Challenge of the McKennas / Un dólar y una tumba / La sfida dei MacKenna (León Klimovsky, 1970)


(Phil H) #1

http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Sfida_dei_MacKenna%2C_La#Cast_and_crew

I hadn’t seen this in years and remembered practically nothing about it except I was not overly impressed. On rewatching I discovered it is actually pretty darn good. The old fullscreen ex rental VHS tape I have of this doesn’t do it any favours but the script is excellent and I can’t believe I had neglected it for so long.

I will be writing a review of it shortly, so will expand on my thoughts then. In the meantime, I’d like to know what the rest of you think.


(LankyFellow) #2

Yep,this is one of them i 'd like to see


(Romaine Fielding) #3

[quote=“Phil H, post:1, topic:1554”]http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Sfida_dei_MacKenna%2C_La#Cast_and_crew

I hadn’t seen this in years and remembered practically nothing about it except I was not overly impressed. On rewatching I discovered it is actually pretty darn good. The old fullscreen ex rental VHS tape I have of this doesn’t do it any favours but the script is excellent and I can’t believe I had neglected it for so long.

I will be writing a review of it shortly, so will expand on my thoughts then. In the meantime, I’d like to know what the rest of you think.[/quote]

So far this year I’ve been watching a lot of Spags that I liked from last year. This one was due up next so your viewing and post was good timing for me.
I thought it was really kind of brutal at times (I mean that in a good way). With a really good performance by Ireland and another off-the-wall character/performace by Robert Woods.
Annabella Incontrera is just beautiful. Makes me wonder what we’re missing in Bullet For Sandoval. Sob.
Maybe I can watch it again tonight :slight_smile:


(Phil H) #4

[quote=“Romaine Fielding, post:3, topic:1554”]So far this year I’ve been watching a lot of Spags that I liked from last year. This one was due up next so your viewing and post was good timing for me.
I thought it was really kind of brutal at times (I mean that in a good way). With a really good performance by Ireland and another off-the-wall character/performace by Robert Woods.
Annabella Incontrera is just beautiful. Makes me wonder what we’re missing in Bullet For Sandoval. Sob.
Maybe I can watch it again tonight :)[/quote]

I’d be interested in your thoughts on it RF.
And yes, Miss Incontrera was obviously a major loss to Bullet for Sandoval :’(


(Romaine Fielding) #5

Got a chance to watch this again last night.
It is stange little film indeed.
Very brutal opening sequence.
It’s got as much interfamilial hate as I’ve seen this side of The Forgotten Pistolero. Incest AND patricide. And we haven’t even gotten to the gringos yet.
Great cast except that I did not like Ireland as much on this, my second, viewing of this film. He obviously was not up to fight scenes and looked just old to me. (and I like him). He was largely unconvincing to me as a “romantic” lead/character. Although his best scenes might have been with Annabella Incontrera (who was excellent).
I’m sure Phil will have something interestng to say about this: Ireland quotes a poem (I had to Goggle this) called The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (located the Oxford Book of Mystical Verse!)
http://www.bartleby.com/236/239.html
Both Camardiel & Woods are totally weird and great.
I think I saw Ken Wood (Giovanni Cianfriglai) miss a stunt. At about minute 39:55 he jumps off of a water tower meaning, I think, to jump into a wagon passing below. But he misses the wagon. Doesn’t look like he intended to miss it.
This quote towards the end sums it all up:
"I’m a human being, made in the image of God. I can kill anything…"
Phil, what do you think the Goldfish were all about?
This one deserves a wide viewing among fans.


(autephex) #6

recently got a pretty good looking print of this but wasn’t paying it much attention as I didn’t know anything about it. Sounds promising, will report back…


(Phil H) #7

Glad to hear you found it interesting too RF. And yes, I certainly do have something to say about the poetry. The Hound of Heaven is central to Ireland’s character but he also quotes Shelley at one point too. I really can’t think of another spaghetti western, or any western for that matter, that is interwoven so heavily around poetry.

The gold fish have got me beat at the moment. They must mean something, they are so obviously placed, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Any ideas yourself on that?


