Mackenna's Gold

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Mackenna's Gold
Original movie poster for the film Mackenna's Gold.jpg
Directed byJ. Lee Thompson
Produced byCarl Foreman
Dimitri Tiomkin
Screenplay byCarl Foreman
Based onMackenna's Gold
1963 novel
by Will Henry
Narrated byVictor Jory
Music byQuincy Jones
CinematographyJoseph MacDonald
Edited byBill Lenny
Highroad Productions, Inc.
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 10, 1969 (1969-05-10)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million[1]
Box office$40 million (est.)

Mackenna's Gold is a 1969 American western film directed by J. Lee Thompson, starring an ensemble cast featuring Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Ted Cassidy, Camilla Sparv and Julie Newmar in lead roles. It was photographed in Super Panavision 70 and Technicolor by Joseph MacDonald, with original music by Quincy Jones.

Mackenna's Gold is based on the novel of the same name by Heck Allen using the pen name 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. The film was a box-office failure in North America, but went on to become a major overseas success, in regions such as the Soviet Union, Central Asia and Indian subcontinent.


An old legend tells of a fortune in gold hidden in the "Cañon del Oro", later called "The Lost Adams", guarded by the Apache spirits. A man named Adams is said to have found it when he was young, only to have the Indians capture and blind him and kill his companions. Years later, Marshal MacKenna (Gregory Peck), a one-time gold prospector himself, wounds an old Indian shaman named Prairie Dog (Eduardo Ciannelli) who tried to ambush 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 sceptical, he memorises the directions before burning the map.

Mexican outlaw John Colorado (Omar Sharif) and his gang have been tracking Prairie Dog to get the map, all the while being chased by the US Cavalry. They take shelter in the house of the old judge of the town of Hadleyburg, kill the judge and kidnap his daughter, Inga Bergmann (Camilla Sparv), to use as a hostage in case the cavalry catches up with them.

Colorado finds MacKenna digging a grave for Prairie Dog. When he sees that MacKenna has burned the map, he takes Mackenna captive, intending to force him to lead them to the gold. They return for the night to Colorado's secret hideout to be safe from both the cavalry and marauding Apaches, who are also seeking the gold. The gang is made up of outlaws, including Colorado's right-hand man, Sanchez (Keenan Wynn), and several Indians, among them a hulking Apache warrior named Hachita (Ted Cassidy) and a fiery Apache woman, Hesh-ke (Julie Newmar). Colorado and his companions feel vengeful towards MacKenna: he had previously run them out of the territory; and Hesh-ke and MacKenna were once lovers.

The next morning Ben Baker (Eli Wallach), a gambler from the town of Hadleyburg, arrives with assorted townsmen who have caught "gold fever". They have learned about Colorado's plans, including his hideout, when one of his men got drunk in town and said too much. Colorado is forced to allow them to join his party. The townsmen include two wandering Englishmen (Anthony Quayle and J. Robert Porter) who overheard Baker's conversation with the others; a newspaper editor, (Lee J. Cobb); a storekeeper, (Burgess Meredith); a preacher, (Raymond Massey), who has convinced himself that God wants him to get a share of the gold and do great religious deeds with it; and blind Adams (Edward G. Robinson) himself, of the legend. Colorado persuades old Adams to retell the story of how he discovered the canyon. The tale further raises the hopes of the gold-seekers, but later, when MacKenna sneaks off and warns a few of them to return home and that they will just get themselves killed searching for gold that does not exist (he says the tale Adams told is just a story he uses to get free drinks), they hesitate. However, when Colorado steps in and reveals that MacKenna shot Prairie Dog, the townsmen, who never liked MacKenna, are convinced to continue the quest.

The cavalry, led by the cunning Sergeant Tibbs (Telly Savalas), has been following Colorado's party closely, and has unbeknownst to them camped just outside his hideout. The party bypasses the cavalry by an ingenious diversion, during which MacKenna tries unsuccessfully to escape with Inga. But shortly thereafter the cavalry ambushes the party at a water hole, and most of the supporting members of the gang are killed. The remaining gold hunters continue on their way, and as they near the canyon MacKenna and Inga begin to fall in love. A jealous Hesh-Ke, who now wants MacKenna back, twice tries to kill Inga but each time she is prevented from doing it.

