Good God, God’s Gun’s Not Good.
DIRECTED BY FRANK KRAMER / 1976
BLU-RAY STREET DATE FEBRUARY 8, 2022 / KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
I knew I was in trouble when the slow, sad cover of “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” began playing over the rape scene. That’s not actually true. It was clear God’s Gun was going to be rough going long before that moment- all the way back in the opening credits, where the names Golan and Globus appeared. Now G&G have produced good films, and they’ve produced enjoyable films, but they’re mostly associated with piles of cheap, disposable dreck. And were it not for the presence of Jack Palance and Lee Van Cleef, God’s Gun would lie at the very bottom of that pile.
Palance plays Sam Clayton, the head of a gang of ruthless ne’er-do-wells who ride into the town of Juno City after pulling off a big bank job. The gang relaxes by raping and murdering. After the gang leaves town, the town’s priest, Father John (Lee Van Cleef), heads out after them. He manages to disarm the gang and capture the member responsible for knifing a man in the back. The murderer is tossed into jail, but Sam leads his gang back into town to bust his man out and get revenge. Father John is killed, and the gang takes over the town.
Determined to right this terrible state of affairs, and get justice for the slain Father, the town’s moppet, Johnnie (Leif Garret), heads to Mexico to find Father John’s twin brother, Lewis, a retired gunslinger also played by Lee Van Cleef. The trek to Lewis’s place is so arduous, that Johnnie loses his voice. He becomes the rare movie kid who somehow becomes even more annoying when he can’t speak.
Palance’s performance here is… well, to call it ‘unhinged’ is underselling it. It’s a very sweaty performance as he leers and japes and mugs while his gang pillages. It’s memorable in a very “WTF was that?‘ kind of way. I have to give it credit for giving the film some kind of energy at least.
Out of everyone involved, Van Cleef comes off the most unscathed. His dual roles as the priest and the gunslinger aren’t played all that differently (maybe that’s the point?), but he can scowl and stare squinty-eyed with the best of them. He even gets to have a little fun serving up a spook show for the bad guys when Lewis finally arrives back in Juno City for his revenge.
But Palance’s crazy and Van Cleef’s grim scowl can’t quite make this movie worth watching. It’s cheap-looking, poorly shot, and clumsily edited. I don’t begrudge a movie for having a small budget, but don’t assume the audience won’t notice that two entirely different towns are using the same set – the exact same set, right down to both towns’ signs having the same bizarre design.
God’s Gun has the bare bones of what could be a fun, exploitative spaghetti western. The notion of the priest taking on the violent gang without using guns is a fun wrinkle for the genre, the idea of the jaded gunslinger assuming his pacifist brother’s identity is another. But the movie doesn’t have the wit to explore either of those ideas. On the other hand, it also doesn’t want to deliver the ‘bloody revenge’ promised by the film’s marketing materials. God’s Gun is a let down whichever way you want to look at it.
Also a let down: writer/director Alex Cox’s audio commentary on Kino Lorber’s new blu-ray of God’s Gun. Hearing a filmmaker’s thoughts on a film – especially one I consider to be a bad film – is usually enlightening. One from a director as iconoclastic as Cox should be even more so. But Cox’s commentary is mostly just pointing out things we can plainly see happening on screen, punctuated by long stretches of silence. It would have been improved if there had been someone else on the track- either to probe Cox to go deeper or to at least fill in the gaps. The blu-ray also comes with theatrical trailers and (always a fun plus) reversible cover art.