Ludicrous, but not much fun, this political thriller sends Gregory Peck to the People’s Republic of China for a stirring game of Ping-Pong with Chairman Mao (two years before Nixon’s Ping-Pong diplomacy) and a secret formula that could trigger an Agricultural Revolution. That is, if his military pals in the West don’t set off the remote bomb they’ve implanted in the back of his head! Peck had two of iconic hits with helmer J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE/’61 & CAPE FEAR/’62), but stumbled badly with him on MACKENNA’S GOLD/’69.* That was a big, noisy flop, this one disappeared quietly. (Note should be made of Thompson’s odd au courant cutting style. Trying to be ‘with it,’ he only manages to be distracting.)
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Peck finally got his late career hit when he took a gamble with a classy horror pic. The risk paid off when THE OMEN/’76 came out, changing the course for many an aging Hollywood leading man just as Bette Davis had stirred the pot for aging Hollywood divas with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE/’62.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Few guilty pleasures are guiltier than MACKENNA’S GOLD. With its all-star cast, immense scale & improbable treasure chest storyline, this Western is stupefying stuff . . . and (though much patience is required) more fun than many a sane pic.