StarChoice 12: The Wrath of God

(Aka: La ira de DiosZum Teufel mit Hosianna – La collera di Dio – La colère de DieuColour – 1972)

A woman’s dress should be like a barbed wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view”. That is a quote attributed to Italian actress Sophia Loren. Anyhow, that citation does not categorically affect the Hollywood sex symbols of the Forties: Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Gloria Grahame, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth. These exotic women were personification of beauty of that era and did not need nudity to further their glamour. However, by the mid-Fifties, theywere challenged by tough competition from another set of actresses who, though active and having a mind of their own, flaunted the “lady” look – a combination of beauty with breeding, elegance and a tinge of Hauteur. It was a challenge Hayworth took head on.

Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino) was groomed by her first husband Edward C. Judson (1937-42). He willfully made her lose weight, change the colour of hair and presented her to Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Studios. I have read in the autobiography of Debbie Reynolds, about how Cohn told aspiring actress Joan Perry who was signed to Columbia during the same time as Hayworth, that he is going to make Joan his wife and Hayworth a star.  Once a replacement for actress Dolores Del Rio, and often cast in tempestuous roles, Cohn’s intense promotions would broaden Hayworth’s horizon and uplift her to superstardom earning her the sensual label: Love Goddess.

Remember, remember, Rita Hayworth “hot babying” in Charles Vidor’s film noir “Gilda” (1946), while singing the sizzling “Put the Blame On Mame”(originally sung by Anita Ellis)? After her enormous success in the role of the ultimate femme fatale, she had commented “Every man I knew had fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me”. From the popularity of “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947) made by her then husband Orson Welles (1943-48), she would be eventually idolized as Hollywood’s first Royal Princess when she married Prince Aly Khan (1949-53). She was simple, unsophisticated, coupled with an intense desire to please others. Then again, she would become notorious for her romantic relationships with the likes of Victor Mature, Gary Merrill, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, Howard Hughes, Porfirio Rubirosa…. Before long her life was riddled with personal problems, encouraging her to hit the bottle and propelled her sliding down the slippery path into the gray twilight of downfall. This was further instigated by Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms of which had surfaced in early 1970 but was not diagnosed until 1980.

 

Hayworth had finished acting in director William Grefe’s “The Naked Zoo” (1971) when her friend actor Robert Mitchum, with whom she had co-starred in “Fire Down Below” (1957), well aware of the pathetic condition of a star that once immortalized beauty and sensuality, suggested that Hayworth be cast in “The Wrath of God”. Though Mitchum was not aware of her undiagnosed sickness, director Ralph Nelson (1916-1987) wouldn’t have minded having the presence of “Rita Hayworth” to top up the appeal of his movie. Seeing that her house behind Beverly Hills hotel was rented out due to financial difficulties, Nelson had to locate her in a low-cost rented Brentwood home where the discussion of the movie script was held with her in the dark of the room. However, none of this would deter him from casting her in the movie.

Ralph (Leo) Nelson (“Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), “Lilies of the Field” (1963)) had a history of conceding to special factors for the betterment of his movies. Actress Candice Bergen’s memoirs touch upon an incident related to the pre-production of “Soldier Blue” (1970) directed by Nelson. In order to retain Bergen in the role of the strong-willed, busty and lusty Cresta (according to the script), Nelson had sought the help of make-up men to make flesh-coloured rubber breasts to glue onto Bergen’s bosom so that she could measure up to the physique of busty actresses like Jane Russell and Jayne Mansfield. Fortunately, in the last moment she was saved from frontal nudity due to modifications of the script.

While Nelson set about putting together the cast and crew for his movie, Mexican locations were considered appropriate allowing for the generous budget and the theme of the story that revolved around a Revolution. Mexico was not unfamiliar to Hayworth. At the age of fourteen she had gone there with her family to surmount the liquor law that prevented underage girls like her from employment in American nightclubs. Similarly, Nelson was also familiar with Mexico for having shot location scenes for “Soldier Blue” in which he was also a supporting actor. As for Robert Mitchum, it was not only one of his favourite locations for many films, but also a place where he used to take off with his friends for days of drinks and fun.

Co-produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with Cineman Films, Ltd and Rainbow Productions, Inc, “The Wrath of God” is based upon the novel by James Graham(pseudonym of prolific British novelist Harry Patterson who also wrote as Jack Higgins and Hugh Marlowe). It was written for the screen by Nelson.

