Tuesday, September 04, 2007


A colorful but bland account of the life of the famous saint. Parts of it work well, but there is too much gravitas here, as though the filmmakers were telling the life of Jesus, or perhaps remaking THE TEN COMMANDMENTS without any sense of humor or spectacle or even camp. In the 13th century, Pope Innocent III (Finlay Currie) is enlisting men to defend the papal kingdom of Sicily. Francis (Bradford Dillman), the carousing son of an upstanding merchant, volunteers to go, along with Paolo (Stuart Whitman), a Sicilian count living in exile in Assisi, but along the way, Francis hears a disembodied voice telling him to turn back. Sure that he's hearing the voice of God, he decides to obey; he is arrested for desertion and is scorned by Paolo, though after the war, Francis's friend Clare (Dolores Hart) talks Paolo into pardoning all deserters. Francis's father (Eduard Franz) throws a party in an attempt to reintegrate his son into the life of the town, but the passive and unworldly Francis baffles everyone. He throws off the trappings of his old life and begins begging for stones to build a new church, and with it a new order of clergy who desire to live in "extreme poverty" as Christ did. He and his little band of monks go to Rome to get papal permission to officially exist in the eyes of the church; the Pope, who has seen Francis in a dream, gives his blessing.

The rest of the film is a colorful, nicely filmed, but dramatically inert pageant of scenes from Francis's life: he loves children and blesses their pets, seems to be able to communicate with wild animals, rejoins the Crusades in order to bring peace to the Holy Land, and (in the film's best scene) tries to convert a Sultan (Pedro Armendariz) by claiming that God will allow him to walk through fire unharmed. He returns home to find his Franciscan order taken over by others (portrayed at first as almost evil but later as just misguided) who have started down the traditional road of collecting money and property to make his order like all the others. Unable to fight, he lives out his last years as a hermit, fasting and going blind. He collapses in a cruciform on the ground, with stigmata, has a reconciliation scene with his old friend Paolo (who has finally gotten over the fact that Clare dissed him to enter a convent, following Francis's lead), and dies. The very last shots, his funeral procession, are the most striking of the film, with flocks of birds following along through the dawn skies (or twilight, I wasn't sure). The acting is so-so, mostly because of the slack characterizations. Dillman is OK; he comes off like a beefier, less intense Anthony Perkins, and in fact Perkins' intensity might have made him a better (if almost certainly creepier) Francis. Hart has a nothing role, though it's worth noting that just two years later, the actress became a nun in real life. Whitman is the only actor who gets to express much emotion, but he's rather wooden. The location shooting is helpful, but doesn't make it worth sitting through. [FMC]

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