Cast & Crew
J. Lee Thompson
In Arizona in 1874 there is a legend that the Apache gods store sacred gold in a hidden canyon. Marshal Mackenna of Hadleyburg learns the location of the canyon when he is ambushed in the desert and forced to shoot Prairie Dog, an old Apache chief. Before dying, the Indian gives Mackenna a map of the canyon but warns him that the Apache gods keep a vigil on the spot. After memorizing and burning the map, Mackenna is captured by a band of outlaws led by the ruthless Colorado, who has as his hostage Inga, a young Swedish immigrant and the daughter of the town judge. Aware that the marshal has seen the map, Colorado threatens to murder Inga unless Mackenna leads him to the canyon; Mackenna reluctantly agrees. Before long the band is joined by a group of Hadleyburg citizens who have also caught "gold fever." This group is pursued by Apache warriors who want to use the gold to fight the white man, and by a U. S. Cavalry troop tracking Colorado. The warring factions clash, and the only survivors are Mackenna, Colorado, Inga, and two renegade Apaches--the seductive Hesh-Ke and Hachita, a silent brave. They are soon joined by Cavalry Sergeant Tibbs, who has murdered his own men in order to search for the gold. As the fortune seekers make their way toward the canyon, Hesh-Ke becomes enraged by Mackenna's attentions to Inga and is killed trying to murder her rival; Hachita, believing the Apache gods are angry, kills Tibbs but in turn is slain by Colorado; and Colorado, now that he has found the treasure, engages Mackenna in a death struggle on a narrow ledge. The battle is interrupted by Apaches; their stampeding horses start an avalanche that obliterates the canyon and buries the gold. Only Mackenna, Colorado, and Inga escape. Vowing someday to find and kill Colorado, the unarmed Mackenna rides away on Sergeant Tibbs's horse, its saddlebags filled with gold.
J. Lee Thompson
Lee J. Cobb
Edward G. Robinson
J. Robert Porter
John Garfield Jr.
John F. Link Jr.
William Randall Jr.
Alfred E. Spencer
MacKenna's Gold - Mackenna's Gold
At the distance of forty years, Mackenna's Gold looks better now than when it went up against the likes of Henry Hathaway's True Grit (1969), Tom Gries' Will Penny (1968), Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) and various other revisionist westerns made toward the end of the 1960s. If the film works nowadays purely on the level of sixgun kitsch, that's not to say the filmmakers weren't in on the joke back in 1968. The combination of stunning, anamorphic widescreen grandeur (captured in four different western states) with obvious studio sets, the casting of obvious Caucasian actors (among them Julie Newmar, TV's Catwoman) in Native American roles, the employment of blue-eyed Keenan Wynn as a Mexican rudo and an underwater three-way knife fight at the film's midsection that stops the action cold for sheer jaw dropping disbelief like the ballet interlude in Oklahoma! (1955) all point to an authorial puckishness on the part of Foreman and his director of choice, J. Lee Thompson. Preoccupied as he likely was with trekking from location to location, Gregory Peck seems to have missed the joke, which makes the gag even funnier.
To see it his way, Peck was at the time in a career slump after winning an Academy Award® for the defining role of his career in Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). While several of the actor's subsequent films did well enough at the box office, and a subset of these found favor with a scattering of critics, few of his fans could be expected to distinguish between the dully-titled likes of Mirage (1965), Arabesque (1966), The Chairman (1969) or Marooned (1969). Peck appeared in no films at all between 1966 and the start of 1969, applying his energies instead to political and humanitarian efforts. After scheduling conflicts cost him the lead in Ice Station Zebra (1968), Peck returned to the big screen in four films, shot back to back. In the moody The Stalking Moon, directed by Robert Mulligan, Peck played a retired Army scout who protects traumatized settler Eva Marie Saint against the ruthless renegade who has fathered her child. Peck saddled up again for Mackenna's Gold, as a lawman who reluctantly joins a gang of desperadoes in search of a legendary cache of Apache gold.
Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood had turned down the title role in Mackenna's Gold. Peck also pushed the script away but was persuaded to reconsider by J. Lee Thompson, his director on The Guns of Navarone (1961). Peck remained vocal in his misgivings about the sideshow aspect of the super-production, whose supporting cast swelled to include Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Burgess Meredith, and Raymond Massey. "I'm always put off by the so-called all-star cast," Peck went on-record as saying. "Producers aim to buy their way into public favor by overpaying stars and featuring important players in small roles." If shooting in distant locations in Utah, Arizona and Oregon proved tedious, Peck found solace in the company of Edward G. Robinson, with whom he could discuss acting, politics, religion and the fine arts. (Robinson was known throughout his life and long career to own a world class art collection.) In an interview conducted after the completion of principal photography, Peck heralded Robinson (who died in 1973) as "darling, funny, warm, actorish, a bit theatrical relatively guileless, a bit like a grown-up child."
