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This is the film that introduced me to St. Francis of Assisi (alongside
marvel comics' 1982 adaptation of his life). While several historical
inaccuracies are present (Francis is referred to as "Father Francis"
once, yet St. Francis was never ordained priest in real life, for
example), this is a good film to show to people if your purpose is to
introduce them to the saint.
Unfortunately, the film does come out like a Disney film, with all the colors and dialogue. Hardly present at all is the tension between Francis and his father Pietro. Omitted is the very important event when St. Francis returns ALL his property and clothes to his father and declares, "no longer shall i call you my father, but I shall only say, our Father who art in heaven." - a beautifully done scene in Brother Sun, Sister Moon ten years later. On the good side, it focuses on the supernatural - miracles, God speaking to Francis. This is good because other films tend to make us forget that this is the life of a SAINT, after all.
All in all, a great movie. There should be more films like this to change others' lives.
This recreates a lot of the legends about Francis of Assisi - one of
the best known of the Roman Catholic saints, who is also admired and
much quoted by Protestants. There's no doubt that the movie also
recreates some of the historical facts about his life - his
disagreement with his father over the course his life should take, his
visit to the Holy Land and encounter with the sultan and his struggle
to gain recognition of his new order from the Pope. This also takes
both the legends and the reality to unnecessary extremes at times -
such as Francis' encounter with the cheetahs in the Sahara as he was
seeking out the sultan. Throughout the whole movie, Francis is
portrayed in a too pious light; his humanity (I mean by this his flesh
and blood reality, as opposed to his kindness) seemed lost in the mix.
This is not especially surprising when you consider that the movie is
based on a hagiography (a biography of a saint) written by by the
Catholic author Ludwig von Wohl, whose own commission from Pope Pius
XII was to "write about the history and mission of the Church in the
world." Clearly the Catholic Church wants its saints portrayed in the
best light possible, and so a certain sense of veneration for Francis
in a movie based on von Wohl's work is inevitable.
Setting that aside (and even Protestants admire Francis, so I have no major criticism) what I most enjoyed here was the continual reflection in the movie on the state of the church and the Christian faith and Christians; the constant temptation (to which we all give in) to compromise the standards of Christ in favour of the standards of the world. The movie continually comes back to that theme; one could even say it revolves around it, as the primary battle Francis fights is to keep his order true to his "rule" - which was essentially the teachings of Christ that His own followers should renounce worldly possessions. Considering the repeated inability of Christians and the church to truly live up to the standards of Christ, the most meaningful words here were probably put on Francis' lips (although I'm unclear whether he actually spoke them): "if men were more perfect, we would need less compassion." So true.
This is at times interesting - but it's still significantly weakened in my view by its veneration of Francis rather than its objective portrayal of his life.
Contrary to scant reviews of this movie as rather mediocre, several interesting aspects make it worth a viewing. Perhaps aside, there is the amazing parallel of movie-to-reality of lovely Dolores Hart, who plays the noble woman Clare. Clare forsook marriage to an earnest noble (Stuart Whitman) and followed Francis (Bradford Dillman), founding the Poor Clares order of nuns. Hart was on the verge of marriage in 1963, when she decided to become a nun. The acting is good enough to keep one interested. And seeing some of the last appearances of old guard like Finlay Currie, Cecil Kellaway, and irascible director Michael Curtiz (who directed many of Errol Flynn's swashbuckler movies and other Warner Bros. fare in Hollywood hey days) sufficiently tempts the serious movie buff. The movie itself has the looklots of color but also the lingering epic Hollywood scale--of historical yarns of the late 40s on through the 50s. Like the better efforts of this genre, the life of Francis progresses with a competent scriptparticularly in Francis's struggles against the establishment church. Thus it is historically preferable to Zeffirelli's minimalist Brother Sun, Sister Moon which frames Francis and Clare as more akin to 60s hippies than inhabitants of the 13th centurywith a plot that meanders like a music videoand Donovan's music to prove it (Zeffirelli also wanted the Beatles to appear in the movie!). This reviewer is perhaps tainted with some nostalgic bias, since as a small boy I saw the Southern California premiere of Francis of Assisi (in Downeysoutheast LA county suburb--of all places!) that included a live appearance and short commentary on stage by Stuart Whitman, who in his rough out style played Francis's friend-turned-antagonist (having been jilted by Clare) Count Paolo of Vandria. Years later at Universal I worked with Whitman, who, crusty as ever, recalled memories of the movie shoot as a tolerably pleasant experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The road to movie dullness is paved with good intentions. The captivating story of a 12th century man who embraced Jesus' teachings of poverty and aid to the poor and the sick is given a reverent, but sometimes tiresome treatment here. It also manages to either skip or gloss over several of the more striking facts of the real story! Dillman is the wealthy son of a successful merchant who begins to hear a voice in his head, urging him to forsake his worldly possessions and rebuild the church. When he also forsakes his commission in the military, he is placed under arrest in a dungeon! Eventually, through the intervention of his female friend Hart, he is released by his former comrade in arms Whitman. He then begs in the street for stones and begins to build a church, eventually amassing 10 followers who help him with his work. They travel on foot to Rome where eventually they receive the Pope's blessing and before long, Dillman has hundreds and hundreds of devotees following his practices. Hart even becomes a nun as a result of his example. One of his travels takes him to the desert where he comes face-to-face with Sultan Armendariz who almost causes him to undergo a trial by fire. As he ages, he loses most of his vision and begins to deteriorate, but not before founding an order that lived on and lives on today. Dillman does pretty well as the title character, offering up the type of beatific arrogance that not everyone can master. It's a role not completely dissimilar from that of Tom Tryon's in "The Cardinal" and one could see the men switching roles with relative ease. Hart, who later became a devoted and successful nun in real life, gives a solid performance. She is to be credited, especially in 1961, for completely eliminating any beautifying makeup during her scenes in a habit. Whitman, who was dabbling in cloak and sword films during this era, is handsome, but out of place. His accent is so contemporary (along with his hair) and his character (fictional) is too coincidentally tied to Dillman's in several ways for him to be all that believable. He does, however, have one decent scene near the end. An impressive assortment of esteemed veterans round out the cast. Kellaway plays a cardinal interested in Dillman's work, Franz is Dillman's difficult-to-please father, Currie plays a downright ancient Pope (as can be the case!) and Armendariz has a decent cameo as the Sultan. The film is luxurious in many respects, with striking costumes, splendid scenery, detailed settings and so on, but too many things keep it from realizing epic status. For one thing, the story is trotted out in an almost comic book or Disney fashion. It's very episodic and some of the episodes are a tad too cutesy, such as when Dillman blesses all the neighborhood animals. Then there's the uproarious moment when Dillman enters a leper colony and listens to this howler of a piece of dialogue: "I don't want your peace. I wanna get rid of my stink!" Dillman should have gotten a nomination just for keeping a straight face through that one. Oh, and don't miss the unfortunately staged scene in which Johns, as a sweet, simple-minded follower of Dillman, comes to fetch him and as he's in profile, an extra in the background is flexing his arm right at John's crotch level, providing an hysterical, unintentional sight gag! The film opens with shots of frescoes while the impressive ooh and ahh music soars. Unfortunately, almost every single scene opens with a variation on the same nine-note melody until it becomes not only predictable, but almost laughable. All Hollywood films change the details to make a film more entertaining or to broaden it's appeal, but the introduction of a standard (and predictable) love triangle between Dillman, Hart and Whitman was a mistake (not to mention possibly in poor taste!) Fascinating tidbits from the Saint's real life don't make the cut, such as when he was shipwrecked on the Dalmatian coast or when the Crusaders in Damietta wanted to slay him as a heretic and the Sultan saved his life. The stigmata is barely suggested. Also, oddly, the man was known to avoid walking sticks and sandals, yet the film shows him with both and even has Hart gifting (!) him a new pair of sandals! It's not a bad film, it's just a bit hampered by too many concessions and conventions, possibly by a director who was too set in his ways.
Having seen Brother Sun Sister Moon, and Francisco, this 1961 version of the
story of St. Francis pales next to the other two.
It looked like something from Disney: all primary colored costumes, healthy looking, rosy-cheeked Middle Ages citizens of Assisi, smiling as if they hadn't a care in the world. What were the producers thinking?! There was a little more history in this version though, including Francis' visit to Jerusalem, and his meeting with the Sulton. While the story was certainly comprehensive than Brother Sun Sister Moon, I prefer the latter even with Donovan's soundtrack, which I'm getting used to since I bought the video! Bradford Dillman did a fair job, but Dolores Hart with her teased, helmet-head sprayed hair looked very out of place, sad to say. A lean Stuart Whitman as Paolo played a major part and helped carry the film. I was tempted to not watch the whole thing, but I gave in. If you are a St. Francis admirer you'll watch it and learn a few more things about this remarkable man.
