The fragmented storyline by Nemec, working from Gary Stewart’s novel, drifts off history’s path, but it is inventive. Utley’s a gunslinger, part of the Mormons’ Danites or Avenging Angels, unofficial agents bent on protecting the church and its leaders such as Brigham Young (played forcibly if too briefly by Charlton Heston).
Actually, the Danites’ active period was earlier, during the Mormons’ Illinois and Missouri years. They’d lost their official standing by the time the Mormons hit Salt Lake, and were all but renegades in the eyes of the church.
After fictional Elder Benjamin Rigby (Kevin Tighe, in a superior perf) gives an impassioned speech against church outsiders invading the area, Utley zaps an assassin trying to kill Young. The unidentified would-be killer’s body vanishes, and the Western turns into a mystery drama.
Danite Utley, who has romanced one of Young’s daughters (Fay Masterson), heads out to track the would-be assassin and inadvertently tempts one of the wives (Leslie Hope) of the polygamous Rigby.
Lisa Banes gives the TV film a too-brief shot of joy as Utley’s sister. James Coburn is around momentarily as crusty Danite Porter Rockwell.
Berenger is solid as the daredevil bodyguard, and Hope is terrif as Rigby’s neglected wife. Tracy Ellis as the widow of a man Utley puts away strikes a good note; Andrew Prine, playing a small-town newspaper editor, does his customarily disciplined job.
Utah locations give the period piece authenticity, as do Elsa Zamparelli’s costumes. Mark Irwin’s assured camerawork frames the story nicely, and Craig Chang’s score ranges from sweeping to routine.
It may be revised history, and it gives little credit to the Mormons’ positive accomplishments during that period, but it’s vivid and entertaining.