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Mackenna’s Gold is a 1969 western film directed by J. Lee Thompson, starring Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Camilla Sparv, and Julie Newmar. It was photographed in Super Panavision 70 by Joseph MacDonald, with original music by Quincy Jones.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Heck Allen using the penname Will Henry, telling the story of how the lure of gold corrupts a diverse group of people. The novel was loosely based on the legend of the Lost Adams Diggings, crediting the Frank Dobie account of the legend (Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver) in the Author’s Note.
An old legend tells of a fortune in gold hidden in the “Cañon del Oro,” guarded by the Apache spirits. Along with several others, a man named Adams found it when he was a young man, only to have the Indians capture and blind him, leaving him stranded in the desert after killing his companions. Years later, Marshal MacKenna (Gregory Peck) wounds an old Indian shaman named Prairie Dog (Eduardo Ciannelli) who tried to bushwhack him; Prairie Dog subsequently dies, despite MacKenna’s attending to him. MacKenna thereby comes into possession of a map that supposedly shows the way to the treasure. Though skeptical, he memorizes the directions before burning the map.
Meanwhile, Mexican outlaw Colorado (Omar Sharif) and his gang had been tracking Prairie Dog to get the map, all the while being chased by the U.S. Cavalry. He takes shelter in the house of the old judge of the town of Hadleyburg, stealing horses, mules and food for his journey. He kills the judge and kidnaps his daughter, Inga Bergmann (Camilla Sparv), whom Colorado mistakes for the judge’s wife, as a hostage in case the cavalry catches up with him.
Colorado finds MacKenna digging a grave for Prairie Dog and when he learns that MacKenna has destroyed the map, he takes him captive and forces him to lead them to the gold. Colorado also loads Prairie Dog’s body onto a horse to bring along with them to Colorado’s old hideout, which he has began to use for shelter again. The gang is made up of outlaws, including Colorado’s right-hand man, Sanchez (Keenan Wynn) and several Indians, amongst them a hulking Apache warrior named Hachita (Ted Cassidy). Colorado and his companions have a previous history with MacKenna after being driven out of the state by the Marshal years before, while a fiery Apache woman, Hesh-ke (Julie Newmar) had been MacKenna’s one-time love.
The next morning, Ben Baker (Eli Wallach), a gambler and old friend of Colorado’s from the town of Hadleyburg, arrives with a posse of townsmen who have become “infected” by “gold fever.” Those amongst “Ben’s friends” are two Englishmen (Anthony Quayle and J. Robert Porter), that came along after overhearing Baker’s conversation to the others about the gold; an editor (Lee J. Cobb); a storekeeper (Burgess Meredith); a preacher (Raymond Massey) that has convinced himself that God has called upon him to build a tabernacle in His honor with his share of the gold; and the blind Old Adams (Edward G. Robinson) himself.
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