Wednesday, 30 September 2009

God’s Gun (1976)

When a spaghetti western boasts a cast headed by Lee van Cleef and Jack Palance you’re entitled to feel confident you’re in for an enjoyable ride. Such is the case with God’s Gun (Diamante Lobo). And when Lee van Cleef is playing a gunfighter and a priest, well really what more could you ask? And it is certainly a memorable ride, although it’s memorable in the way car accidents are memorable. Still, if you have a taste for genuinely odd movies this one is worth a look because it’s very odd indeed.

It’s a spaghetti western, but made in Israel. It’s actually an Italian-Israeli co-production, with an Italian director and a partly Italian crew, and obviously made on a very low budget. There are intriguing ideas here, but they don’t quite come off. Which proves that intriguing and original ideas aren’t necessarily good ideas.

Lee van Cleef is a priest in a small town somewhere near the Mexican border. His past is a little mysterious, given that priests don’t normally keep guns in their church. As he explains to his faithful assistant Johnny (played by Leif Garrett, yes Leif Garrett the teen idol pop singer of the 1970s) the guns aren’t his, he’s just holding them for somebody. But clearly there are some secrets about his past that he is hiding. At this point the bad guys arrive in the form of the notorious Clayton gang, led by an outrageously over-acting Jack Palance. When they head for the local saloon, run by Johnny’s mother Jenny, you just know they’re going to cause trouble, and before long somebody is going to get killed. It doesn’t take long. The sheriff is called, the offending member of the gang is arrested, but the Claytons return that night to bust their buddy out of gaol.

With the alcoholic sheriff (played by the alcoholic Richard Boone) seemingly unwilling to do anything the priest sets off to bring the offender to justice. He does so, but is then killed in revenge by the Claytons. Young Johnny heads off in search of the priest’s long-lost brother (both brothers being played by Lee van Cleef) who was an infamous gunslinger. He’s now reformed, but now feels he must exact vengeance for his brother’s death. So far it’s the sort of thing you expect in a spaghetti western, but there are some bizarre plot twists to come, with the Good Book proving mightier than the Gun. And there are some incredibly contrived revelations, but by now the viewer is starting to become accustomed to uncanny coincidences. There’s more mayhem to come, including a mass rape of the saloon girls that comes to an unexpected end with yet another amazing plot twist brought about by yet another astounding coincidence.

The climactic gunfight that you expect in a spaghetti western takes a strange and rather surreal form, with lots of dramatic music and some very poor cinematography that tries to be clever and atmospheric but ends up just being strange. The resolution of the over-complicated plot isn’t terribly satisfactory but it’s difficult to see how such a plot could have been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

Lee van Cleef relies mostly on his spaghetti western charisma, and escapes with a certain amount of dignity intact. Jack Palance overacts even by Jack Palance standards, while Richard Boone looks convincingly drunk, as he probably was. Leif Garrett seems confused, while Sybil Danning as his mother does as well as can be expected given some major script problems in relation to her character.

Despite all its flaws it has to be said that this is a movie that is entertaining in its own idiosyncratic way. It holds your attention because there’s a certain morbid fascination in watching the movie try to avoid complete self-destruction. It so often seems to be heading for self-parody and it becomes increasingly uncertain just how seriously we’re supposed to take it all (the final scene framed by the puppet show stage suggests that perhaps we’re not intended to take it seriously at all). And the ideas are interestingly different. It’s in the public domain so it’s not going to cost you a fortune to get hold of a copy. Worth a look if you enjoy oddball bad movies.


Sebina said...

Jack Palance was such a fascinating actor to watch; I'll have to find a copy of this film.

dfordoom said...

Yes, Palance was always strangely charismatic. The combination of Palance and Lee van Cleef should have been dynamic, but it just didn't come off.

I'm pressing ahead with my project to watch more spaghetti westerns though. So far my favourite has been Django.

Drake said...

They used the worse voice dub for Boone, i guess he didn't care to dub his lines in any language.
Jack Palance at his hammy best and Lee Van Cleef is great as always.

dfordoom said...

The rumour was that Boone was drunk the whole time! The dubbing choices in European movies are often bizarre. A classic example is the Mario Bava movie The Whip and the Body in which Christopher Lee's voice is dubbed in English by another actor. Despite the fact that Christopher Lee begged for the opportunity to do the dubbing himself.