1976 saw the release of “God’s Gun” (also known as “Diamante Lobo”), an Italian–Israeli Spaghetti Western filmed in Israel and directed by Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer). The film starred several veteran stars famous in the Western film genre, most notably Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance and Richard Boone. Any Western that corrals the talents and charisma of these three popular actors just has to be a memorable one.
Van Cleef plays a dual role of twin brothers, a priest-turned-vigilante named Father John and his reformed gunslinger brother Lewis. Palance plays Sam Clayton, the leader of a sadistic group of Wild West bandits and rapists, who terrorize the town of Juno City. Boone portrays an aging, drunk, ineffective Sheriff in the small town, who is unable to protect his townspeople from the Clayton gang.
The story follows Father John, who is killed trying to uphold some semblance of justice in his sleepy little town, following the invasion of Clayton’s band of criminals. One of his young parishioners vows to avenge his death, by traveling to Mexico to seek the help of Father John’s brother. Together, they return to clear the town of all the violence once and for all. Great plot executed by a great cast!
A Cast of Characters Like No Other
During his career, the steely-eyed, hawk-nosed Van Cleef was revered as one of the all-time great movie villains, first in Westerns and then later in action films and martial arts. He began his career as an accountant after serving in the U.S. Navy aboard minesweepers and sub chasers during World War II. He became involved in amateur theatre. His performance in the touring company of “Mr. Roberts” was seen by Stanley Kramer, who cast him as henchman Jack Colby in “High Noon” (1952), a role that brought him considerable recognition despite the fact that he didn’t speak a word of dialogue. Rumor has it that Kramer wanted him to originally play deputy Harvey Pell, but first Van Cleef would to have his trademark nose fixed. Van Cleef declined to alter his looks and played the silent gunslinger instead. In the mid 1960s, Sergio Leone cast him as Col. Mortimer opposite Clint Eastwood in “For a Few Dollars More” (1965). A new career as a western hero (or anti-hero) was launched, and Van Cleef became known as an international movie star. His career culminated in 1966 with Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” In his roles in “God’s Gun,” Van Cleef demonstrated his acting chops and ability to juggle two demanding parts with skill and finesse.
Another memorable character actor on television and on the silver screen, Palance was a two-time Oscar nominee and Oscar winner for “City Slickers.” Proving his vitality and humor at the ripe old age of 73, Palance took to the floor, performing a series of one-armed push-ups on stage as he accepted the Best Supporting Actor Award in 1992. The son of a Ukrainian immigrant coal miner, he was born Volodymyr Palahnyuk. His career included stints as a miner, professional boxer, short-order cook, fashion model, lifeguard, and radio repairman. During WWII, he piloted bombers in U.S. Army Air Corps. His bomber crashed, knocking him unconscious and giving him severe burns. These injuries led to extensive surgery on his face, resulting in his characteristic gaunt, pinched look. Despite the haggard and hollow-cheeked appearance of a villain, Palance always had a bit of a comical, hammy edge to his acting prowess which was even visible in his role in “God’s Gun.”
After being expelled from Stanford University, Boone worked as an oil-field laborer, boxer, painter and freelance writer before becoming an actor. After WWII, Boone used the GI Bill to train at the Actors’ Studio, making his Broadway debut at 31 in “Medea.” Signed to a 20th Century-Fox contract in 1951, Boone’s first feature was “Halls of Montezuma.” From 1957 through 1963, Boone portrayed Paladin, an educated western soldier of fortune, on the popular western TV series “Have Gun, Will Travel.” A master of over 50 films and numerous TV series, Boone was cast in a pretty minor role as the drunken sheriff in “God’s Gun.” While he adds a brief bit of snarling menace to the film, his performance was affected by his late-career health issues. He later died in 1981 from throat cancer. Film insiders claim that after a drunken argument he walked off the film set and left the location before he had recorded all his dialog. Hence, his voice was dubbed.
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