4/17/09

Between Heaven and Hell- Week 3: God's Gun (1976)

There is only a 1 in 250 chance that a mother will give birth to identical twins. This is the same percentage chance you have of firing an arrow and getting a bull’s-eye, unless you’re Green Arrow and then that’s just not fair. What I wonder is what are the chances that of those identical twins, one will become a priest and one a hardened gunfighter. Better yet, what are the chances identical twins would also sport identical mullets that look like they were made of Brillo pads? Pretty high, I would suppose, but anything is possible when you’re staring down the barrel of…
God’s Gun (1976) [Italian: Pistola di Dio] starring Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Lief Garrett, Richard Boone, and Sybil Danning. Directed by Gianfranco Parolini. 

Father John (Van Cleef) was living a quiet life in Juno, Texas. He kept a quiet church, held regular services, and was a mentor to young Johnny (Garrett). All that changed when the Clayton gang rode into town. Headed by the merciless bandit Sam Clayton (Palance), the little town is terrorized by the gang, and the local sheriff (Boone) puts up no resistance.  Things only get worse when Sam’s nephew Jess murders a man in cold blood and gets away with it. Having seen all he can stand, Father John goes to the gang’s camp and returns with Jess in tow. The Claytons don’t take too kindly to their man being imprisoned. So they ride into town to bust him out, and for good measure gun down Father John in the street. 

Distraught by the loss of his mentor, Johnny rides out of town headed for Mexico in search of Father John’s long lost brother, a gunfighter named Lewis (Van Cleef). After much searching, he finally locates him and is stunned to find out that the brothers are spitting images of each other. Johnny tells him of his brother’s untimely demise at the hands of the Claytons, and Lewis knows he must travel to Juno and set things right and bring the wrath of God with him. 

The Bugg Picture

God’s Gun is apparently just a regular, silver-plated six-shooter. Kind of a letdown. When I picture God’s gun in my mind it’s enormous with some kind of otherworldly glow about it, and surely, instead of bullets it is loaded with unending rounds of lightning bolts or some such similar ammunition proper for smiting fools with. Instead, it turns out that God’s gun is simply the gun Father John was holding for his brother Lewis who had finally given up his gun slinging ways. 

This flick was made toward the end of Lee Van Cleef’s run of spaghetti westerns, and it is surely not one of his better efforts. However, I do think that this entertaining film is unfairly maligned, and this is quite possibly due to the number of terrible transfers available on the market. Almost every time I have seen this film, it has been an overexposed looking, pan and scan (minus the scanning), badly dubbed mess, but if you happen to catch it on the Encore Westerns channel they seem to have a nice print. While I had seen that version, this time I viewed it from DVD in the aforementioned terrible formatting. In a way, it does detract from the film, especially the bad dubbing of Van Cleef and Palance, but I rather enjoy seeing films of this ilk in a rougher format. 

Van Cleef gives his normal stoic performance that is unfortunately brought down to laughable proportions by the horrid mullet wig he wears. What in the world would possess two brothers who haven’t seen each other for years to maintain a matching set of horrendous haircuts is beyond me. Lee doesn’t try to stretch the acting muscle too much and while he is believable as the avenging gunfighter, the role of a kindly priest does not fit him too well. Jack Palance is at least given plenty of room to do what he does best, bask in the glow of all things evil. While Jack doesn’t have too much to do, and the big “revelation” about his character is telegraphed terribly, he is an enjoyable actor to watch work. When Sam Clayton is just kicking back smiling while his cronies rape, pillage, and murder, Palance is very believable as the hedonistic criminal. 

It’s very interesting to see Sybil Danning show up here looking quite pretty and young. While many genre movie fans will be familiar with Ms. Danning from her roles in The Howling II and Reform School Girls, her early career was driven mostly from starring in European productions with such luminaries as Franco Nero and Fabio Testi. Like Palance, Danning is given little to do other than be little Johnny’s mother, but speaking of little Johnny, I was sure surprised to see everyone’s favorite former teen idol/ current train wreck Leif Garrett show up here. Looking young enough to make the Jonas Brother’s crowd swoon, Garrett is fairly annoying in the first half of the movie, but his performance improves after he sees Father John gunned down. That’s when Johnny becomes a mute, and it’s much more fun to see him gesticulate or draw pictures to get his point across. Richard Boone is perhaps the most tragically underused actor in the film. The former Paladin from TV’s Have Gun Will Travel is given little to do except act like a massive weenie, and that’s just not the Boone I know and love. 

Overall, while none of the actors are throwing out brilliant performances, they do manage to edge out the skill of the director. Gianfranco Parolini, who previously helmed films such as Adios, Sabata and 3 Supermen, drags his camera about the scenes with none of the zest for the genre that his contemporaries used to such good effect. Shot on location in Israel, which doubles nicely for the American west, Parolini doesn’t even make use of the gorgeous panoramas that surround his ramshackle buildings. Instead, we are greeted by a series of mostly static shots. 

What makes this movie interesting is the ludicrous nature of the plot. From The Parent Trap to Double Impact, twins usually have great entertainment value in film. This time is no exception, and the highlight of God’s Gun comes when Van Cleef gets to spend some quality time onscreen with himself. In you’re a fan of Lee’s work and you get a chance to see this one, hopefully, you’ll get lucky with a better transfer than I have, but either way it’s an enjoyable entry into the western genre that does end up with a few quality twists at the end to pay off on some of the slower moments. 

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. I love Van Cleef's work and am a huge fan of the spaghetti western. I've been slacking off somewhat as of late on my spaghetti western intake but after reading a few of your Van Cleef reviews of late I've got to get back on the wagon. I have several old spaghetti westerns in my video vaults and a few on dvd that I must break out again. It's shameful the amount of these films that I want to see but haven't yet acquired. I've got to change that.

    By the way, what do you think of John Wayne's westerns, especially "The Searchers"? This one and a few others of his are just as intense as an Italian weatern yet often overlooked.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the comment Steve. I don't think I've ever seen The Searchers (that I recall), but while I'm not a big fan of The Duke's movies as a whole I do have great love for The Shootist, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Cowboys. I also really enjoy Wayne in his non western The Quiet Man, but much of that may have to do with John Ford working his magic on the Irish landscapes.

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  3. "The Searchers" is well worth seeking out. It is directed by John Ford. His beautiful panoraomic eye for the west alone makes this one a masterpiece. In my opinion, the greatest Western of all time, with "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" coming in a close second.

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  4. As a nice bit of trivia, John Wayne's catch phrase in The Searchers is "that'll be the day". As most people know, Buddy Holly along with Jerry Allison wrote a song centered on that phrase after seeing the movie.

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