(scherpschutter) #8

[quote=“Romaine Fielding, post:5, topic:1554”]Got a chance to watch this again last night.
It is stange little film indeed.
Very brutal opening sequence.
It’s got as much interfamilial hate as I’ve seen this side of The Forgotten Pistolero. Incest AND patricide. And we haven’t even gotten to the gringos yet.
Great cast except that I did not like Ireland as much on this, my second, viewing of this film. He obviously was not up to fight scenes and looked just old to me. (and I like him). He was largely unconvincing to me as a “romantic” lead/character. Although his best scenes might have been with Annabella Incontrera (who was excellent).
I’m sure Phil will have something interestng to say about this: Ireland quotes a poem (I had to Goggle this) called The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (located the Oxford Book of Mystical Verse!)
http://www.bartleby.com/236/239.html
Both Camardiel & Woods are totally weird and great.
I think I saw Ken Wood (Giovanni Cianfriglai) miss a stunt. At about minute 39:55 he jumps off of a water tower meaning, I think, to jump into a wagon passing below. But he misses the wagon. Doesn’t look like he intended to miss it.
This quote towards the end sums it all up:
"I’m a human being, made in the image of God. I can kill anything…"
Phil, what do you think the Goldfish were all about?
This one deserves a wide viewing among fans.[/quote]

Dear me, looks like my kind of movie …


(Reverend Danite) #9

I’ve just watched this again. The last viewing was a few years ago. On the first visit I remember being very impressed by it’s realism and grittiness. I enjoyed it even more this time around and goggled the poetry bits as well - which are very moving and worth revisiting on their own terms. Not surprisingly though, there was no mention of goldfish in the ‘extended’ versions of these.
The aforementioned fish have to be some sort of simple metaphor for being trapped, the two of these are locked into a life of following each other around, and ultimately being fated to actions that occur from outside of themselves. Everybody here has a life that ‘swims’ about another. Chris (Robert Woods) around his father; the daughter, Barbara (Daniella Giordana) around the memory of her dead lover; Maggie around Don Diego (and vice versa); Jonas around his loss of faith with the good Lord; and nobody but nobody is in total control of their own destiny.
I don’t mean to sound deep and meaningless here, but the whole film is loaded with ‘stuff’ and quite moralisticky - but fucked-up in a way only spaghetti westerns can be as compared to their American counterparts. But still, even within this genre, this is an unusual sw - so wrapped up as it is in its relationships - which, as mentioned - include attempted incest and realised patricide. Phewww!
The flashbacks, I thought for a moment related to a younger Jonas (Ireland) and Maggie (Incontrera) having been lovers in an earlier life … (for a while - until I was shown differently) … but the reason for this was that at one point previous to this Ireland does say … “Do you remember who I am?” and gets the reply “Oh yes” from Incontrera.
This is a great little sw - moving and deeply intentioned. It’s no bundle of laughs and very wordy - and quite unlike some of the other stuff I’ve seen from director Klimovsky. And it’s very well acted. And I thought Ireland believable as the jaded, past-his-prime, bloke but with a spark of summat left - some nihalism to replace his loss of faith.
This most definately counts as a ‘goodie’ - I’m more than happy to watch a sw that is ultimately about a questioning of religious faith, set as it is on an inevitable and preordained path to violence.
Certainly 4 outa 5.
Recommended.

Reckon so!


(ENNIOO) #10

I like this one aswell Reverend ;).


(scherpschutter) #11

Watched this one last night, thanks to a forum member who made me a DVDr (fullscreen, but good image quality)

Good film, although it often felt more Greek than Roman
I leave the review to Phil, therefore only a few notes:

I do agree with the Rev that Ireland looked a bit old for the part. He was believable as a desillusioned priest turned drifter, but not very convincing as a ladies man. In the barroom brawl he was doubled, if i’m not mistaken. Look closely when ‘he’ is filmed from behind: that definitely is a younger man.

Otherwise: fine film, fine story, fine conclusion (Ireland riding off although the Annabella’ll have him: probably a reference to the final scene of Once Upon a Time in the West, with Harmonica walking away, saying he might come back … some day).
Although it was a coproduction with Spain, it was entirely filmed in Tuscanny (near Pisa), on not more than a handful of locations.

There has been quite some discussion on who actually directed the movie. According to Woods (talking to Giusti) Klimovski was responsible for framing etc. but didn’t talk much with the actors; Ireland and Woods actually ‘directed’ most dramatic scenes.
There’s a lot of christian symbolism involving fish. Remember that the fish is a symbol of Chist. furthermore Ireland’s character is an ex-priest and calls himself Jonas, Greek for the herbrew Jonah, who lived inside the whale for some time.


(Phil H) #12

Finally got around to finishing this review. I got sidetracked a while ago and only just got back to it today.

http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Challenge_of_McKenna_Review

I will also update the film’s synopsis on it database page as it is completely incorrect. Range war?


(scherpschutter) #13

Great work, Phil

Apparently the Italian working title was Un Dollaro e una Tomba, but this was changed when the Hollywood western McKenna’s Gold turned out to be a big hit in Italy.