Perhaps it takes a childhood naiveté and sense of wonder to get the full yield of Mackenna's Gold, with its over-reliance on naïve matte shots, unpersuasive miniatures and the reliance on stunt doubles and articulated dummies to do the dirty work of the principal players. In this light Brian Garfield's assessment of it as a B-movie isn't entirely inappropriate. Many of the narrative's grandstanding scenes the crossing of an ancient, unsteady rope bridge; the chasing of the shadow of a desert obelisk to the secreted fortune; a seismic dues ex machina that brings the curtain down on the aggregation of greed and villainy seem to be pencil sketches for bits in an Indiana Jones adventure. Certainly, the George Lucas/ Lawrence Kasdan/Philip Kaufman story and screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was rooted in the serial tropes of Hollywood westerns but the coincidence cuts even deeper. Present on location was George Lucas himself, then a graduate student at the University of Southern California. Lucas's student film THX 138:4HB (1967) had won the fledgling filmmaker an opportunity to follow the production of Mackenna's Gold for the purposes of shooting a making-of featurette.
Producer: Carl Foreman, Dimitri Tiomkin
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Carl Foreman (screenplay); Will Henry (novel)
Cinematography: Joseph Macdonald
Art Direction: Geoffrey Drake, Cary Odell
Music: Quincy Jones
Film Editing: Bill Lenny
Cast: Gregory Peck (MacKenna), Omar Sharif (Colorado), Telly Savalas (Sgt. Tibbs), Camilla Sparv (Inga Bergmann), Keenan Wynn (Sanchez), Julie Newmar (Hesh-Ke), Ted Cassidy (Hachita), Lee J. Cobb (The Editor), Raymond Massey (The Preacher), Burgess Meredith (The Storekeeper), Edward G. Robinson (Old Adams), Eli Wallach (Ben Baker).
by Richard Harland Smith
Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life by Lynn Haney (Da Capo Press, 2005)
Gregory Peck: A Biography by Gary Fishgall (Scribner)
Gregory Peck by Michael Freedland (W. Morrow & Co., 1980)
Gregory Peck: A Bio-Bibliography by Gerard Molyneaux (Greenwood Press, 1995)
J. Lee Thompson interview by Bill Hunt, The Digital Bits, www.thedigitalbits.com
George Lucas: Close Up (The Making of His Movies by Chris Salewicz (Da Capo Press, 1999)
George Lucas interview by Kerry O'Quinn, George Lucas Interviews, edited by Sally Kline (University of Mississippi Press, 1999)
Clint: The Life and Legend by Patrick McGilligan (St. Martin's Press, 1999)
MacKenna's Gold - Mackenna's Gold
TCM Remembers - J. Lee Thompson
TCM REMEMBERS J. LEE THOMPSON, 1914 - 2002
Oscar-nominated director J. Lee Thompson died August 30th at the age of 88. Though he worked in several genres, Thompson was best-known for his action films. Thompson was born in Bristol England on August 1, 1914. After graduating from college he became a playwright and it was the appearance of one of his plays on London's famous West End that got him noticed by the British film studio, Elstree. His first filmed script was The Pride of Folly in 1937 and others appeared sporadically until his career was side-tracked during the war when Thompson served in the RAF as a B-29 tail gunner. (He also reportedly worked as a dialogue coach on Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, 1939.) Thompson's directorial debut came in 1950 when he adapted his own play Double Error to the screen as Murder Without Crime. Throughout the decade he directed a variety of dramas and comedies until hitting it big in 1958 with Ice Cold in Alex (released in the US minus 50 minutes under the title Desert Attack). It was nominated for three BAFTAs and was enough of a commercial success that Thompson landed the film that made his career: The Guns of Navarone (1961). This enormous international hit snagged Thompson an Oscar nomination for Best Director. He immediately followed that with the original Cape Fear (1962) and his reputation was set. Though Thompson remained active almost three more decades he didn't reach that level again. He worked on Westerns (Mackenna's Gold, 1969), horror films (Eye of the Devil, 1967), literary adaptations (Huckleberry Finn, 1974) and others. During this time, Thompson directed two Planet of the Apes sequels but was kept most busy working with Charles Bronson, for whom he directed nine films. Thompson's last film was in 1989.
