The Assisi Underground (1985) was co-written and directed by Alexander Ramati. The film is a fictionalized version of true events--the work of Catholic churchmen and churchwomen in Assisi who protected Jews, and helped them escape to safety.
Ben Cross stars as Padre Rufino, a Catholic priest who was assigned the difficult and dangerous job of protecting Italian Jews in the region. (Once Germany took over control of Italy, the Nazis began the same reign of terror against the Jews that they had carried out in other conquered nations.)
Fr. Rufino is portrayed as a sincere, simple man, who enjoys cigarettes and good wine. He struck me as a good parish priest, but not a erudite theologian or scholar. When his bishop-- played by James Mason--gives him the task of saving the Jews, saving the Jews is what he does.
Maximilian Schell plays army Col. Müller, who is a physician and also the German commandant of Assisi. Müller senses that the Jews are in Assisi, and that Rufino is somehow involved. However, as a Catholic and as a physician, Müller is less worried about killing Jews than he is about saving lives and saving the treasures of Assisi.
This is a flawed film. Most of it consists of Germans searching and Jews hiding. There's a scene involving Italian smugglers that probably had more meaning in the uncut version. (The DVD contains a shortened version of the movie.) Also, someone must have told Ramati, "There's no real action in your film." So, at one point, we see stock footage of allied bombers, and then explosions near a train carrying disguised Jewish refugees. German soldiers are blown up in their gun emplacements, and go flying into the air. Then that scene ends, and we return to the basic cat and mouse plot.
The Assisi Underground is a good film about a fascinating topic. The basic facts are true, and the motivations of the characters stuck me as realistic. Some of the parts are formulaic, as when the Rabbi observes that the Torah scroll contains the first five books of the Hebrew Testament, and the Bishop observes, "Don't forget, those words are part of our tradition as well."
Still, the acting is strong, what we see of Assisi looks beautiful, and the film is worth seeing. Note that this movie carries an IMDb rating of a ridiculously low 5.7. How can this be? Did the people who ranked it so low see the same film I saw? (Well, maybe not. Maybe they saw the longer version and got bored.) Anyway, don't let the low rating discourage you from seeing the movie. It's not a great film, but it's a good film and well worth seeing.
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