Saturday, September 29, 2012

Meh- The Movie: "The Gun and the Pulpit" (1974)

Back in 1974, a classic western comedy featuring Slim Pickens was unleashed on the American public. That film was "Blazing Saddles." This film also came out in 1974, features Slim Pickens, and is not "Blazing Saddles."

Gunfighter Ernie (Marjoe Gortner) escapes a hanging at the hands of a sheriff (Jeff Corey) and takes off for the desert. He comes across the body of a murdered preacher, and a letter of introduction to a town called Castle Walk. Ernie takes the preacher's clothes and horse, and pretends to be the new pastor to get further away from his pursuers.

In Castle Walk, Ernie finds that Ross (David Huddleston) is ruling the town with an iron fist, resorting to murder when he needs to. Ernie stays with the widow Sadie's (Estelle Parsons) family, and falls for the young daughter Sally (Pamela Sue Martin). Billy (Slim Pickens), one of the townspeople, knows Ernie's secret. Ernie must fight Ross' men, pretend to be a man of God, and court Sally; all more than he bargained for. It soon becomes apparent that Ernie's presence in Castle Walk may not be by chance after all.

Because this is a network made-for-TV film (clocking in at a very brief 74 minutes), you are not going to find much of an edge in either the comedic moments, or the violent ones. The tone shifts wildly, teasing the viewer with humor along the lines of "Support Your Local Sheriff!" (the best western comedy of all-time), and then takes a dark turn into "Pale Rider" territory. I was laughing out loud about how young the girls in the town were getting married one minute, and then horrified at Ernie's one-man terrorism campaign against Ross. The film is based on a Jack Ehrlich novel, and I wonder what exactly was dropped or glossed over.

The cast is fine, Gortner and company seem to be having fun with the material (although Geoffrey Lewis' very brief screen time is frustrating). The irony is that Gortner was an evangelist in real life before denouncing the pulpit and pursuing Hollywood stardom (which eluded him after some big breaks in the '70's). Veteran Petrie's direction is old-hat and pedestrian, but in a good way. There seems to be only one way to shoot a story like this, and Petrie follows suit. The location used is great, but this is one of those films in the public domain, so beware of some of the video prints out there.

When "The Gun and the Pulpit" ended, I really did not have much of a reaction either way. This is not a great film, or a bad film. It just sort of exists, innocuously, and you will move on to other things. (* * *) out of five stars.