*I feel kind of bad for the guy I know who loves to see monkeys smoking cigarettes. That's probably TOO particular, and I can imagine his life as a long stream of simian disappointments.
Filmed in 1975, "Gone With the Pope" was written, produced and directed by comedian Duke Mitchell, but the movie was never completed. Almost three decades after Mitchell's death in 1981, the original film elements have been restored and edited by Bob Murawski, hot off his Best Film Editing Oscar win for "The Hurt Locker." The result is an exceedingly strange crime caper cum morality play that makes no apologies for its bad taste and easily achieves Cult Oddity status.
Mafia hitman Paul has been left disillusioned after a stint in prison followed immediately by masterminding an elaborate assassination of seven men. He longs to settle down with his girlfriend Jean but needs to concoct a lucrative plan in order to finance his retirement (which one can only assume involves a LOT of polyester leisure suits and gold-chained cornicelli). Enlisting the aid of his equally world-weary compatriots Luke and Peter**, Paul devises a caper that involves kidnapping the Pope and ransoming him back by extorting one dollar from every Catholic in the world. What ensues is a crisis of faith that ping-pongs wildly between comedic moments and scenes that are probably not meant to actually be comedy but are gorgeously comedic to atheist bastards like me.
**You see what they did there!
What makes this movie extra-special is that, in addition to helming the film, Duke Mitchell also plays the lead role of Paul and lends his voice to several songs on the soundtrack. It needs to be emphasized that Mitchell also gives the film's best performance. While that may sound like damning with faint praise, I mean this with no irony. He's performing at an eight out of ten here and his faded mafioso is likable and even complex. It's a little strange to watch him trade dialogue with Jean, who is clearly reading from cue cards--you can watch her eyes move back and forth as she digests and regurgitates her lines. Jean's every utterance is silly to the point of being classic, while it's clear that Paul is soulfully in love with this woman. In fact, if I think too hard about how cool Mitchell is in this movie, it makes me sad and frustrated to think that he only appeared in two action films (this one, and "Massacre Mafia Style").
The majority of actors in this film list "Gone With the Pope" as their sole screen credit, which comes as little surprise. With the notable exception of Duke Mitchell, whose naturalism is downright startling in this context, everyone else looks awkward and stilted on screen. For my money, the MVP of bad acting is Giorgio Tavolieri's portrayal of Paul's fellow hitman Giorgio. I'm not convinced that Tavolieri *wasn't* saying his lines phonetically, and his scenes with Paul have a certain Lennie and George quality to them that makes me ponder how on earth these two characters worked together. Touching? Goofy? Touchingly goofy? If I examine it too much, it loses its magic.
There's a wonderful non-performing rawness to the cast that goes past being merely laughable, and winds up being charming. I should be offended by a movie that involves an older white male telling an African-American prostitute that "it looks like Brillo down there," but there's a naive honesty to the whole shebang that is politically incorrect but simultaneously free from cruelty.
This lack of meanness sets "Gone With the Pope" apart from other Catholicsploitation movies. While fellow fans of nunsploitation will expect a certain amount of cynicism about the Catholic church (OK, maybe an EXCESS of cynicism--that'd be a fair cop), viewers may be surprised with the way things turn out in this film. There's enough unexpected messaging taking place in this movie to make it unique among its sploitationey brethren.
Vintage Vegas: You probably would have seen these guys and not the Rat Pack. Just Sayin'.
All this having been addressed, "Gone With the Pope" is more of a curiosity than a classic. In spite of getting the best editing treatment the material could hope for, it suffers from its quantity of montages (love montage, Vegas montage, boat montage, and so on) and doesn't have the madcap pace that the trailer may suggest. Perhaps most vexing, a good portion of the footage is actively out of focus. For viewers who are willing to embrace the unpolished nature of the movie, there's a lot of weird wonderfulness to enjoy, but the technical shortcomings may alienate casual viewers. As a one-of-a-kind vanity piece that distills its time and place "Gone With the Pope" is tremendously entertaining and deserves to be sought out by enthusiasts of cinematic Art Brut.