The cavalry is continuing its pursuit, and Sergeant Tibbs periodically sends messengers back to his base to keep it informed of his whereabouts. Eventually, the patrol is whittled down to just Tibbs and two others. Tibbs kills them and persuades Colorado he should be allowed to join the gang. After another shoot-out with the Apaches, and crossing dangerous river rapids, they reach "Shaking Rock", the location where according to the map the gold is. MacKenna tells Colorado they will see the canyon the next morning.

That night the two of them talk in almost a friendly way about what Colorado plans to do with his share of the gold. Later Tibbs tries to enlist MacKenna in a conspiracy against Colorado, but MacKenna wants no part of it. He tells Inga to be alert for any opportunity to escape. When she protests that she too wants some gold he tells her emphatically there is no gold, that he has just been bluffing. MacKenna and Inga embrace, with Hesh-ke looking on enviously. Hachita spends the night looking at the moon.

The next morning everyone is up and mounted before sunrise. When the first beam of sunlight shines down, it sets off an optical reaction that startles the horses. Then the shadow of the pinnacle of "Shaking Rock" starts to move. Watching this, MacKenna for the first time believes in the legend. The shadow eventually ends at a hidden passageway cutting into a mountainside. They ride through it and emerge on the other side.

They see below them a large vein of pure gold. As all race to the canyon floor, Hesh-ke tries to kill Inga, but Inga fights back and Hesh-ke falls to her death. Once on the floor, while Colorado and Tibbs celebrate their great fortune, MacKenna, realising that Colorado does not intend to leave any of the party alive, tries to escape with Inga up the canyon wall. Tibbs, his attention diverted while stuffing his saddle bags with gold nuggets, is killed by Hachita with a thrown tomahawk. Colorado then pulls his gun on Hachita, only to find that his weapon is unloaded. Hachita tells him that during the night he took the bullets out of Colorado's gun, as the spirits had told him to do, and that Colorado also has to be killed because he is not Apache. However, Hachita turns his back on Colorado, who kills him with a knife he had earlier taken from Hesh-ke.

Colorado pursues MacKenna and Inga, catching up to them at an ancient Indian dwelling high up the cliff. They fight. Colorado has Hachita's tomahawk so is the early aggressor, and would kill MacKenna but for Inga's desperate intervention. MacKenna gains the advantage over Colorado with some punishing blows, rendering him helpless. At that moment the marauding Apaches, presumably having followed the party's tracks into the mountain, enter the canyon and shoot up at the three. The Apaches thunder down to the canyon floor, shouting excitedly. However, the noise and the pounding of the horses causes a rockfall which in turn causes the valley floor to buckle and quake. The Apaches flee, and the three survivors descend the cliff and scramble for horses, barely escaping the collapse of the canyon walls, which buries the gold beyond reach. This is followed by the crash of "Shaking Rock".

Stunned and exhausted, Colorado and MacKenna face each other. Colorado tells MacKenna to stay away from him. MacKenna tells Colorado to go far away and hide, and that he will be coming after him. MacKenna and Inga ride off together. The camera tilts down to the left side of MacKenna's mount, which happens to be Sgt. Tibbs' horse, its saddle bags stuffed with gold nuggets.


Original Novel[edit]

The film was based on a novel by Will Henry (pseud. of Heck Allen) which was published in 1963.[2] The novel was based on the legend of Lost Adams Diggings. According to the legend, a teamster named Adams and some prospectors in Arizona were approached by a Mexican Indian named Gotch Ear, who offered to show them a canyon filled with gold. However, in the novel as well as the film, the gang abducts a Marshal named MacKenna to find a way to the Canyon.

The film also adapts elements from another work, Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver (1939) by J. Frank Dobie, a collection of tales about the fabulous treasures of the Southwest, based on the legend of the "Lost Adams Diggins".


Although Allen's novel title and hero shared the same spelling of the name "Mackenna", and the film's title according to the studio is "Mackenna's Gold", Peck's character is listed in publicity materials as "MacKenna".


Film rights were purchased by Highroad Productions, the company of writer-producer Carl Foreman, who had a deal with Columbia. It was Foreman's first Western since High Noon.[3]

"I feel we should all do a Western from time to time", said Foreman. "It's the gym, the workout for basic cinema. In a sense this one bears a relationship with High Noon; it's roughly about the same town 10 or 15 years later and... [the lead role is] Gary Cooper's successor. High Noon never left town. This one never comes in but the town impinges on the story."[4]

In April 1965 it was announced that composer Dimitri Tiomkin had joined the company as producer and his first project for the company would be Mackenna's Gold. Tiomkin would also do the music.[5] "It was practical appreciation of my efforts", said Tiomkin, who had known foreman since they served together in the Signal Corps during the war.[6]

