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Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

'God's Gun' is flawed but worthwhile

God's Gun (aka "A Bullet From God") (1977)
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Leif Garrett, Sybil Danning, Robert Lipton, Heinz Bernard, and Richard Boone
Director: Frank Kramer
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When the vicious outlaw Sam Clayton (Palance) and his gang murder a small-town priest (Van Cleef), the church's altar boy, Johnny (Garrett) and the priest's twin brother (also Van Cleef) set about getting revenge and stopping the outlaws in a most unusual fashion.

"God's Gun" is a dirty, grimy western in the mold of "For a Fistful of Dollars." Even the good guys are somewhat questionable when it comes to their morals, virtuous acts are tainted with blood and evil, and you can almost smell the sweat and feel the dust gritting between your teeth as the wind blows from the screen. It also features fairly convoluted storyline that rivals those found in more famous westerns from the same period, and while there aren't any developments that are particularly surprising to viewers paying attention or who are well-versed in the western genre, the twists and turns of the plot are well executed.

The film also features some fine acting from Lee Van Cleef, who plays the dual role of twin brothers who are retired gunslingers. One has become a priest, the other a rancher just across the border with Mexico,but both have sworn off violence and have committed themselves to lives of peace. It's rare that we get to see Van Cleef actually act in a film--beyond his usual "I Can Stare At You And You'll Drop Dead"-type characters--and to see him in in an almost Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque role is pretty cool. (As the priest, Father John, he is attempting to mold young Johnny into a responsible adult. Even as Lewis, the gunslinger-turned-rancher, he attempts to direct Johnny away from a life of violence.)

Another remarkable part of the film is Jack Palance. Although he once again is playing a psycho--and a psycho who is so far around the bend that the quiet menace that so often hangs around Palance's characters is all but dispelled by naked brutality--he is fun to watch as he brutalizes everyone from townsfolk to the members of his own gang. His idea of family values is also creepy, or unintentionally hilarious, as his idea of getting to know the son he never knew had in the second half of the movie is to bellow, "Come out here, or I'll kill your mother!"

Speaking of Sam Clayton's son, Leif Garrett does an okay job, but he's like most child actors... in some scenes, he overacts slightly while in others he barely seems to be running lines. He's not exactly bad, but he's not exactly good either.

Every other actor in the film is decent enough, but they aren't portraying characters so much as they're just filling the shoes of figures that populate any western (the druken sheriff, the cowardly townsfolk, the plucky saloon girls, the sleazy bandits, and so on). None of them detract from their place in the scenery, so they're all good. (Although a few of the bandits get to shine a bit during the gang-rape scene in the saloon, and durning the sequence when Johnny and Lewis are executing their unusual revenge scheme against the Clayton Gang),

Despite all its good points, the film suffers from a lack of moral focus. The writer and director seem to want to give Sam Clayton an eleventh hour redemption after he discovers Johnny is his son, but the character's actions--and Palance's portrayal of him--have been so repulsive and over the top that there is absolutely no way that any amount of speeches about how he now just wants to raise his son in peace will win viewers onto his side, nor make us believe that even Clayton himself believes what he is saying. So, while Clayton's ultimate end has a degree of irony to it, the climax of the film is undermined by the way the filmmakers suddenly seem to desire to invoke sympathy for him. This weakness in the ending is what keeps this movie from rating any higher than average.

"God's Gun" is an undeservedly obscure entry in the Spaghetti Western canon (and I'm using the term loosely here, as it was actually shot in Israel and produced by the Israeli team of Golan-Globus) that fans of the western genre should check out. It may be a tad too confused about its own moral viewpoint, but it's still worth seeing.

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