with Apache gold. But to reach it he’ll have to travel with a gang of desperados, and face a greedy mob. The gold might turn out to be only a legend — but throughout the movie it stirs up real human passions.
It’s one of the last great westerns, filmed in 1969, which meant it had access to some terrific actors. McKenna’s progress is bedeviled by Omar Sharif — playing an outlaw named “Colorado” — as well as Telly Savalas (who plays a ruthless cavalry officer). Peck’s part was originally offered to Clint Eastwood, and there’s more familiar names in the production. A young George Lucas reportedly observed the shooting as a film student — and the movie benefits from a grand western score by music legend Quincy Jones.
A narrator describes the legend of a lost canyon “rich with gold” that had never found — and the western fun begins. The movie opens with some great aerial photography of mysterious rock formations and canyons. During the sequence Jose Feliciano sings an eerie song about the “Old Turkey Buzzard” who waits for each man’s date with fate. And yes, this includes the men who scheme and “die for gold on the rocks below…”
The watchful buzzard passes over an old Indian on a horse. The Indian hides behind a rock, and trains his rifle on Gregory Peck. Gun shots echo around the canyon as the Indian tries to kill the man (who he mistakenly believes is pursuing him). In the end Peck refuses to kill the old Apache, and he even remains skeptical of his map to the lost gold canyon. But viewing the map has sealed his fate, since the outlaw Colorado wants no rivals in his own pursuit of the treasure.
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