Hiding out at an inn grizzled Colonel Bob Ford (Folco Lulli) tries to convince a wily Mexican trail guide named Chasquido (Humberto Sempere) to help him locate a valuable treasure. When bandit leader Pedro Butcher (Raf Baldassarre) arrives at the inn on Ford's trail, the old man entrusts young servant boy Tommy (Humberto Sempere) with his precious map only to die in an escape attempt. Unable to find the map themselves, Pedro's gang burn down the inn killing prostitute Martha (Dominique Boschero), the closest thing Tommy had to a mother. The boy is saved from the fire by Pat Jordan (Richard Harrison), a righteous stranger, who urges Tommy to keep his treasure map a secret. Together with a handful of men the pair set out to find a fortune in gold with Pedro's bandits following close behind and Chasquido as a far from trustworthy guide.
A spaghetti western version of Treasure Island. That is the high concept driving Between God, the Devil and a Winchester which, judging from the 'story by' credit originated with director Marino Girolami. A former heavyweight boxer turned prolific director with two hundred films to his credit including Violent Rome (1975) and Zombie Holocaust (1980), Girolami is less known for the quality of his output than as the father of the more celebrated cult filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari. His other son, actor Ennio Girolami appears here as yet another untrustworthy Mexican character. Strangely, given Girolami conceived the project, his uncertain handling of the material is a big reason why this story does not work.
Sporting arguably one of the all-time great spaghetti western titles, Between God, the Devil and a Winchester has the grimy cynicism and mud-soaked ambiance fans associate with the genre but also takes a half-hearted stab at fashioning a family-friendly morality tale. Girolami lifts plot points from Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel but does a poor job translating its themes to a spaghetti western milieu. As in the novel the plot presents an ideological conflict between a charmingly amoral rogue and a more rigid, morally upstanding counterpoint viewed through the eyes of an innocent, impressionable child. Unfortunately child actor Humberto Sempere, our supposed focal point, is a blank-faced non-entity while Euro-trash film staple Richard Harrison delivers yet another of his trademarked impassive performances. It is not entirely the actors' fault as both characters are sorely underwritten to the point where it undercuts whatever moral the film is trying to make. The moral argument is stacked heavily in favour of Chasquido. Imported Hollywood veteran Gilbert Roland is a solid presence as the charismatic scoundrel with a twinkle in his eye but his emotional bond with the boy consistently rings false.
The film would have benefited from a dose of Sergio Leone-style operatic flamboyance but instead proves talky with scant intrigue and precious little action. Most of the plot centres on the harrowing journey undertaken by the treasure hunters through a stark and unforgiving desert, a path that sparks a tepid clash between Pat's altruism and Chasquido's apparent dog-eat-dog mentality. It boils down to a glorified dick-measuring contest given no weight whatsoever by a twist unmasking one key character as a priest. In the end the story only confirms Chasquido's disheartening declaration that out west pity protects no-one, but guns do. A promising idea poorly executed, Between God, the Devil and a Winchester is both too tame for hardened spaghetti western fans and too grueling and downbeat to work as a 'family' western.
Italian director who over a 40-year career dabbled in most genres – like many of his fellow countrymen, his film-making choices were informed by whatever was popular in Hollywood at the time, from historical epics to westerns, sex comedies to action. Girolami frequently used the pseudonym Frank Martin for international releases, and is best known by horror fans for his hilarious 1979 gorefest Zombie Holocaust. Father of the equally prolific Enzo G. Castellari, and a European boxing champion in his pre-film career.