The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Wrath of God

Why do some movies just reach out and grab you? You know the movie. The one most of your friends have never heard of and give you that 'What the hell are you talking about?' look. It's that hidden gem of a movie that you stumbled across at Netflix, the one you started watching at 2 in the morning when you couldn't sleep. Because you found it, and it seems to have been forgotten among a sea of movies, it's almost your movie. I've got a handful of them, one of my favorites being 1972's The Wrath of God.  

It's the 1920s in an unidentified Central American country, and three men have been brought together to pull off a suicidal, basically impossible mission. First is Emmet Keogh (Ken Hutchison), an IRA gunman on the run. Second, there's Jennings (Victor Buono), a portly, double-dealing and conniving businessman who can never turn away at a chance at some easy cash. And third, there's Father Van Horne (Robert Mitchum), a defrocked priest now working as a con man with some tricks up his sleeve. They have a simple choice in front of them; stand in front of a firing squad or work together to kill Tomas de la Plata (Frank Langella), a maniacal revolutionary who rules his region with a tyrannical fist. Can the unlikely, unholy trio pull the job off and get out alive?

A little known western from 1972 with a solid cast, a somewhat goofy tone that has some fans thinking it's a spoof (I for one, do not), and action, drama and humor. What to take away from it? According to anything written about the movie from director Ralph Nelson, it was beset with problems from the start. Co-star Hutchison severely cut his hand, almost died and was forced to miss several weeks of filming. That's kind of a problem when Hutchison is in almost every scene. Starring in her last movie, Rita Hayworth was struggling with Alzheimer's and couldn't remember her lines. Now this may just be me, but you know what? Somehow and some way, it all works for the better. Yes, it's an odd, weird, even goofy mess of a movie, but it's damn entertaining.

'Wrath' has lots of little things going for it, the things that help make a good movie great. From composer Lalo Schifrin comes a crazy, off the wall, jazzy and Mexican themed score that sounds like an offbeat spaghetti western score (listen to samples HERE). Nelson filmed on location in Mexico using some familiar, memorable spots that you'll have seen in Vera Cruz, Big Jake, The Wild Bunch, and The War Wagon. The finale at the de la Plata hacienda is especially cool, using the same location as the finale to 1954's Vera Cruz. The best thing going though is the script. The movie is based off a Jack Higgins novel (written as James Graham), and while I like the novel, it doesn't have the dark humor the movie does. The whole movie is basically one great one-liner after another, but it never feels forced. Read IMDB's Memorable Quotes HERE for a sample. Credit to Mitchum, Buono and Hutchison especially for committing to the lines because it could have felt cheesy from the get-go in lesser hands.  

Mitchum was the only big, recognizable star in the cast, but that ends up working as a positive for the film. He was often criticized for being too calm, too lackadaisical, for being downright bored in his parts. This is a showy, scene-stealing part, and Mitchum runs away with it. Having some fun with previous "religious" parts like Night of the Hunter and Five Card Stud, he plays Father Oliver Van Horne, a somewhat disheveled, former priest (backstory explained late) now working as a conman and hired gun. He carries a large case loaded with an automatic machine gun and hiding over $50,000. Mitchum clearly looks like he's having some fun here. Hutchison and Buono too stand out, Hutchison as the fiery IRA gunman who gets a love interest, Chela (model Paula Prentiss in one of her 3 career roles), a mute Indian girl, and Buono as the portly, boozing dealer who always looks out for himself first and foremost. The trio has this really easy-going, likable chemistry that carries the movie, a nice positive when they're in almost every scene together.

The other three main parts are basically extended cameos. Playing the maniacal laughing, insane Tomas de la Plata, Langella hams it up like nobody's business. He hates priests after seeing sketchy, immoral priests in his village growing up so when Mitchum's Van Horne shows up, he basically loses his mind. Langella has some great exchanges with Mitchum too, overplaying vs. underplaying. In her last film, Hayworth is clearly struggling with her part, but it's still cool to see her working with the cast. Also hamming it up is John Colicos as Colonel Santilla, the conniving officer trying to get his rival de la Plata knocked off in any way possible. His spelling out the suicide mission to his self-named 'Unholy Trinity' is a priceless scene. Gregory Sierra is solid too as Jurado, de la Plata's one-eyed henchman. Fans of The Wild Bunch should check out the cast too, where you'll see Jorge Russek, Chano Urueta, Aurora Clavel, and Enrique Lucero, all of them playing supporting parts much like in Peckinpah's film.

A quasi-revolutionary western that isn't interested in breaking any ground sure ain't a bad thing. In many of his movies, Nelson was just interested in making entertaining, well-made and exciting movies. 'Wrath' is 3-for-3 there. It's fun from beginning to end, the last 30 minutes especially standing out as Van Horne, Keogh and Jennings make their move in taking out de la Plata. A bloody shootout in a village square leads into a bloodier shootout at the de la Plata hacienda, Van Horne wrapping it up nicely with a great closing line. Is the movie great? By no means, but I love it just the same. It's different, it's funny, and whether it's laughs or action, it should keep you entertained. Now about finding a DVD copy of it.....yeah, that's another story.

The Wrath of God (1972): *** 1/2 /****


  1. Hi, is there a way you can send me a copy of the movie? Thanks in advance.

  2. Sorry, all I've got is a beat-up burned DVD of it, and a VHS tape from a Turner Classic Movies showing a few years back. It's not on their schedule now, but keep your eye out there where it shows up occasionally.

    Have you seen it, aaraigator, or just curious?

  3. Hi and thanks for replying.
    Yes I've seen it and I thought it was quite good.
    The problem is the audio was in Spanish so I couldn't understand a thing of what they were saying. Could you please make a dvdrip for me from your dvd copy?

  4. If I had the technology to do so, I'd send you a copy, but I don't. Sorry I couldn't help.

  5. The only other thing I can think of is to check Encore Westerns' schedule. I don't have the channel, but I know it's been on recently.