As the story goes: The Mexican Revolution literally came to an end in 1920 when the one-armed revolutionary general Álvaro Obregón Salido was elected the president of Mexico, the first stable presidency since the beginning of the Revolution in 1910. However, Mexico would suffer another decade of violence and the story of “The Wrath of God” is set during November, 1922.

The movie opens in a Mexican town where executions of three counter-revolutionaries by the firing squad were taking place in the courtyard of the military barracks, while the townsfolk joyously celebrated the “Day of the Dead” (Día de los Muertos). Emmet Keogh, an Irish vagabond, impatiently waited before Hotel Casa Grande for the proceedings to finish. As the bodies were being cleared, he rushed over to the ticket counter in the railway station to book a ticket to anywhere there is peace. A toss from his coin settled the destination he would take  – up North!

 

Moments later, joyous for having obtained the ticket out of this hellhole, Keogh danced merrily down the cobblestoned streets with a fairy-tale charm. Meanwhile, melodious Latin American music played as accompaniment to the credits of the movie that flashed one after the other onscreen. Presently, he stumbled upon soldiers bringing up another three men into the courtyard in preparation for one more execution which has sadly become a regular affair here. He saw a black, dusty Mercedes car with hood down pull up before La Cabaña and a priest in a shovel hat and dirty Cassock step out of it. Inquisitive about other people’s affairs, Keogh went over to check the automobile. He was well pleased to strike up a match and help the priest light his long black cigarillo, an act that would institute an acquaintance between them.

Upon seeing the priest, all at once, one of the condemned men ran over and knelt before him. Keogh watched in amusement when the priest restrained a soldier who tried to interrupt and led the condemned man back to the line up in order to provide absolution to all the three men. Just before Keogh turned to leave, he saw the priest bless the three men after they were shot down.

Back in the patio of Keogh’s hotel, he was invited for drinks by Jennings, a fat jovial businessman who owned the hotel. Jennings was interested to persuade Keogh to wheel a truckload of good Scotch whisky about 100 miles north to Huila since his driver was shot dead that morning. The pay will be 200 dollars which Jennings promptly raised to 250 at the first sign of disinterest from Keogh who considered the job very risky. Given that Keogh appeared a trifle busy in getting out of this bloody country, Jennings dubious mind was already exploring ways to convince Keogh to shed his contagious enthusiasm and happily run his cargo up-country to meet his business obligations. His solution was simple: arrange with his mestizo to steal Keogh’s passport and other valuables while he took his bath. The plan went smoothly until Keogh, lying in the worn out bathtub filled with brownish water✺, caught the mestizo in the act. Stark naked and wet he was, giving chase to the thief, he shot at and wounded his leg though the culprit managed to escape into the crowd outside. It didn’t take long for him to realize that Jenning’s ploy had worked. To Jennings great relief, Keogh grudgingly agreed to transport the consignment for 500 dollars and the return of his valuables. Jennings was sure that they would get along famously.

Later, driving the truck-laden bootleg whisky down the rocky trail, Keogh was surprised to chance upon the priest standing next to his car parked by a rocky patch. Apparently, his car had a flat and hit the rock. Keogh was only happy to fix it for him and shortly they pushed the car off the rock, ready to roll. The priest happily introduced himself as Father Oliver Van Horne of the Boston Diocese, down here on a fund raising trip for the authorities back home. He shared the priest’s whisky and decided to meet up at the way-station in Huerta, some 40 miles away. It was there Keogh was supposed to coordinate with Gomez vis-à-vis the delivery of the cargo, which unbeknown to Keogh, was a consignment of rifles, pistols and grenades intended for the Counter-Revolutionary forces.

The night had worn on when Keogh’s delivery truck pulled into the courtyard of the way-station. He could hear the sound of laughter and someone merrily singing to the strums of guitar…“Humpa, humpa…..”✽Suddenly, he was accosted from the back by a stranger and was taken inside the inn. Luis Delgado, the singer and the leader of the rurales (the country police) assembled there, checked his papers and politely invited the señor for a drink. From Delgado, Keogh learned that Gomez of Huila to whom he is suppose to deliver Jenning’s letter has “committed suicide”, but Colonel Santilla, the leader of the Revolutionary Forces, would be interested in that letter.

 

All at once, the groups’ attention was diverted by a native Indian girl the rurales had found on the upper floor. Despite objections by Tacho, the frightened old man at the bar who claimed that she is dumb, the fascination for their object of amusement set off a string of merriment and abuse by the rurales led by Delgado which was ineffectually thwarted by the girl until Keogh interfered. But his challenge was short-lived, only long enough for the girl to move over to his side. Once again he was accosted from the back by yet another rurale. Keogh was soon roped and hung up on the wooden beam above. It was then the priest came in with his Gladstone bag, and put up one hell of a defense in a homicidal manner. God works in mysterious ways.

