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He Prays for Those He Kills: Preacher with a Gun

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author alone)

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Requiescant (Kill and Pray) (1967) ***1/2

Lou Castel: Requiescant

Mark Damon: George Bellow Ferguson

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Father “Don” Juan

Barbara Frey: Princy, Requiescant’s Sister

Franco Citti: Burt, Ferguson Henchman

Carlo Palmucci: Dean Light, Ferguson Henchman

Mirella Maravidi: Edith Ferguson

Rossana Martini: Lottie/Lupe (as Rossana Krisman)

Ninetto Davoli: El Nino (as Nino Davoli)

Vittorio Duse: El Doblado (as Victor Duse)

Written by: Adriano Bolzoni, Armando Crispino, Lucio Battistrada, Pier Paolo Pasolini, & Carlo Lizzani, from a story by Renato Izzo and Franco Bucceri

Directed by: Carlo Lizzani

Synopsis: After a Mexican village is massacred by a racist Plantation Owner and his gang, the sole surviving toddler is saved by a traveling Preacher and his family. As an adult, he confronts the Plantation Owner when his adopted sister ends up working for him as a saloon girl. Helping him in his quest is a revolutionary monk organizing an army of the peons the Plantation Owner’s gang is terrorizing.

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By 1967, the tides were changing for Italian cinema as people from all walks of life were protesting the Vietnam War and the various world political strife. The Westerns were still quite popular in Italy, but some filmmakers decided to use the genre as a means for commenting on the times. These films would eventually become known as the Zapata Western, Westerns set during the Revolutions led by Benito Juarez and later by Emiliano Zapata and Poncho Villa. What makes Kill and Pray different from the standard Zapata Western is that it contains no mention of either Juarez or Zapata and Villa, though its time period can be gauged as during and after The Civil War. Ironically, the film begins as a rescue story with the protagonist trying to save his straying sister from the evils of the big city that turns into a story of a fight for freedom of an entire community. The theme of revolution is still a major part of the film, but this go around has the leader of the group being a renegade priest tired of the injustice all around him. Since May of 68 hadn’t happened yet, instead of the villain being one of the historical dictators of Mexico, the villain is now a rich Southern Plantation Owner with a seething hatred all non-whites, especially Mexicans, who has taken over a small hamlet that is the object of liberation for the novice revolutionaries.

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Lou Castel, a Swedish actor born in South America who later became a Cult Film icon throughout Europe, does an exceptional job as Requiescant. While born to Mexicans, the character is raised as white after his family and village are massacred by a group of outlaws led by a racist Southern land baron who wants the territory for his own little kingdom. Castel plays the character as a heavily devout Christian whose forced into the realization that his adoptive father’s ideals have no place in standard society. When he finds he’s skilled with a gun, he decides to go after the men forcing his foster sister into prostitution at a city saloon, only using his gun when absolutely necessary. Castel has his character retain some of his Christian values by reciting the Last Rites to the men he has to kill, giving Requiescant a very interesting, intriguing, and at times complex duality that helps differentiate him from other Italian Western Anti-Heroes. As he begins to learn more and more of his real identity, he starts to realize there are things much more important than himself that can help him be who he was meant to be, and still keep the values his adopted father taught him. Ironically, Castel became disillusioned with the turn in European cinema was making, and became very choosy in his parts afterwards, heading into early retirement.

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Mark Damon, an American actor who made Europe his professional home, oozes sleaziness and menace as George Bellow Ferguson. A man from old money, Ferguson highly embodies the self-righteous and contemptuous personality of early Colonial to post Civil War Southern Aristocrat who believed anyone with a dark complexion was inferior to his European ancestry. Damon plays Ferguson as still heavily bitter about the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War, and decides to make a little Mexican hamlet into the Antebellum he knew and loved without risking violating the Government’s new laws regarding the freed slaves. He runs the territory with a mixture of fear and intimidation, using his lecherous henchman to abuse the women and kill the men who stand in his way. His massacre on the colony of Mexican citizens who originally had claim to the land soon returns to haunt him when sole survivor Requiescant discovers it was Ferguson who led the attack that killed his family and then harmed his adoptive sister. Damon plays Ferguson to the hilt, having him engage in all sorts of lurid behavior and debauchery, even going so far as to psychologically torture his wife and female servants.

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Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of Italy’s most acclaimed and controversial filmmakers (look at his IMDb or Wikipedia biography to find out why), gets a rare chance at acting in the very interesting role of Don Juan. Juan is a monk who decided to become a revolutionary after tiring of European tyrants treating the people like dirt, and forsakes his vow of silence to lead an army against Ferguson and others like him. Pasolini, who was a confirmed leftist, saw this character as very much like him, and asked to rewrite some of his scenes and lines to suit his real-life views. It’s actually a shame Pasolini didn’t act more as he actually quite good, even with his revisions to suit his real-life agendas, conveying the character very well in a way that makes trying to picture anyone else in the role difficult. While still a man of God at heart, Juan believes his vows shouldn’t prohibit him from doing what he can to help the people who are suffering. He sees in Requiescant as a man who can help him to win the fight, but first must help him avenge his family, and his foster sister who were taken by Ferguson and his bunch.  His motivations are what give Requiescant the courage to see past his adoptive father’s pacifism and realize he can be both a man of God and a man of the world, and co-exist in both.

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The only thing that goes heavily against the film is its preachiness in regards of the politics of the film. While the film’s pro peace and anti-big business/war are commendable and very much needed in that tumultuous time, the overtly heavily overtones and undertones of the recurring revolutionary theme almost become too much thanks to Pasolini and director Carlo Lizzani’s uncredited re-writes and override an otherwise decent story of revenge, retribution, and self-discovery.

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A story of rescue and revenge soon mold with the need to liberate an abused community and free them from oppression that tend to leave viewers confused at first, but still offer a pretty decent resolution in the long run. Mark Damon’s performance is the stand out, though Lou Castel and Pier Paolo Pasolini do very fine work as well. The locales in Spain and Italy are on display very well and help move the story and themes along very well, giving body and subtility to the overall effect. While it’s hard to say if this film was the stepping off point for the later Zapata Westerns, it certainly has all the elements that would define the sub-genre in its re-appreciation with the advent of DVD and Blu Ray.

(I do recommend this pre-era Zapata Western, even if the majority of viewers only care to see it once. While a little heavy in the themes of revolution and rebellion, it doesn’t kill the story it wants to tell and keeps the audience engaged, even if it feels like it goes from one story to the next at random. This doesn’t take away from the spirit of the film, but does encourage viewer reminders to pay attention in regards to the plot of the film. Arrow Video once again does a fine job with audio and visual transfers of the film, making it an excellent re-discovery piece.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more information



The Spaghetti-Western Database/Requiescant



Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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