1969 was arguably the year Hollywood fully embraced the revisionist western. In addition to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, there was True Grit, Tell Them Willy Boy is Here, Death of a Gunfighter, and Midnight Cowboy. As well as playing with notions of ‘the cowboy’ and ‘the West’, they contained more stylised violence, more sex and stories that overtly fed off the cynicism and disillusionment of America’s war in Vietnam and domestic racial strife. Released in May that year, Mackenna’s Gold straddles the divide between the classic big studio western and its revisionist successors. It is also a story filled with supernatural elements, in which humans are haunted not only by spirits guarding a lost canyon full of gold but by their own greed and paranoia.
Mackenna (Gregory Peck), a former gold prospector and gambler, now marshal of a remote desert territory in the US southwest, is tracking an old Apache man, Prairie Dog (Eduardo Ciannelli), who has been attacking prospectors. Mackenna is shot at and in turn shoots Prairie Dog. The old man dies but not before Mackenna finds a map on him that supposedly shows the way to a secret canyon lined with gold, which he burns after memorising. Suave but vicious Mexican outlaw, John Colorado (Egyptian actor, Omar Sharif, as one of the film’s many ethic appropriations) captures Mackenna.… Read more