 

Violence resides every where in the world and arises at unexpected moments. Having decided to leave the place quickly to avoid soldiers who are sure to be informed by the sole survivor of the massacre who had escaped; it was decided to let Chela, the Indian girl, accompany them. She too was on the run and wanted to rejoin with her “aimara” (Aymara: an indigenous ethnic tribe) on the other side of the mountain. Tacho had confided to Keogh that Chela had stopped talking when she was a kid, when she witnessed her parents being killed.

 

Driving towards Huila up the bad roads running through the rugged range of mountains and waste land, they accidently stumbled upon an encampment of the Federal cavalry who eventually captured them after a breakneck chase. At this point, Van Horne and Keogh were provided with adequate torture by the lieutenant of the federales before, charged with the offense for dealing in arms with counter-revolutionaries, they were imprisoned in Col. Santilla’s prison in the small town of Hulia. In here, they would meet Jennings, already locked up and awaiting the firing squad. But Santilla, the military governor of the region, had other plans.

 

Given that Col. Santilla intended to prepare them for a mission he had in mind, the following day they were subjected to further humiliation before a mock-up firing squad, only to be saved in “the nick of time” by the Colonel who invited them to enjoy his hospitality. The Colonel’s knowledge about the “unholy trinity” he now held “in the hollow of his hands” was very creditable. Firstly, he knew that the totally corrupt Jennings, formerly Capt. Jennings, was censured by the British army for the misuse of regimental funds. Earlier he had assumed the role of Jameson, an informant for the Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh) in Ireland, a paramilitary unit formed to suppress the Irish Republic Army but also attacked the civilian population.

While Emmet Keogh has a price on his head in Ireland for being a member of The Squad (a special intelligence unit created by Irishman Michael Collins, the originator of modern urban terrorism) and performed political assassinations; the good shepherd Padre Oliver Van Horne (a defrocked priest), is more interested in robbing banks, payrolls, rich. Curiously, he carries an automatic machine gun in one compartment of his Gladstone bag while the other section holds a princely treasure of 53,000/- American dollars in assorted currencies. Santilla had selected them for one particular reason: to kill a psychotic named Tomas de la Plata, who had created a reign of terror over Mojada and its inhabitants some 40 miles from his headquarters.

A deeply troubled man with a frenzied state of mind wrought from having to witness the atrocities committed to his family, De la Plata had banned the Catholic religion from his land. Jennings had more than a foggy idea about De la Plata due to business dealings done through agents, and only knew too well that he had been trying to raise money. De la Plata had been venturing to wheedle mining companies in the idea of working the old silver mine outside Mojada on a partnership basis. In consideration of that, Santilla had already written to him, on behalf of Jennings, informing that, being a representative of Herera Mining Company of British Honduras, Jennings would be arriving in Mojada tomorrow with two mining engineers to inspect the drift mine that hasn’t worked for years.

Most importantly, the people of Mojada are in desperate need of a priest since the last one sent by the church was hanged by De la Plata and the one before that was found wandering in the desert, stripped of his clothes, quite out of his mind. Van Horn will take with him the wooden statue of San Rafael de los Mineros, the patron saint of Mojada, which was rescued before De la Plata desecrated the church. Tomas de la Plata is a man who never allowed a challenge to his power to go unpunished, and his death will collapse his empire and free the people from repression. The remuneration for their work, if they survive, would be their lives and equal shares in 53,000 dollars in the priest’s bag.

 

That night, Chela secretly met up with Keogh and placed a silver amulet around his neck, symbolically laying her claim on him as per the custom of her tribe. As Keogh was getting used to their passionate encounters, Chela was concerned of Keogh’s knack of running into trouble. Through her chieftain Nacho, she vainly tried to stop the stony Irishman from going to “a bad end”.

Three lives for one. But survival has become something of a habit for Keogh. He would be part of the unholy trinity going to Mojeda to kill Tomas de la Plata who hates the sight of priests……

Robert Charles Durman Mitchum (1917-1997) had tried his hand as an author, composer and singer before he became the No: 23rd greatest male American screen legends of all time – a position he earned by mainly starring in roles of anti-heroes. Even though Mitch got $150,000/- for his role in Joseph Losey’s “Secret Ceremony” (1968) in which he co-starred with Mia Farrow and the million-dollar star Elizabeth Taylor,  by the late sixties, his heroic style had started to take the plunge even though, now and then, he had portrayed good acting.

