Now HERE is an odd egg — a Spaghetti Western filmed in Isreal, with actual acting by Lee Van Cleef (who is usually relegated to the traditional Lee Van Cleef role of the aged wizened gunslinger). GOD’S GUN is a fascinatingly bad film: The production standards of a classic STAR TREK episode, surprisingly lurid & exploitational content, some truly brutal and graphic violence, and Leif Garrett.
But I liked the movie before being even ten minutes into it: It is depraved, amoral, uses the “religious” angle as a plot device, and raises interesting questions about what exactly qualifies a film as a “Spaghetti Western”? For my money the answer comes down to one of style & attitude. Spaghetti Westerns are more like pastiches of moments, some better than others & many culled from other sources, namely other Spaghetti Westerns. It is a re-heatable genre, and GOD’S GUN is a nice dish of leftovers that tastes better on the second day — It took a couple to realize the film was getting under my skin, that it was interesting, that I hadn’t quite seen anything like it before. It is a later period revisionist Euro Western, celebrating the conventions of the genre by presenting them on their sides, upside down or backwards. Quite literally in the form of Lee Van Cleef’s performance — Here is one of the true Gunslingers of the genre, not only putting down his gun & putting on a friar’s collar to avenge his brother’s murder, but doing so in a way that would be right at home in a Giallo murder mystery.
And then there is the exploitation angle: Up until the impact of Spaghetti’s and Peckinpah was felt (1969/1970), Amercian made westerns tended to be bloodless, clean, throw away fun that you could plop 10 to 14 year old boys in front of for a rainy afternoon of riding herd with Doc & Hoppy. Anyone who plops their 12 year old kid down in front of GOD’S GUN deserves a swift kick in the pants: This is a western for GROWN UPS, but not in the arty & intoxicating way that FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was. The effect is more of a freak show, depicting the lurid possibilities of a western in their R-Rated glory as they had never been seen before, complete with an extended gang rape/mass mayhem scene that, once you think about it, is probably more accurate of depicting how these depraved, sex crazed & woman starved animals would behave when presented with a dozen scrumptious, freshly scrubbed saloon girls with names like “Chesty”. If anything the cowboys shown raising all that hell aren’t grubby & scummy enough. The same can be said for the production design: Everything looks to have been freshly built or decorated for the movie, right down to the painted signs in the town — They are too damn neat, and look like the handiwork of a production designer rather than some hand-hewn piece of frontier artifice.
Yet in some ways this film shows a remarkable amount of self-awareness: The supporting extras were just actors & actresses, and the director + camera allows them to be so. The only people in the film who “act” are Richard Boone, Sybill Danning and Lee Van Cleef — Everyone else is an archetype, including Jack Palance’s Clayton. Anyone else in the role would have been ridiculous, and my thinking is that he did the film drunk. My favorite touch to the film are the sacks of money that the gang steals at the beginning of the film, which appear to be burlap sacks filled with socks. And unless I am mistaken they all have a big $ dollar sign on them. Like, what the heck??
The point is that the film is being honest about what it is, which is garbage, and those who come off best are the veterans of such garbage like Lee Van Cleef, Sybill Danning, Richard Boone and Palance. They were all aware that they were essentially making trash and made the most of it. Richard Boone gets to drink whiskey, swear, swagger around dressed up like Buffalo Bill and even has a couple of snappy lines: He’s awesome, and was a good enough sport to participate because he loved making westerns, and movies in general. Here’s some work for you, Mr. Boon — You get to play the duplicitous, cowardly drunk sheriff in a tumbleweed nowhere we’re staging in Isreal. “Where do I sign?”
I like how the film revels in it’s “fakeness”, with fake cowboys in this fake western town with fake saloon girls in fake saloon girl outfits, and Lee Van Cleef essentially anticipating Obi Wan Kenobi with his non-violent approach to the situation, allowing the fools to kill themselves off, whilst ministering to his young Padewan Leif Skywalker, who sadly regained the use of his voice for a subsequent career as a pop artist — That his parents/guardians allowed him to appear in films like GOD’S GUN and DEVIL TIMES FIVE is beyond me, and evokes images of McCauly Kulken and Frodo Baggins in THE GOOD SON, another amoral, mean spirited exploitation film with children in central roles. I wonder what the 13 year old girls in love with him who went to see this film in 1976 thought of the gang rape scene, even though he isn’t in it.
For what it’s worth the images of young Garrett riding an adult-sized horse to the film’s imaginatively derivative soundtrack is actually kind of, well, odd. I guess I sort of prefer movies that make me wonder what the heck is going on, and this one IS a riddle wrapped inside of an enigma: what WERE they thinking when they made it? Other than “Thank God for the work”, I guess.
Look for this on a four movie/2 disc set called THE GUNSLINGERS in it’s uncut 97 minute form. Well worth a look, and Fascinating, Captain.