In October 1966 Foreman announced he wanted to make the film in the US, where he had not made a movie for almost fifteen years. He originally believed that he would have to make the movie in Spain where it could be done for below the line costs of $2.2 million, while a USA shoot would cost $3.2 million. However, on further research Foreman felt a US shoot would cost only 10% more than a foreign one.[7] He was persuaded to make the movie in America to use the Grand Canyon.[8] (The budget would come to $7 million.[1])

In January 1967 it was announced the film would be shot in Cinerama. Columbia provided the finance and J. Lee Thompson would direct.[9] "I've always wanted to do an American Western", said Thompson. "We're taking a big new approach to this one, striving for an over-all presentation, rightly or wrongly, that will appear new – techniques that may now be acceptable when applied to the big screen."[1]

Thompson later called the film "sheer adventure in six-track stereo sound. Absolutely without any 'other dimension'."[10]


The first star signed was Omar Sharif, whose casting was announced in February 1967.[11] His fee was $400,000.[12]

Thompson's first choice for the role of MacKenna was Clint Eastwood, who was looking to make an American film after his success with the Dollars trilogy. He disliked the script and turned down the movie to play the lead role in Hang 'Em High (1968).[13] Steve McQueen was also considered for the lead role.[14]

A script was sent to Richard Burton who called it "a standard western script... Christ, what a lot of rubbish one reads."[15] Gregory Peck's casting was announced in March. He had worked with Thompson and Foreman on The Guns of Navarone.[16] Zero Mostel was going to play a role but had to pull out due to a scheduling clash with The Producers.[17]

Julie Newmar signed a long-term deal with Highroad Productions as part of her casting.[18]

Raymond Massey was the last major cast member to join the film.[19]

"This is contemporary without being tricky", said Foreman.[1]


Filming started 16 May 1967 on location in Oregon.

The plan was to shown it in single lens Cinerama with reserved seat roadshow engagements. Columbia eventually pulled the plug on that idea, and Mackenna's Gold was drastically cut down immediately prior to its release, from nearly three hours (plus an intermission) to just over two hours.[14]

Although most of Mackenna's Gold was photographed on 65mm stock, a handful of scenes were filmed in 35mm anamorphic.

Locations and props[edit]

Zuni Mountains were the locations[20] of digging according to the legend, but the film was shot mainly at Glen Canyon of Utah and Canyon de Chelly[21] of Arizona, specifically Spider Rock. Parts of the film were also shot at Kanab Canyon, Paria, Sink Valley, and the Panguitch Fish Hatchery in Utah as well as Medford, Oregon.[22] In the climax scenes, as the sun rises, the shadow of "Shaking Rock"[23] grows longer. In reality, shadows become shorter as the sun rises higher.

The "Old Turkey Buzzard" theme song sequence was shot at Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border. The bird is actually a King vulture rather than a turkey vulture (buzzard).

Stock footage was used for the waterfall peril in the rafting scene. It is actually a waterfall called High Force on the River Tees in the northeast of England.[24]

Stills from the scene of Julie Newmar swimming naked in the film were reprinted in Playboy magazine.[25]

Film School Students: George Lucas[edit]

Foreman allowed four film school graduates – two from USC, two from UCLA – to come on location and make their own short film on or around the shooting of Mackenna's Gold. The filmmakers were Chuck Braverman, who did a documentary on Foreman; George Lucas, who made the short film 6-18-67; David MacDougal, who made a documentary on Thompson; and J. David Wyles, who made a film on the wranglers.[26][27][28] Lucas' movie was originally intended to be a making-of documentary.[29]

Lucas felt the films were a ruse by Foreman to get some "cheap, behind the scenes documentary films made" but did it for the chance to direct. His project was supervised by Saul Bass. He was appalled by what he felt was a waste of money on location. Foreman reportedly hated Lucas' short film but was forced to say he liked it in a PBS documentary being made about the project. The film went on to earn a number of rewards.[30]

Musical score and soundtrack[edit]

Mackenna's Gold
Soundtrack album by
GenreFilm score
LabelRCA Victor
ProducerQuincy Jones
Quincy Jones chronology
For Love of Ivy
Mackenna's Gold
The Italian Job

The original score and songs of the film were composed and conducted by Quincy Jones, and the soundtrack album was released on the RCA Victor label in 1969.[31] The opening song, "Old Turkey Buzzard", is a recurring background theme. It was sung by José Feliciano and was composed by Quincy Jones with lyrics by Freddie Douglas. 'Freddie Douglas' was a pseudonym for writer/producer Carl Foreman. José Feliciano also plays guitar and add vocals in many parts of the soundtrack and Spanish version of the theme song "Viejo Butre" for the Spanish-language edition of the movie.

