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Gone with the Pope

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/18/11 15:09:20

"A long-lost classic, if by 'classic' you mean 'thing that is old'."
1 stars (Total Crap)

"Gone with the Pope" is a genuine oddity, shot in the mid-seventies in whatever time and supplies writer/director/star Duke Mitchell had available. Being shot on such a shoestring, finding money for post-production was similarly difficult, so it was still uncompleted when Mitchell died in 1981. The footage sat in his garage for nearly a decade and a half, when his son mentioned it to Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski. Murawski spent another decade and a half piecing it together between other jobs. The result is, quite honestly, terrible, but give it credit - it's memorably terrible.

It opens with one group of gangsters plotting to kill another; they hire Paul (Mitchell) to do the job. Just released from prison, he'd really like to just spend time with Jean (Jenne Hibbard), an old girlfriend who's now a rich widow. But he figures this is a way to make some money to help his friends Luke (Jim LoBianco) and Peter (Peter Milo). Eventually, he comes up with a scheme of his own, where they will sail to Italy and kidnap the Pope (Lorenzo Dardado), with an affordable enough ransom: One dollar from every Catholic in the world.

That's a reasonably clever hook, actually; or at least it seems clever enough that it's initially frustrating that the movie spins its wheels for half its running time before actually getting to Rome and getting started on it. In actual practice, though, it's not so exciting; the actual kidnapping is not a particularly memorable caper and what follows does not turn out to be a thrilling battle of wills or chase or the like. It's almost as if Mitchell had the idea for the story and jumped straight from that to shooting, eventually getting many bits that didn't add up to an actual plot.

Which may be the case; Murawski and company wound up piecing it together not from a script, but from whatever notes they could find. It really has the feeling of two short films about the same character stuck together, with the glue itself seeming to stick out like a sore thumb. And the individual scenes themselves are not good at all, and not just because some are cringingly racist or otherwise nasty - there's a reason why nobody in the movie but Mitchell ever appeared in anything else (and most of Mitchell's work in showbiz was as a singer as opposed to as an actor); they are almost to a man terrible.

And yet, there's a sort of odd, even sometimes appealing, energy to this movie at times. Duke Mitchell is not a very good writer, director, or actor, but he's a forceful personality on screen; there's life to Paul beyond a the nonsensical words he says or actions he takes. Giorgio Tavolieri plays what is probably a pretty realistic killer (Paul farms half the job out), equal parts violence and apathy. If this movie is campy, it's not manufactured camp; it's the sort you can respect that arises from people with ambitions but whose grasp isn't close to their reach. And you don't have to step far back from the intentional and unintentional laughs to see that Mitchell wasn't entirely stringing random scenes together - his ideas of being torn between peace and violence, and maybe finding fogivenes from God even when not actively seeking it, make it to the finished product, if incoherently.

Or, maybe that's just a testament to what kind of shape an Academy Award-winning editor like Murawski can pull even from the biggest mess of raw footage imaginable into. It's still a disaster, but one sewn together well enough that it can work for the so-bad-it's-good crowd.

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