Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Asinine On Any Level: "The Assisi Underground" (1985)

The story of Italian priests hiding Jews in the Chapel of St. Francis and Cloister of St. Clare should have been given better treatment than this poorly done film.

Slashed by almost an hour from its original release, Cross plays a young priest asked by Bishop James Mason to hide some Jews in the monastery and cloister at Assisi. He does, while making friends with thoughtful Nazi Maximilian Schell, as the town commandant. Jews are almost discovered, the war ends, everyone gets a little mention about what happened to them at the end of the film.

The film's pace here is dull. The film is nothing more than Nazi extras asking for identification papers and Cross looking like the cat that ate the canary. I half expected him to wink at the camera every time a Nazi goose stepped into frame. Cross also often forgets his Italian accent. Mason's idea of an Italian accent is to add an "uh" syllable at the end of every word, such as "We-uh must-uh help-uh the-uh Jews-uh." Most of his speeches are completely devoid of understanding, I thought I was listening to pig latin.

The Jews here are not shown as victims so much as that they have been inconvenienced by World War II. They do not come across as stoic and bold, but spoiled and complaining. In one embarassing scene, Cross, loved by all Jews who meet him, does a magic trick, compliments a painting, and comforts Jews like he is the activities director at an adult day care facility.

Maximilian Schell comes off best as the Nazi officer torn between his obligation to the Third Reich and his upbringing as a Catholic. Not enough of his inner turmoil was explored.

The film also features a horrendous soundtrack that sounds like bits and pieces of other war films just thrown into the sound mix. There are a couple of battle scenes, one with obvious stock footage, but this is not good.

"The Assisi Underground" was made by the guys at the old Cannon Group studio, and that was the first mistake if you are familiar with their product. I cannot recommend this film. (*) out of five stars.