The theme song was used on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2007 as a random running gag. A 13-second clip would be played after Letterman threw his blue index cards through the "glass" window behind his desk, and was often combined with a video clip of the turkey buzzard soaring in the sky during the movie's opening sequence. Letterman would gradually show increased mock irritation with the clip in discussions with bandleader Paul Shaffer, while at the same time calling it "exciting, moving, inspirational" and "stirring, haunting, beautiful". The running gag ultimately resulted in Feliciano making a guest appearance on the Late Show on October 16, 2007, singing a longer version of the song (with the buzzard video clip superimposed over him).

Track listing[edit]

All compositions by Quincy Jones

Track listing
2."Old Turkey Buzzard"2:46
3."Canon del Oro"5:13
4."Waterhole Trek"2:37
5."Reve Parisien"2:40
6."Old Turkey Buzzard (Instrumental version)"2:30
7."Soul Full o Gold"2:40
8."Main Title"3:00
9."Apache Camp"4:36
10."Massacre Montage"2:42
11."Old Turkey Buzzard (Spanish version)"1:30
Total length:37:37



Critical response[edit]

The film was not well received by critics and audiences in North America.[14] Mackenna's Gold was reviewed in The New York Times by Vincent Canby, who considered the film as an example of "stunning absurdity". He noted: "The structure of the movie is so loose that a narrator (Victor Jory) must be employed from time to time to explain the plot, as if it were a serial. Most surprising in a movie that obviously cost a good deal of money is the sloppy matching of exterior and studio photography with miniature work for special effects."[32]

Box office[edit]

In the United States and Canada, the film earned $3.1 million in theatrical rentals.[33] This was equivalent to estimated box office gross receipts of approximately $10 million.[34] It was a box-office failure in North America. Despite this, the film went on to become a major overseas success, in regions such as the Soviet Union, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.[35] In France, it was the 31st top-grossing film of 1969, selling 1,288,609 tickets.[36]

The film was popular in the Soviet Union. Mackenna's Gold was first shown at the VIII Moscow International Film Festival in 1973, followed by a cinematic premiere in 1974. The film was viewed by 63 million people and stands fourth in the all-time rankings of foreign film distribution in the Soviet Union. The title song "Old Turkey Buzzard" was dubbed with Russian lyrics by Leonid Derbenyov, a Russian poet and lyricist widely regarded as one of the stalwarts of 20th-century Soviet and Russian pop music. It was performed by then-popular Soviet singer Valery Obodzinsky.[37] The film's 63 million ticket sales[38] were equivalent to an estimated $30 million.[39] Combined, the film grossed an estimated $40 million in North America and the Soviet Union.

Mackenna's Gold was and remains a very successful film in India.[35] It remained the top Hollywood grosser in India until blockbusters like Jurassic Park (1993) and Titanic (1997) came along. Even worldwide hits such as Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) would not make as much money in India as Mackenna's Gold did. The film went through countless re-runs until well into the 1980s and could be seen in cinema halls across India, including small venues in the medium-size towns of North and South India.[35]


