Say “Cheese” 003 – The Gun And The Pulpit (1974)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

Well we’re back in the realm of made for TV movies this time with 1974’s The Gun and the Pulpit starring Marjoe Gortner. Oh, and we’re also back in Western territory.

This time out we actually begin mid-hanging, with Gortner, as gunslinger Ernie Parsons at the wrong end of the rope. Just as he is about to be set swinging, salvation arrives in the form of a cute girl who is smitten with him an tells the posse that someone else has confessed to the murder he has been convicted of. Parsons is released and sent on his way, but when he refuses to take the girl with him, she admits that she lied about the confession, and the chase is on.

Once the credits have finished, Parsons figures he’s far enough ahead that he can stop and rest for a moment.When he does, he runs across the dead body of a preacher who was on his way to a new town. Fortunately for Ernie, the townsfolk had never met their new preacher, so he assumes the dead man’s identity and his role as the new preacher.

As it happens, Parsons arrival coincides with the funeral of a man named Sam Underwood who was murdered under the orders of the town boss known as Mr. Ross. Though he is reluctant to stay, Ernie takes a liking to Underwood’s daughter Sally (Pamela Sue Martin), and decides to attempt to rally the townfolk to fight against the evil Ross.

Parsons is aided in his efforts by an old gunslinger known as Bolly One-Eye, played by the always entertaining western veteran Slim Pickens.  There’s also an interesting turn by character actor Geoffrey Lewis as rival gunslinger Jason McCoy.

This is an interesting role for Gortner, whose parents arranged to have him ordained as an evangelical preacher when he was only four years old. He then spent most of his early childhood performing on the revival circuit until he found out his family seemed actually more interested in amassing a fortune than in serving the lord. Then shortly after Gortner’s sixteenth birthday his father ran off with what was later estimated to be around three million dollars.

In 1970 his dissatisfaction with the church and his lifestyle grew to the point where he agreed to participate in what was to become the Academy Award winning documentary Marjoe, an expose of the practices of the evangelical revival movement. Ir was after this that Gortner began his acting career.

The Gun and the Pulpit was based on the novel The Fastest Gun in the Pulpit by Jack Ehrlich and was, like The Hanged Man, intended to be the pilot for a possible series.Would it have made it had it been picked up? It’s hard to say, but Gortner is engaging in the role, an the script is light and has just the right amount of humor to keep things moving along briskly.

I couldn’t find an embeddable trailer for the movie (not surprising for a made for TV film), but here’s  a short clip showing the confrontation between Parsons and McCoy:

Up Next: The Excellent 80s  Disk 1 Movie 1: Intimate Agony – General Hospital’s Anthony Geary discovers herpes!

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