Wrath of God, The (1972): Ralph Nelson’s Trashy Western, Starring Robert Mitchum, Frank Langella, and Rita Hayworth in her Final Performance

Ralph Nelson helmed The Wrath of God, a trashy, violent offbeat Western, starring Robert Mitchum, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth (in her final role) and Victor Buono.

The Wrath of God

Original film poster

Our Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

The film is a lighthearted, borderline exploitation adaptation of the western noir novel, “The Wrath of God,” written by Harry Patterson and published under the pseudonym of James Graham in 1971 (and later as Jack Higgins).

Robert Mitchum plays Father Oliver Van Horne, a bank robber dressed like a Roman Catholic priest.  Spared from a firing squad in 1922 in an unnamed Central America nation resembling Mexico in the Cristero War, he is sent to kill a local desperado.

The plot is incoherent, the dialogue inconsistent and anachronistic, veering from serious to (unintentional) camp and back.

Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy Latin-tinged soundtrack score elevates the proceedings only up to a point.

One of the worst films of Ralph Nelson, also known for Lilies of the Field, for which Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor Oscar, The Wrath of God is as cheesy as its title suggests, an embarrassment to all those involved, in front of behind the cameras.

The film marks the final screen appearance of Rita Hayworth (in a secondary role), whose health at that time had considerably worsened as a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

Nelson’s B-Western should not be confused with Werner Herzog’s acclaimed film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which was released in the same year.

Actor Ken Hutchison had near catastrophic accident, in which he cut himself on broken glass, opening a gash from wrist to elbow. He was discovered by Mitchum’s wife Dorothy, who applied life-saving tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Since Hutchison was in nearly every scene, the insurance company shut it down for one month. When he returned, he was unable to do anything strenuous, and had to keep the arm covered. With the long layoff, the cast and crew just wanted to get the film done, resulting in confusion, continuity gaps and dislocation.

Robert Mitchum as Father Oliver Van Horne
Frank Langella as Tomas de la Plata
Rita Hayworth as Senora de la Plata
Victor Buono as Jennings
Ken Hutchison as Emmet Keogh
Paula Pritchett as Chela
José Luis Parades as Pablito


Produced and directed by Ralph Nelson
Written by Jack Higgins ad Ralph Nelson
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography: Alex Phillips, Jr.
Edited by J. Terry Williams
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: July 14, 1972
Running time: 111 minutes