The production values for this movie are very high. The period costumes
are some of the best ever and the filming is beautiful. Even the horses
are elegantly clad and the battle scene with the horses on the bridge
However, all of this effort does not cover up problems. Many biographies of Francis are captivating, but the story, as presented here, is quite unbelievable and never involving. After Francis' conversion we see him pulling a cart through the streets asking for stones to rebuild a church (it just so happens that everyone along the way happens to have a few spare stones readily available). With a few followers we see Francis working with some crude structures at the church site and then, magically, we see Francis and his followers in an elaborate cathedral with large pillars and intricate stone work that would have taken sophisticated engineering to build. And Francis never encounters anything but beautiful sunny days.
Francis goes on a mission to the Holy Land and we see him wandering alone in the desert with a small pouch of water. Two Arabs are seen in this arid place who unleash vicious leopards upon Francis, but he tames them and gives them water. There is a "my God is bigger than your God" scene between Francis and the sultan that is quite depressing - how little progress we have make in 800 years.
Bradford Dillman does his best with the script he is given and has a couple of good scenes toward the end, but the acting by Dolores Hart and Stuart Whitman is pretty amateurish.
The main problem I have with this movie is that it did not show me what it was about this man that accounted for his accomplishments. He must have been inspiring and charismatic, but what we get here is a very passive reader of scripture. I understand the appeal of a Martin Luther King, but I do not understand the appeal of St. Francis from what I see in this movie.
The most enjoyable part of the movie for me were the photos of the Frescoes of Giotto in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi that played under the opening credits.
I was looking for a movie on the life of St. Francis and not sure what to expect from this. It turned out to be a very well produced movie. There was lovely continuity right through. The emotions were very finely portrayed by the director. This is a deeply spiritual movie which focuses on the bright side and leaves one with a feeling of well being. It covers a wide span of the life of St Francis. Together with movies such as 'Flowers of St Francis'(this focuses on the lives of the St Francis brotherhood) and Marcelino, we get a wonderful idea about St Francis and the monks of his order. Dolores Hart acted the part of Sister Claire very well. Full marks to Michal Curtiz for such an excellent production. 10 on 10!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw Francis of Assisi at the age of 11, when it came out in 1961 at
the old Stanley Warner Beverly Hills theatre. The film was given the
red carpet treatment and a bunch of us Catholics went to see it.
Unhappily this film is nowhere near as good a biopic of a saint as, say, "Song of Bernadette" is. Zefferelli certainly had a lot more fun with Francis in "Brother Sun, Sister Moon."
The film is one of those "international all star casts", 2nd rate epics popular the late 1950s-early '60s made by European production companies but released Stateside by one of the name studios, Fox in this case. The American actors either unknown at the time (Dillman)or of lesser rank status (Hart, Whitman) were shipped to the Continent to make European films more acceptable to US audiences. The rest of the cast was mostly unfamiliar to US filmgoers then, unless they caught British imports at the more offbeat theatres in town.
Michael Curtiz, so effective at Warners with "Captain Blood," "Adv of Robin Hood," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "Casablanca" among so many other classics, drops the ball here. He must have been tired by this time, having directed movies for some 40 years. The actors are given by-the-book direction. A few scenes remind one of how great a film Curtiz had been able to make in the 1930s-40s.
Bradford Dillman does his best with what he's given but the screenplay, closely following Louis de Wohl's novel, "The Joyful Beggar," comes across pretty unexcitingly. The film is more outline than biography, going from one episode to another, interested in the standard (fictional)romantic triangle, as s sop to attract Protestants, one surmises, and never gets down to really giving a dynamic cinematic portrait of Francis.
De Wohl wrote a long series of novelized saints' biographies in the 1950s that were popular among Catholics of the era. He died rather unexpectedly in 1961. They are of a type, sometimes a touch titillating, but in the end quite inoffensive. They were deemed fine reading for Catholic youth in the 1950s; they are still good for children to introduce them to the saints. Just as an aside, it's fun to know that De Wohl was employed by the US military in WWII to write pseudo-Nostradamus quatrains denigrating Hitler, dropped by Allied planes over Germany to offset Hitler's claims that Nostradamus had predicted Der Fuhrer's success.