To explain the name Mckenna it was suggested that John Ireland was a Mckenna, that is: the sole Mckenna who had mysteriously survived a range war between his family and the family of Don Diego …
The funny thing is that the actual Italian title means The Challenges of the Mckennas (plural), not McKenna (singular)

I’ve never seen the Italian language version and Giusti is not completely clear about this, but I suppose the name ‘Mckenna’ was smuggled into the movie one way or another


(Stanton) #14

Very interesting.

Another film directed secretly by Bobby Woods?

Whatever, a new entry on my search list.


(Bluntwolf) #15

Good movie… I especially liked Robert Woods’ performance as Crazy Chris with his insane laughter and funky clothing. It’s not Ireland’s best work (usually he’s better) but he’s doing ok…

This is no action western and doesn’t contain many gunfights but plot and dialogue (as mentioned before) make more than up for it.


(Starblack) #16

Klimovsky used to have a pretty poor reputation (maybe he still does) but this one and Tierra Brava, at least, are decent films. (Of course, rumours persist that he was director in name only in several cases, but who knows for sure.)

I agree about Ireland looking tired in this one, but he still has presence, and I enjoy Woods when he gets a character by the throat and really goes for it.

The Italians were pretty desperate to try to associate this with a dull film like McKenna’s Gold, though.


(Silver Wolf) #17

But he did direct Tierra Brava, right? That’s a wonderful film and stylishly directed. From what I have read, Spanish critics consider Klimovsky’s 50s melodramas to be his best works. When he started directing westerns and horror films, he was not that enthusiastic about his work anymore and I suppose that the routine scripts and low production values did little to inspire him. His movies always have some flashes of brilliance though - the opening dream sequence of Dracula’s Saga is one of the best scenes of Spanish 70s horror - and when he had good scripts to work with the results were at least interesting, which is more than can be said about films like Rattler Kid or Torrejon City.

Challenge of McKenna is a good one with nice opening scene and very unexpected, great finale. The most interesting aspects of the script are probably something Ireland came up with, since I have read that he was very unhappy with the original script and volunteered to re-write much of it without official credit just to make it better. This might also explain why the story sometimes feels like his ego trip (all the unnecessary scenes with old man Ireland with women…). What I dislike in the film is the way it recycles De Masi’s music from Ringo, the Mark of Vengeance in slightly different versions. I have tried to find the version with “different” (Spanish?) music track in English that’s supposed to exist but can’t find it. Someone at Tom Bett’s blog wrote that “Amen” version is supposed to be the new version re-edited by Ireland himself, with different music, made for TV distribution, while “Challenge of McKenna” should be the US theatrical version with DeMasi score. So far I have three versions in English, all with different title and all with De Masi score, so it seems that this information is not correct. “Amen” version is the one with in-print title while “Challenge of McKenna” and “Badlands Drifter” have title cards made with computer so my guess is that “Amen” was the theatrical title but can’t be sure. If anyone knows more about this, I’d appreciate sharing any info.

edit: damn typos


(John Welles) #18

[size=12pt]Challenge of McKenna[/size]

“La sfida dei MacKenna” (1970), also known as “Challenge of McKenna” and “Badlands Drifter”, is a Spaghetti Western directed by León Klimovsky. The story is thus: an ex-preacher, now a drifter (played by John Ireland) gets into a deadly dispute with powerful Mexican rancher Don Diego (Roberto Camardiel). This is quite a bizarre Western for its genre: there is little action (most of which is well-staged, apart from the anti-climatic final confrontation) and has a lot of Catholic symbolism (the dramatic and striking first scene for example, where a man is hung on a cross against the skyline). The acting, for this wordy movie is excellent: Ireland, while too old for the part is believable and moving as a man who has lost his faith and Robert Woods as Chris, son of Diego, is in one of his best roles. The film is well-served by Klimovsky’s direction and the screenplay is strange but riveting. Only one thing blot’s this film, and that is the romantic sub-plot that is totally redundant and unnecessary. However, apart from that, this is an unusual Spaghetti Western well-worth seeing.


(Silence) #19

Not really that unusual John. Pretty much a Spagh.

But, on the other hand it’s a reason to have the very beautifully looking Annabella Incontrera in the film.


(John Welles) #20

[quote=“Silence, post:19, topic:1554”]Not really that unusual John. Pretty much a Spagh.

I was generally ok with it but don’t you think John Ireland was very unbelievable in the love story? But, on the other hand it’s a reason to have the very beautifully looking Annabella Incontrera in the film.[/quote]
Well, it’s not like any other Spaghetti’s I’ve seen, so in my book, it’s unusal. And yes, Ireland wasn’t very believable in the romantic sub-plot and just because the actresse is good-looking, it doesn’t mean the sub-plot is beneficial to the film.