 

Mitch’s Van Horn is assertive, aggressive, yet tender and moral. A role initially offered to Trevor Howard, it is similar to the one Mitch had played as a preacher with a gun hidden in his Bible in the 1968 movie “Five Card Stud”. He not only sports a casual acting style (especially the scenes when he couldn’t resist playing the priest awaiting direct confrontation with De la Plata) and his trademark drooping, bedroom eyes but also carry a machine gun and a switchblade cross, that also contributes to the action scenes.

 

Rita Hayworth had to struggle in her role of Senora de la Plata, which is a variation from the characters in the novel. At the doorstep of Alzheimer’s disease, her face had turned into that of a matured woman who had gone through many hardships in her life. Supportive to Hayworth, Mitch had considered her casting as an opportunity to renew their friendship. When Hayworth strived to remember her lines, the crew believed her to be in a state of intoxication from alcohol intake, and they were helpful to her, especially hairstylist Lynn Del Kail. But none of that could assuage her memory lapses, or reading from large cue cards, which is common practice in Hollywood. Even experienced actors like Marlon Brando (maybe due to dyslexia) frequently used them, albeit director Bernardo Bertolucci refused to have it written on actress Maria Schneider’s back for Brando to read conveniently during filming of “Last Tango in Paris”.

At this point, with Hayworth frequently caught in the “drift”, nervous and phobic, even refusing to do normal things, eventually, certain scenes had to be either shot from behind her head or with doubles and piece it together effectively by editors J. Terry Williams, Richard Bracken, Albert Wilson. Unfortunately, Hayworth couldn’t help but to turn in a feeble performance that would be an unfortunate finale to a great career in Hollywood. Anyhow, the marigold will lose its yellow, spring will not last forever – that’s life.

 

American leading man Frank Langella, an experienced stage actor, carries out a commendable performance as Tomas de la Plata, the psychotic who hated priests. He came into feature movies with “Diary of a Mad Housewife” which earned him a nomination for 1970 Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year (Male). He did two further movies (“The Twelve Chairs” and “The Deadly Trap”) before he was cast in “The Wrath of God”. The Bulky character actor Victor Buono, a good friend of Mitchum, stars as the white suited businessman Jennings.

 

Scottish born actor Ken Hutchison, a Robert de Niro look-alike, starred as Emmet Keogh, the Irish patriot who is loved by Chela. Keogh’s love for the native Indian girl reflects his inner desire to attain peace with Mother Earth and to mend his aimless life of violence. Wonderful actor that Hutchison was, his career reached nowhere due to his incoherent lifestyle. His reputation suffered when, the previous year, consequent to a heavy drinking bout with him, director Sam Peckinpah was hospitalized while filming the movie “Straw Dogs” (1971).

Sexy Paula Pritchett as Chela, the Indian girl who had not spoken for 20 years, will make you long to kiss the air near her cheeks. Apart from this film, Paula had acted in only two more films: “Chappaqua” (1966) and “Adrift” (1970) though she would be in popular media when her nude pictorials appeared in the July 1972 edition of the Playboy magazine.

Greek-Canadian stage actor John Colicos (1928-2000) as the cultured Col. Santilla displays an aura of importance about him. His performance effectively portray a man vested with immense power but was compelled to begrudge a civilian who inadmissibly brandishes enormous power. Colicos came over to regular movie acting with “Anne of the Thousand Days” (1970) which did not tap his potentiality.  Three of his movies released in 1971, including “Raid on Rommel”, would set the trend for his brief appearance as Col. Santilla.

The film also features a good number of Mexican actors, known to Nelson for their supporting roles in “Soldier Blue”. Associate producer William S. Gilmore. Jr was also the co-producer of “Soldier Blue” and “Flight of the Doves” The film’s cinematography (in Panavision and Metrocolor) is done by Alex Phillips Jr., son of Canadian cinematographer Alex Phillips who went to Mexico to shoot that country’s first sound film after working in Hollywood in the 20s. Phillips. Jr. learned his trade from being an assistant to his father, and would become the official photographer of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, the president of Mexico from 1958 to 1964. While Hollywood occasionally sought his services, Central American locations such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic were his main field of operation. Being very active in his work, six of his films were released in 1972 itself including Sergio Olhovich’s “Queen Doll” (Muñeca reina) and his friend Sidney Poitier’s directorial début “Buck and the Preacher”. His classic camera work for Sam Peckinpah’s “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974) is a noteworthy contribution which elevated that film to a cult classic.

