They offered them a choice – THE FIRING SQUAD . . . or The Wrath of God
Warner Archive recently released a slew of quirky and oddball films, many of them from the early 1970s. Among these is 1972’s The Wrath of God, which may lead the pack for this type of film.
Like many of the films that Warner Archives releases, this one has been forgotten by most- except the devoted few. Somehow Robert Mitchum‘s role of a gun toting clergyman reminds me of his earlier role in Charles Laughton‘s The Night of the Hunter. Here he takes it up a notch as he is packing a machine gun and a crucifix which has a hidden knife in it as well.
Sadly, the film is known today more for being Rita Hayworth’s on screen swan song. Rumors suggest that she was given the part only at Robert Mitchum’s insistence, given their earlier pairing in Fire Down Below with an off screen pairing also rumored but unconfirmed.
Sadder still, Hayworth, who was always known as a stalwart professional on set, was extremely difficult, as co-star Frank Langella has recounted and others have confirmed. Not only did she apparently not know her lines, but she also mandated that her driver not go over ten miles per hour on the way to the set each day.
The only thing which could be done to accommodate her apparent carelessness with her lines was to read them to her one at a time- film each one, then repeat the entire process and set up for the next line. Mitchum and Langella took the delays incurred in her arrival on set into their own hands, ultimately kidnapping her to in order to get her to the set on time.
Unfortunately the cause of Hayworth’s challenges wasn’t her alcoholism as was presumed then, but rather the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, which would ultimately claim the legend’s life.
The film itself is odd if not quirky and besotted with more than a few unanswered questions. However, as Roger Ebert has mentioned, none of them seem to harm the finished product in the slightest. In fact, it is a rather enjoyable film and one of the better of Mitchum’s later works- even if it is not among the lesser known. It is definitely a film packed with action and excitement.
Mitchum plays a priest masquerading as a bandit- or perhaps vice versa (again one of the challenges Ebert references). Together with two other gents of questionable repute, they are sentenced to die but ultimately given a reprieve if they will murder a local despot, played by Frank Langella.
There is more than a little humor here as well, though some will escape most or be interpreted as a parody. Overall a rather well done effort and after becoming somewhat difficult to find for awhile, the Warner Archive has finally released it on MOD DVD. It is, as expected, a relatively standard MOD release but still a welcome addition to the collection.
Although I see quite a bit of parallels with The Night of the Hunter, Ebert sees some with Mitchum’s earlier effort Five Card Stud, which I’ve seen a few times but never really enjoyed. Perhaps this is my excuse to give Five Card Stud another shot.
Thanks to Warner Brothers for the review copy.