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Robert Mitchum plays a renegade priest on a mission in The Wrath of God (1972). He's out to free a Latin American town from the clutches of a rebellion and at the same time track down and exterminate a local despot (Frank Langella) - which explains that machine gun he's holding.
The Wrath of God marked Mitchum's tenth film to be shot in Mexico, one of the actor's favorite locales. It was also his second movie with actress Rita Hayworth. The two had first worked together in Fire Down Below (1957). But by 1971, when The Wrath of God was filmed, Rita Hayworth was in a state of semi-retirement at the age of fifty-three and fighting the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's disease.
At the time Mitchum thought Hayworth would be perfect for The Wrath of God and called her up, reportedly joking, "Hey, how'd you like to come down to Mexico and play my mother?" (Hayworth was actually a year younger than Mitchum). Once the actress stopped laughing, she agreed to take the part; it was actually the role of Langella's mother that she'd be playing.
Because she hadn't been working, Hayworth was also having financial difficulties during this period. She'd had to rent out her house behind the Beverly Hills Hotel and move to a less expensive Brentwood home. It was at this house that The Wrath of God director Ralph Nelson called on Hayworth to discuss the script. He found her sitting in total darkness.
Once filming began, Hayworth made friends with hairstylist Lynn Del Kail on the set of The Wrath of God and admitted being upset about having to work. Del Kail remembers the actress crying one day and saying "that it was a shame she had this beautiful house and couldn't live it in."
Sadly, money wasn't Hayworth's biggest problem on the set of The Wrath of God. Her health and mental state had deteriorated to the point that she was barely able to function. As Del Kail put it, "her memory was just gone." She could not remember her dialogue and it got so bad they had to film her one line at a time. Hayworth eventually asked Del Kail for help with the script. The hairstylist would go over a line, send Hayworth out to shoot it and then they would move on to the next line. Director Nelson recalls that even having the script in front of her did little to help. Hayworth would have "total memory lapses" that were not confined to acting.
Along with memory loss, Hayworth was becoming increasingly nervous. She was extremely picky about how fast her chauffeurs drove, and according to Nelson, one driver quit after the actress insisted he drive 10 mph. Hayworth complained of claustrophobia and disliked riding in elevators. This fear led to a troubling incident on the set of The Wrath of God. Hayworth, who had always been known as a consummate professional, refused to perform a scene set in a cave. The scene only required the actress to take a few steps into the cave, but Hayworth was unwilling to try it. Del Kail finally had to put on a wig and act as Rita's double.
With a little help, Hayworth managed to get through The Wrath of God. She was hesitant to accept any more film offers, since the experience in Mexico clearly revealed her limitations. But when a friend agreed to accompany her to London to film Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Hayworth accepted. Unfortunately, her behavior was erratic from the start. The star, according to friend Curtis Roberts, no longer seemed able to "face that camera." She complained of strange ailments, had violent outbursts and eventually ran away from the set and back to America with a man she called an "Armenian rug peddler."
It was a sad ending for the pin up girl/actress/dancer/star. Kim Novak ended up replacing Hayworth in Tales That Witness Madness, making The Wrath of God Rita's final film. She would not work in movies again. Rita Hayworth died on May 14, 1987 at age 68.
Producer: Peter Katz, Ralph Nelson
Director: Ralph Nelson
Screenplay: Ralph Nelson, based on a novel by James Graham
Production Design: John S. Poplin Jr.
Cinematography: Alex Phillips, Jr.
Editing: Richard Bracken, J. Terry Williams, Albert P. Wilson
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Van Horne), Frank Langella (Tomas De La Plata), Rita Hayworth (Senora De La Plata), John Colicos (Col. Santilia), Victor Buono (Jennings), Ken Hutchison (Emmet), Paula Pritchett (Chela), Victor Eberg (Delgado).
by Stephanie Thames