Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sometimes Even A Great Cast Can't Save A Movie

I saw parts of Mackenna's Gold last month, and figured I'd stumble across it again later and catch the rest. It never happened, so to hell with it, I'll discuss what I did see.

This sheriff is captured by an outlaw, who believes said sheriff has seen a map leading to a valley full of gold. Then a group of townspeople show up, because they've heard the same rumor and they want in as well. Then the cavalry gets involved, ostensibly to capture the outlaw, but the commander of the advance scouts decides he wants the gold. There are Native Americans dogging them, trying to keep people from finding the gold. I assume the area is important to them, and they don't want white men finding any other excuses to barge in and take it. It becomes this hodgepodge group struggling to survive against the elements, as well as hostilities inside and outside the group.

None of which is particularly unique, but looking at the cast, it seemed like it ought to be good. Gregory Peck plays the sheriff. Omar Sharif is the outlaw, John Colorado. Telly Salvalas is the cavalry sergeant. Lee J. Cobb and Burgess Meredith are in there as a couple of the townsfolk. Edward G. Robinson plays the old coot who tipped the townsfolk off. Eli Wallach and Keenan Wynn are in there. Julie Newmar is in there as one of the two lead actresses, though I don't think she gets a lot to do.

The point is, the cast has some serious talent. If the plot isn't exactly new territory, it's the sort of thing that could allow the performances to shine, simply because the audience doesn't have to pay much attention to the story to follow it. It doesn't work out that way. The director, J. Lee Thompson, gets a little too ambitious with some of the things he tries to do, and it kind of muddies things up. There are odd jump cuts, he tries for these shots that are meant to, I think, really convey the action and urgency of the scene, but mostly just serve to make it look kind of cheap. I'm not sure if he didn't have the equipment to do what he wanted, or if he just couldn't figure out how. Either way, there are some sequences near the end of the film where I thought he'd have been a lot better off if he went with a simpler approach for shooting them.

On the plus side, Colorado at one point hurls his gun at someone, and I laughed at him because it was such an awful throw, and it made me think of the bad guys who empty their clips at Superman, then chuck the gun at him. Except Colorado actually had a plan behind that move, and he made it work. I had no choice but to be impressed with him.

I'd still like to get around to watching it all at some point, just to see if it works better. Maybe some of the interactions and motivations will seem stronger if I do. Otherwise, it's just another one of those films that isn't as good as it ought to be.

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