The interiors where shot at Estudios Churubusco Azteca in Mexico City, the venue forsome sequences of movies such as “Kings of the Sun” (1963), “Licence to Kill” (1989), etc. On location shooting was done in different places in Mexico: Cuernavaca, Morelos (“The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “The Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid” (1969), “Clear and Present Danger” (1994)); Guanajuato (“Guns for San Sebastian” (1968)), Los Órganos and Taxco (Guerrero) and La Luz.

Western location shoots had a men’s club ambiance that offered opportunities to enact childhood games of Cowboys and Indians and their hell-fire tactics. These high-adventure westerns featured hard-drinking macho men with guns holstered at crouch level and the fastest draw always rode off triumphantly with the woman into the sunset. According to a biography of Mitchum, Ralph Nelson ran a loose ship as the production was plagued by trouble. Riddled with many problems, mainly rooted in the indulgence of hard-drinking and drugs, Nelson was in a terrible turmoil. Aside from Rita Hayworth, Victor Buono’s behaviour proved to be anomalous. But none of these were severe enough to grind the production to an indefinite halt caused by a freaky accident suffered by Ken Hutchison about one and half months into filming. His arm was cut open from elbow down to the wrist by some broken glass and he had to be hospitalized for an indefinite period throwing the production schedule into total disarray. The situation also brought in the control of the insurance company and took away the equilibrium of the movie which shows in the final product.

Notwithstanding the above issues, the movie features many exciting action scenes staged by action coordinator Everett Creach together with assistant directors, Mario Cisneros and Jerry Ziesmer. The panoramic scenes shown with sweeping helicopter shots that emphasize the expansive spaces of the Mexican sierra when the cavalry sped in hot pursuit of Van Horn, Keogh and Chela, as well as the final battle scenes are notable. The interiors festooned with local colour, by production designer John S. Poplin, Jr. and Set decorator William Kiernan, look genuine and impressive.

Argentinean composer Lalo Schifrin (“Kelly’s Heroes”, “Dirty Harry”), winner of five Grammys and twenty-two nominations was once the concert-master of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colon. Schifrin provides an admirable score evoking melodies of his Latin American background mixed with traditional Hispano-American regional forms and rhythms. It features an instrumental ensemble of quena (a rustic flute), charango (a five-stringed guitar), siku (Bolivian panpipes), piano/organ and a wide variety of regional percussion instruments. The action scenes are augmented with rousing score noteworthy for musical tones that would elevate Schiffrin’s future soundtrack for director Robert Clouse’s “Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee and sexy Ahna Capri.

For the Requiem Mass scene, Schifrin had used excerpts from Ariel Ramirez’s “Misa Criolla”✣ with Liturgical texts adapted in Spanish. “Gloria” is the Argentine variety of the carnaval, which is one of the most widespread dances of the high plains of north-west Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. “Molly Malone” (aka “Cockles and Mussels”, “In Dublin’s Fair City”), a popular Irish song which has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin City, is presented by Schifrin at the beginning of the movie:

In Dublin’s fair city, Where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone, As she wheeled her wheel-barrow, Through streets broad and narrow…….

Yet another folksong is featured for the rurales leader Luis Delgado at the way-station inn:

“Humpa, humpa… We like to kill each other, We love to hate our mother, But there is still my brother, He always wish to hop on, hop on – humpa, humpa..

My father was a midget, My mother was too tall, As far as I remember,…………humpa, humpa…”

Despite the flaws of the film, “The Wrath of God” is full of memorable moments and simple one-liners. It is all about the restoration of order and faith while focusing on power and powerlessness.

The film was released simultaneously with German director Werner Herzog’s cult film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” starring Klaus Kinski. Nelson’s film may not be confused with the Italian-Spanish production “Wrath of God” (L’ira di Dio – 1968) by director Alberto Cardone (as Albert Cardiff) starring Montgomery Ford and Fernando Sancho.

(The sleeve of our copy of the novel “The Wrath of God” shown here is a Grafton 1972 edition)

(Ariel Ramirez’s “Misa Criolla” in our possession is a version by Spanish Catalan tenor José Carreras recorded in the Santuario de la Bien Aparecida, Cantabria, Spain in July 1987.The CD sleeve is shown above)

(This review is dedicated to director Quentin Tarantino for his relentless efforts to promote the movies of the past.)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

One thought on “StarChoice 12: The Wrath of God

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