After doing ten years of hard labour for a crime he did not commit, Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) is unexpectedly pardoned. On the journey home, Gary finds himself sharing a stagecoach with Dick Acombar (Antonio Cantafora), a young West Point graduate and the son of the man who framed him for armed robbery. Acombar Senior (Peter Carsten) has since become the local despot, aided by a family of Mexican bandidos known as the Santamaria brothers. Gary tells Dick to tell his father he will be paying him and his friends a visit, around sundown…
You know you are in for rough ride when Klaus Kinski plays the hero (?!) in a spaghetti western. The script for And God Said to Cain, here credited to Giovanni Addessi and director Antonio Margheriti, had already been used for another western: A Stranger in Paso Bravo, but the remake is commonly considered the better of the two. It shares certain similarities with the premise of Alexandre Dumas’ oft-filmed classic The Count of Monte Cristo, given the villain steals the hero’s wealth, his house and the affections of his beloved Mary (Marcella Michelangeli). Kinski is charismatic as the brooding, shabby, wholly unconventional hero. Gary Hamilton is sympathetic, but the actor’s gravedigger demeanour lends him an aura of ghoulish menace in keeping with the grim tone overall. He is a righteous man, even to the extend of refusing a free drink (“A man must pay his way”), but ruthless in his pursuit of revenge.
At the time Margheriti was better known for his horror and science fiction films. He brings an ominous, quasi-supernatural tone to proceedings, making spooky use of eerie winds, sinister skies and church organ music whenever Kinski looms out of the shadows like a slasher villain. Some of the script’s more ambitious ideas are undone by the low budget, such as the mention of birds fleeing a tornado as a harbinger of the hero’s arrival - a promising visual reduced to a line of dialogue. To add another layer of gothic doom, Gary rings the town bell before he claims his next victim. He uses a network of underground tunnels, left over from an abandoned Indian burial ground, in order to travel around dispatching victims like a phantom.
What is impressive is that Margheriti does not downplay the psychological nuances to turn this into a simplistic body-count picture. There is an interesting tension between the corrupt Acombar and his upright son. When Dick discovers the truth about his father he is devastated, but still agrees it is better to kill an innocent man than lose all they have worked for. Another powerful scene occurs where Gary looms over his unfaithful wife, his eyes full of rage and sorrow. And God Said to Cain showcases one of Kinski’s more low-key, yet compelling turns. Margheriti was among the few filmmakers who gave as good as he got and withstood Kinski’s notorious temper tantrums. The pair collaborated quite amiably on several more movies over ensuing decades. A sharp visual stylist, Margheriti stages a nifty hall-of-mirrors sequence for the climax akin to those found in The Lady from Shanghai (1948) and Enter the Dragon (1973). However, the biblical quote from which the film derives its title, sits awkwardly amidst unfolding events unless we are meant to conclude Gary will find no peace once his quest is at an end. Swinging soundtrack by Carlo Savina, including a fine theme “Rocks, Blood and Sand” sung by Don Powell.