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20th Century Fox presents

Francis of Assisi (1961)

"'If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor and follow me.' 'Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money.' 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' These three verses will be our guide. They will be our life and our rule, Brothers. To the glory of God."- Francis Bernardone of Assisi (Bradford Dillman)

Stars: Bradford Dillman
Other Stars: Dolores Hart, Stuart Whitman, Cecil Kellaway, Eduard Franz, Athene Seyler, Finlay Currie, Mervyn Johns, Russell Napier, John Welsh, Harold Goldblatt, Malcolm Keen, Pedro Armendariz
Director: Michael Curtiz

Manufacturer: deluxe digital studios
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (minor battle scene violence, scenes of decadence)
Run Time: 01h:45m:26s
Release Date: 2005-02-22
Genre: drama

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBB- C-

 

DVD Review

The story of Francis of Assisi has inspired millions throughout the world and with good reason, since his pure devotion to his faith is a remarkable achievement. There are many ways to represent the life and teachings of St. Francis. Scorsese did a somewhat inspired telling of Francis' life in Mean Streets and Franco Zeffirelli gave an artsy spin to the man's story in Brother Son, Sister Moon. Yet, in some ways, the 1961 Michael Curtiz production, Francis of Assisi, might be the most honest cinematic telling of this amazing story.

As any good Catholic can tell you, Francis Bernardone (Bradford Dillman) lived a privilege life due to his wealthy merchant father, Pietro (Eduard Franz). The script begins with Francis embarking upon war and living a life of debauchery as he gambles for and carouses with women alongside his friend, Count Paolo of Vandria (Stuart Whitman). Yet on the eve of battle, Francis finds himself haunted by a beggar, who asks not for money, but for Francis' love. The following day, in the heat of battle, Francis receives a calling from God to abandon the sword and await further instruction. The newly spiritual Francis submits and finds himself viewed as a deserter, both by his father and Paolo.

The on-screen spectacle for these lavish settings may be a bit out of place, considering St. Francis' passionate embracement of humility and poverty. However, once Francis is freed from prison, aided by the pleas of his lifelong friend, Clare (Dolores Hart), the setting becomes more austere as Francis forms the Franciscan order and even finds favor with the Pope (Finlay Currie). His love for God's creation leads him to bless animals and even to pursue peace in the Holy Land at the height of the Crusades. However, the evil of the world cannot be exorcised by Francis' devotion and his dream of spreading God's love is not entirely successful. He is, however, vindicated by the change he makes in the lives of those around him.

The script, by Eugene Vale, James Forsyth, and Jack Thomas from Louis De Wohl's novel is mechanical in its structure (and not stunningly accurate in terms of its timeline). There are times in which the dialogue feels too stilted and Anglo-Saxonish and the authenticity suffers for it, a common black spot of many old Hollywood costume dramas. Nonetheless, the filmmaking picks up the slack to make an aesthetically satisfying motion picture. I can't pretend that anything here is a monumental achievement, but the result is a solid piece of cinema. Piero Portalupi's cinematography captures the beauty of Italy's landscapes and the Cinecitta sets ground the film in its proper historical period. Additionally, the mystical score by Mario Nascimbene lends the proper amount of spirituality and divinity to the subject matter.

Working alongside the crew, the cast also does its part in realizing these figures. Stuart Whitman's portrayal of Paolo makes for a perfect antagonist, embodying materialism and vanity. The title role is also well played by Dillman, but he isn't as passionate in his speech as I have always imagined Francis to be. Also, those familiar with the story in which Francis strips naked upon rejecting his father's lifestyle will likely have a hard time reconciling it with Dillman's performance. He conveys Francis' humility and humanity, but at the cost of his zeal.

The real success of the film comes from Curtiz's assured direction that sees its material through without batting an eye. I suspect that if the film were made today, the religiosity and Francis' communication would be all but absent. This is not the case here, however. The movie makes no bones about its belief in St. Francis, especially in its closing moments. It's not a great film, but Francis of Assisi is faithful to its characters' faith.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Despite a misprinting on the back cover—at least on my screener copy—the aspect ratio on this DVD is in fact 2.35:1, not 1.85:1. Therefore, anybody concerned about the original CinemaScope image will be pleased. The age of the film is noticeable here, with print defects and scratches occurring periodically but not to a point where it is distracting. The depth and detail of the image are not especially strong, though they're still forceful enough to create a film-like look. Colors come across nicely and skintones are accurate, making for a satisfying picture.

Image Transfer Grade: B
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
4.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The default audio of the disc is the one-channel English mono mix, but the 4.0 Dolby Surround mix can be accessed either through the menu or your remote. It isn't an especially flashy mix, with the score only faintly heard in the surround speakers. Sound separation and directionality didn't register to my ears, though perhaps I missed something. However, there's no trace of a hiss or crackling and the mix is fitting to its source material. There also are French and Spanish mono mixes available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Bible, Demetrius and the Gladiators, Hangman's Curse, The Robe, Satan Never Sleeps
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Starting off the special features is the film's original theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. Furthering nostalgia for Hollywood epics are the additional trailers for The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Bible, Demetrius and the Gladiators, Hangman's Curse, The Robe, and Satan Never Sleeps. Each one has a subject corresponding to Francis of Assisi.

In addition to the trailers are two featurettes. Both are old Fox Movietone News reels, the first of which is Behind the Scenes of Francis of Assisi (06m:36s). The black-and-white footage plays without any audio, but the footage is fascinating enough on its own. It contains glimpses of Curtiz directing the actors and the crew setting up for shots. In fact, the absence of a narrator makes this even more interesting because one can focus on the body language of Curtiz, as well as the cast and crew, while they worked. The other featurette, Mayor of San Francisco Receives a Statuette from Assisi, Italy (:54s), contains Mayor George Christopher giving a speech to his constituents about the importance of the movie. The reel, however, stops abruptly in the middle of his speech.

Extras Grade: C-
 

Final Comments

It's not a great film, but Francis of Assisi still contains some hint of St. Francis' own spark. The image transfer shows the age of the film, but it's an acceptable presentation. The 4.0 Dolby Surround mix is of little value, but is a step up from the mono tracks also provided. The extras aren't extensive, but are more than one would expect for a mere catalog title. Any church should add this title to its library.

Nate Meyers 2005-02-17