Pedro Armendariz has a great role as the Sultan, and is the most believable actor in this show altho Dolores Hart is very affecting as Clare, especially at her leave-taking of Francis at the film's conclusion. The scene in which Francis ministers to Moslem prisoners after a Crusader victory is Dillman's most effective, Francis being exposed to the brutality of war, shuddering at the horrors committed by Christians in the name of Christ.
Francis was revered even in his own time as "Father Francis" by his friars even tho he was only ordained a deacon. "Father" is a title given founders of religious orders by their spiritual "children" even today. The title has nothing to do with ordination. Indeed, Francis did not want to be ordained at all but Pope Innocent explained that, to be allowed to preach in church, a man had to be ordained at least a deacon. Only then did Francis accept the formality so he could preach in churches.
On the other hand Francis was an administrative failure. This is why Brother Elias, his successor as Master General of the order is shown to be - accurately - pretty coldblooded in doing his job.
Brother Juniper, always muddling up things in the "Flowers of St Francis" had a simplicity that was beloved by Francis. another reason for Juniper to be in the movie - there was a popular daily 1-panel daily newspaper cartoon at mid-20th century detailing a present-day Franciscan "Brother Juniper" getting into comic situations. This was a simpler time when few citizens gave a 2nd thought to seeing a Catholic friar as a cartoon character. Today the Leftists wd surely be crying foul. How dare Catholics be funny where they can see it! Finley Curry as a (Scottish???) Innocent III is much too old. And I doubt that popes, even then, conducted daily affairs dressed in Mass vestments and wearing the tiara, just to let everyone know who was pope. Cecil Kellaway plays Cardinal Ugolino, the sponsor and "protector" of the Franciscans. He wd later become Pope Gregory IX and spar with St Clare who fought him to a standstill, winning the right for her and the Franciscan nuns to keep Francis' demand that his followers own nothing.
Sorry to say, the imposition of the Stigmata is one of the lamest special effects in film. It does nothing to convey the utter spirituality of the event, and Mario Nascimbene's score leaves a lot to be desired. He did a lot better in other foreign films but he was nowhere near Korngold or Steiner in backing up Curtiz' direction as they had at Warners 25 years earlier.
"Francis of Assisi" is an inoffensive 1950s wannabe epic, almost a precursor of those "sword and sandal" movies made in Italy that were to follow during the early '60s - the "Son of Hercules" films and others.
This one could have been - and should have been - a lot better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As dry as dust, "Francis of Assisi" feels more like an academic exercise than a heartfelt exploration into the life of a man who was called by God. I watched this with my Catholic mother-in-law and she said it was like a film the nuns at her old Catholic school took her class to see, which even the nuns became bored with. Pedestrian, plodding, uninspired, paint-by-numbers, and going through the motions. To try to make up for this, the soundtrack is bombastic and vacuous. If you want to watch a film about this interesting and influential man, I suggest you watch "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" instead. That film is a little dated, but vastly superior to "Francis of Assisi." It conveys genuine emotion, and you get the feeling you're watching the life of a flesh-and-blood person. The four stars are for the authentic setting of Assisi and the surrounding territory.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Francis of Assisi is the usual, late fifties production. It's presented
in 'scope, which is very nice. And it's shot on location in Italy,
which is also nice. But we continually jump between location exteriors
to tight quasi-exteriors and interiors with the unnaturally even,
stage-bound lighting of the time. And the tone is hopelessly square, to
meet the mindless, conformist hordes of the '50s without asking
anything of them. 1961 is a great place to start marking the collapse
of the Hollywood studio and star systems. Here an unlikely second
banana (Bradford Dillman) is forced on viewers as a very poor leading
man. If you ever wonder why unknowns are not asked to helm epics,
Dillman is your answer.
I can accept that a saint's behavior might seem artificial, but the whole cast here is so cardboard it's like watching robots. And a convention in which morally good people are distinguishable by their continual, vacant smiles indicates the shallowness of the film. Can life possibly be this flat for anyone? It's bursting with phony good cheer and "official story" blandness. With enunciation replacing acting. None of the leads even attempts an accent, y'know, because a saint in Italy is pretty much indistinguishable from Joe Sixpack in Indiana. ...storybook costumes, blonde fair-skinned 'Italian' maidens? Blecch. It's the embodiment of shabby, unworldly 1961 values, that would soon be left behind. Jack Warner must have had this movie in mind when he concocted his disastrous production of Camelot.
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