KATRIN CARTLIDGE, 1961 - 2002
The news of actress Katrin Cartlidge's death at the age of 41 has come as a shock. It's not just the age but the thought that even though Cartlidge was already a major actress--despite a slender filmography--she held out the promise of even greater work, a promise that so few artists of any type can make. "Fearless" is perhaps the word most often used to describe Cartlidge but emotions are never enough for an actor; much more is required. Director Mike Leigh said she had "the objective eye of an artist" while remarking on her "her deep-seated suspicion of all forms of woolly thinking and received ideas."
Cartlidge was born in London on May 15, 1961. Her first acting work was on the stage, in tiny independent theatres before she was selected by Peter Gill for the National Theatre. Cartlidge also worked as a dresser at the Royal Court where she later made one of her final stage appearances. She began appearing in the popular British TV series Brookside before making her first film in 1985, Sacred Hearts. A small role in the Robbie Coltrane-Rik Mayall vehicle Eat the Rich (1987) followed before Cartlidge had her first leading role in Mike Leigh's scathing Naked (1993).
Cartlidge never took a safe approach in her films. She told The Guardian that "I try to work with film-makers who I feel will produce something original, revealing and provoking. If something provokes a reaction, it's well worth doing." You can see this in her choice of projects. Before the Rain (1994) dramatized violence in Macedonia in the wake of the Yugoslavian break-up and made Cartlidge something of a star in the area. She appeared in Lars Von Trier's controversial look at redemption, Breaking the Waves (1996), Leigh's sharply detailed story of aging friends Career Girls (1997), as one of Jack the Ripper's victims in From Hell (2001), as a call girl trying to leave the business in Clair Dolan (1998) and in the Oscar-winning film about Bosnia-Herzegovina, No Man's Land (2001). Her last work included a BBC adaptation of Crime and Punishment (2002), playing Salvador Dali's wife Gala in the BBC comedy-drama Surrealissimo (2002) and an appearance in Rosanna Arquette's directorial debut, Searching for Debra Winger (also 2002), a documentary about women in the film industry.
Cartlidge died September 7th from septicaemia brought on by pneumonia.
TCM REMEMBERS LEO MCKERN, 1920-2002
The recent death of Leo McKern, 82, marked the passing of one of Britain's finest and most respected character actors. He was suffering from ill health in recent years and was moved to a nursing home a few weeks before his death on July 23 2002 in Bath, England. An actor of commanding presence with a deep-throated voice, the portly, bulbous-nosed McKern had a long, distinguished career spanning more than half a century, earning numerous plaudits along the way in all major mediums: theatre, film and television.
Born Reginald McKern on March 16, 1920 in Sydney, Australia; he served with the Australian Army during World War II and worked in regional theatre in his native Sydney before immigrating to England in 1946. It was a slow start, but after a three-year apprenticeship of painting scenery, stage-managing and acting, McKern eventually joined the celebrated Old Vic theatrical company in 1949 and proved one of the more versatile actors in the troupe tackling diverse roles in comedy, the classics and serious contemporary parts.
His film debut came in Murder in the Cathedral (1952) but it took a few years before he made his mark in cinema. Some of his best film work included roles as Peter Sellers' comic henchman in the classic satire The Mouse That Roared (1959); a bungling train robber in the charming Disney film The Horse Without a Head (1963); a nefarious professor who kills off his colleagues for amusement in the brilliant black comedy A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964); Clang, a cartoonish villain in the Beatles' pop film Help! (1965); Cromwell, the persecutor of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and as Thomas Ryan in the David Lean drama, Ryan's Daughter (1970).
Yet despite all the accolades McKern earned in theatre and films, it was television where he foundinternational fame as the wily, irascible barrister Horace P. Rumpole in John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey in 1975. Infusing the character with beguiling skill and energy, McKern made the acerbic, wine swilling, Tennyson-quoting Rumpole a much loved figure that was adored by critics, audiences and even its creator Mortimer. Perhaps Mortimer offered the most fitting tribute when he once referred to McKern - "His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet above the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality." Enough said.
By Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers - J. Lee Thompson
The canyon was purchased as unsafe by the movie company, and actually destroyed on film.
One of George Lucas's projects while a student in film school was documenting the making of this film.
Location scenes filmed in Medford, Oregon; Kanab, Utah; and at Canyon de Chelly and Glen Canyon in Arizona. May have been shown in 70mm for some roadshow engagements.
Released in United States Spring April 1969
Released in United States November 2003
Released in United States Spring April 1969
Released in United States November 2003 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Tribute) November 6-16, 2003.)