Julie Newmar in Mackenna’s Gold (1969)
Mackenna’s Gold has not aged well. It comes from an era when Native Americans were played by Italians, Mexicans, and even extremely white people in make-up. In this case, two of the Apaches were played by Julie Newmar and Lurch from the Addams family, who are about as white as you can get.
In the larger picture, however, it doesn’t matter that the film aged poorly, because it was kinda bad to begin with.
This is an old-fashioned Hollywood Western, starrin’ that ornery rootin’-tootin sidewinder, Omar Sharif, who established his place alongside Leonard Nimoy as one of the all-time least likely members of a Western cast. Omar never did get any of McKenna’s Gold, but he did manage to bid and make a grand slam without a good trump fit, and therefore gained plenty of master points. No question about it, he absolutely schooled the other desperadoes in their nightly bridge games.
I learned many valuable historical, cultural and even scientific lessons from this movie:
- Apaches were some seriously tall indians. Julie Newmar is about six feet tall, and Ted Cassidy (Lurch) is something like six feet eight.
- The frontier women were never too busy to keep their make-up perfect and their hair washed and under control, even under torture or after weeks of riding in the desert without water.
- The Apaches always kept their vests and loincloths perfectly ironed and tailored.
- A man can scale about 1000 feet of sheer canyon wall in about two or three minutes, without a rope or piton, wearing high-heeled cowboy boots, while shooting his gun with one of his hands.
The plot: various fortune-seeking buccaroos seek a hidden canyon where the walls are lined with gold. It is said that the Apache gods guard the canyon. According to legend, the entrance to said canyon can only be seen when the moon is in the seventh house, and the shadow of …. well, you get the idea.
When they get in the canyon, the adventurers all start killing each other in order to get 100% of the gold. There are only about a half-dozen survivors and as many horses to carry the gold away, yet there is roughly enough gold to pave Russia – possibly more gold than actually exists in all the real world. And that’s just the stuff you can pick up without digging any mines! So you’d think that sharing it six ways might have been somewhat more sensible.
Anyway, when there are only three of the fortune hunters left, the aforementioned ancient Apache gods finally enter the fray, and cause the canyon to collapse, as pictured with miniatures that are obviously miniatures, many of which appear to be liquid rather than solid!
There were a few things I enjoyed about the film. For one, it features cameos from just about every famous character actor alive at the time and that’s fun to watch. Among those who appear: Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Massey, Edward G Robinson, Eli Wallach, The Penguin, Kojak, Lurch, etc.
But I suppose the most memorable element of this movie, except for Jose Feliciano singing the haunting yet hummable “Vulture Song,” was the famous Julie Newmar skinny dip, and that’s what we came to see, isn’t it?