A rather bizarre obscurity from 1972, The Wrath of God is part straight western, part dark comedy, set somewhere in Central America in the early 1920s. Adapted from the novel by Jack Higgins and directed by Ralph Nelson (Requiem for a Heavyweight, Charly, Lilies of the Field), it has recently been resurrected by the Warner Archive Collection and issued as a M.O.D. (manufacture-on-demand) title.
A strong cast has kept this one worth checking out, with Robert Mitchum headlining as the gun-toting “priest” Father Oliver Van Horne. A young Frank Langella goes way over the top as the Catholic-hating psychotic Tomas De la Plata. And, in her final role, screen legend Rita Hayworth appears as Tomas’s mother, Senora De la Plata.
Contemporary reviews of The Wrath of God seemed to sidestep a traditional plot summary. After watching the film, it’s not hard to see why. Not only is the story overly complicated, it’s also a bit confusingly told. Father Van Horne, loopy Irishman Emmet Keogh (Ken Hutchison), and booze bootlegger Jennings (Victor Buono), an unruly trio of partners who unite during the first act, are spared from a firing squad by Colonel Santilla (John Colicos) and tasked with disposing of the crazed tyrant, De la Plata.
De la Plata’s demented state of mind resulted from his witnessing of unspeakable horrors committed against his family. His unreasonable and deep-seated loathing of the Catholic Church has led to the banning of religion from the entire area he holds command over. That’s where things start to get a little muddy, plot-wise, but there’s enough action and humor to hold viewers’ interest. Plenty of shoot-outs and chase sequences break up the talkier stretches.
That’s not to suggest the talky stuff is boring. In fact, Nelson provides his cast with plenty of tasty tidbits to chew on. Mitchum, especially, has a field day with the juicy dialogue. When a dining guest asks the “priest” to say grace before a meal, Father Van Horne obliges with the deadpan, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.” Hutchison is no slouch either, putting a vaguely Robert De Niro-esque spin (if De Niro was Irish) on his readings. Sadly, Hayworth was already in the throes of yet-to-be-diagnosed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease when this was filmed. She turns in a depressingly unconvincing performance that serves more as a footnote to a great career.
Don’t expect a pristine presentation of The Wrath of God, as the print used for the transfer was in somewhat ratty condition. It’s easily watchable, but littered with flecks of dirt and inconsistencies in sharpness. More annoyingly, the early reels are plagued by a distracting flicker. However, for fans of quirky westerns (and of Mitchum in particular) this is a worthwhile addition to the Warner Archive Collection.