Quincy Jones's score was nominated for, but did not win, a Grammy Award for best score from a motion picture.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Cite error: The named reference los was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ "Good Guys and Bad Guys Oehler, C M.". Chicago Tribune. Mar 31, 1963. p. i8.
  3. ^ Blume, Mary (16 June 1968). "Blacklist Spins 'Gold' for Carl Foreman". Los Angeles Times. p. c16.
  4. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (23 July 1967). "It's Back to the Old West for Basics in Movie Action: Old West---Film's Home ground". Los Angeles Times. p. c1.
  5. ^ Martin, Betty (Apr 26, 1965). "CALL SHEET: 'Runaway' Actor Man in a Hurry". Los Angeles Times. p. d11.
  6. ^ Champlin, Charles (Feb 19, 1967). "Tiomkin: Tovarich of Cinema". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
  7. ^ Champlin, Charles (Oct 10, 1966). "Foreman Hopes to Reverse Runaway". Los Angeles Times. p. C23.
  8. ^ Palmer, Raymond (Feb 1, 1967). "Producer Carl Foreman to Return to Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. e9.
  9. ^ Martin, Betty (Jan 30, 1967). "'Gold' Will Be in Cinerama". Los Angeles Times. p. d21.
  10. ^ Thomas, Kevin (Feb 6, 1969). "'Chairman' Shot in Crossfire". Los Angeles Times. p. h13.
  11. ^ Martin, Betty (Feb 13, 1967). "Coppola to Direct 'Rainbow'". Los Angeles Times. p. c23.
  12. ^ Haber, Joyce (Mar 31, 1969). "Lemmon to Direct Filming of 'Kotch'". Los Angeles Times. p. g23.
  13. ^ Schickel, Richard (1996). Clint Eastwood: A Biography. Knopf. p. 185.
  14. ^ a b c Smith, Richard Harland. "Mackenna's Gold". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  15. ^ Burton, Richard (26 September 1966). Richard Burton Diaries.
  16. ^ Martin, Betty (Mar 22, 1967). "'Gold' for Gregory Peck". Los Angeles Times. p. e16.
  17. ^ martin, betty (May 22, 1967). "Terence Stamp Heads 'Cow' Cast". Los Angeles Times. p. d23.
  18. ^ Martin, Betty (Sep 6, 1967). "Julie Newmar Signs Pact". Los Angeles Times. p. e11.
  19. ^ Martin, Betty (May 24, 1967). "Roles for 2 Oscar Nominees". Los Angeles Times. p. e9.
  20. ^ "Movie locations for Mackenna's Gold." Retrieved: August 22, 2016.
  21. ^ "Movie location: Canyan De Chelly." Retrieved: August 22, 2016.
  22. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  23. ^ "Movie scene: Shaking Rock Shadow." Retrieved: August 22, 2016.
  24. ^ "MacKenna's Gold 1969". Movie-Locations. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  25. ^ "There was Once an Indian Maid". Playboy. May 1968. pp. 89–91.
  26. ^ Champlin, Charles (Nov 13, 1967). "Four Filmmakers Film a Filming". Los Angeles Times. p. c25.
  27. ^ greenwood, noel (Aug 31, 1967). "Young Moviemaker Concentrates on Grist". Los Angeles Times. p. ws12.
  28. ^ Baxter 1999, pp. 76–78.
  29. ^ Wickman, Forrest (March 23, 2012). "Watch the Early Art-House Documentaries of George Lucas". Slate Magazine.
  30. ^ Baxter, John (1999). Mythmaker. Spike. pp. 77–78.
  31. ^ Soundtrack Collector: album entry accessed January 29, 2018
  32. ^ Canby, Vincent. "Movie review; The screen: 'Mackenna's Gold' in Apache Country." The New York Times, June 19, 1969.
  33. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969". Variety, January 7, 1970, p. 15.
  34. ^ Vogel, Harold L. (2010). "Table 3.4. Motion picture theater industry statistics, 1965–2009". Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis. Cambridge University Press. pp. 88–9. ISBN 978-1-139-49732-9. 1965 (...) MPAA U.S. + Canadian rentals % of BO (...) 29.8
  35. ^ a b c Bhaumik, Kaushik. "Old is Not Just Gold, It's Mackenna's Gold". The Indian Quarterly – A Literary & Cultural Magazine. Archived from the original on 2014-06-14.
  36. ^ "MacKenna's Gold (1969) – France". JP's Box-Office (in French). Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  37. ^ Calic et al. 2011, p.102.
  38. ^ Sergey Kudryavtsev (4 July 2006). "Зарубежные фильмы в советском кинопрокате".
  39. ^ "Cinema Going". The Asian Messenger. Center for Communication Studies, Chinese University. 1–4: 2. 1975. In Russia, where a movie ticket costs about 47 US cents, there are 154,200 cinemas


  • Baxter, John. Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas. New York: William Morrow, 1999. ISBN 0-380-97833-4.
  • Calic, Marie-Janine, Dietmar Neutatz and Julia Obertreis. The Crisis of Socialist Modernity: The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the 1970s. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011. ISBN 978-3-5253-1042-7.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (DVD). Paramount Pictures Home Video. 2008.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (DVD). So Paramount Pictures Home Video. 2008.
  • Kline, Sally. George Lucas: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series). Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 1999. ISBN 1-57806-125-3.
  • Mackenna's Gold (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Video. 2000.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (VHS). Paramount Pictures Home Video. 1999.
  • Salewicz, Chris. George Lucas: Close Up – The Making of His Movies. New York: Da Capo Press 1999. ISBN 1-56025-202-2.

External links[edit]