BY FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART
FRANCIS OF ASSISI Certificate "U" Director: Michael Curtiz
ONE of the most persistent problems facing a Catholic or any Christian film critic is just why nearly all Hollywood-style holy films are so embarrassing. however well intentioned. I puzzled over this old problem all through " Francis of Assisi," a great big expensive de-luxe coloured Hollywood spectacle.
The film has so much to recommend it. The company went to Assisi for months. There are some acceptable reproductions of the famous Giotto's as background to the credits and often as designs for a scene.
Opportunity of being in Italy was taken, 1 understand, to have every stage in the story passed by appropriate ecclesiastical authorities. Most of the incidents indeed are recognisable, from the opposition of his merchant-father to the impression of the stigmata.
Bradford Dillman's performance has for me a very real feeling for the Franciscan character even though he looks a little wellgroomed. Dolores Hart was as unmistakably sincere a St. Clare, even though perhaps too peachesand-creamy for the traditional figure.
What is it then that, especially in the first half of the film, invites the wrong kind of laughter? Partly it is the smooth shiny CinemaScope finish. More important, in view of the costly visit to Assist, only one shot seemed to me unmistakably recognizable where as many were recognizable finely built studio sets.
What seemed to prevent the film from ever getting off the ground, spiritually or artistically, was the evident tact that none of the three writers employed to make a screen play from Louis de Wohl's wellknown book can have felt remotely involved in the story they were treating.
What they have given us is a strip-account of one of the bestdocumented mediaeval lives of a Saint told in terms of1182 and all that.
We are duly shown a lot about the drawing-up, presentation and acceptance or refusal of the Franciscan Rule, but told nothing about the Rule.
One of the difficulties about this kind of well-intentioned film where the faults are mainly negative no inspiration, no conviction, no understanding is that people who know the subject well can fill up many of the blanks from their own imagination. I'm afraid devout Franciscans will need to work their imagination overtime. As a charade-version for the Christmas holidays it may serve a respectable purpose.
IL GENERALE DELLA ROVERE
Certificate "A" Director: Roberto Rossellini Fr HERE is a good deal bete to justify the publicity claim that Rossellini is here back in his old form. He is cc.rtainly in the
same period as "Rome, Open City" or "Paisa": that is Italy's bitter end of the war recollected now, not in tranquility but in more disciplined passion and a certain satiric irony.
The theme is not unlike that of the Polish tragi-comedy "Eroica". Vittorio de Sica, that elegan; Ector as well as accomplished director, plays a lightfingered adventurer and fraud whom circumstances of war press
into prison where he is similarly compelled to pose as a famous partisan general.
Rossellini handles the black prison scenes unsparingly, plunging from bravado to bravery without faltering. Sica's expert performance has a match in that of Hennes Messmer as the German prison commandant revolted by the methods he must use.
THE first half of this hideous reconstruction of a Nazi labour camp for women might be any of the documentaries we have seen on kindred topics except that we know two of the characters are played by Emmanuelle Rive, and Susan Strasberg (both presumably dubbed into Italian, which invalidates judgment of their acting).
The latter actress plays a young Jewess who sees her mother hauled off to an extermination
centre while she herself is sent to a labour camp. There, where everybody is degraded and even the woman who always urges the preservation of dignity turns to stealing bread and finally to suicide, the young girl too is brutalized and becomes one of the dreaded 'KAPP" or camp corporals. But the latter stages, with the arrival of Russian men prisoners and the rumble of
Allied victory, turn inevitably to melodrama. A number of Belsen-like backgrounds are a salutary reminder that horrors like this and the tortures of the Rossellini film belong to our time to be forgotten at our peril. But if they are to be fictionalized, better they should be the setting for a particular drama, like Della Rovere than merely a pretext for reiterating the horror.