Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GONE WITH THE POPE (1976)

GONE WITH THE POPE (1976)
2-Disc Deluxe edition DVD/BD Combo 

Label: Grindhouse Releasing
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 82 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono, English DTS-HD MA 5.1, English Dolby Digital Stereo, English Dolby Digital Mono
Video: 1080p widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Duke Mitchell
Cast: Duke Mitchell, Jim Lo Bianco, Giorgio Tavolieri, Peter Milo, Lorenzo Dardado, John Murgia

I was still recovering from Duke Mitchell's gonzo crime film Massacre Mafia Style (1974) when his follow-up feature, the long lost Gone with the Pope (1976), aka Kiss the Ring, arrived on the doorstep. I must say that Grindhouse Releasing have just been knocking it out of the park this past year with a string of strange, violent and often times weird cult movies. In a lot of ways the release of these Duke Mitchell movies seems to be the perfect culmination of what that company is all about, bringing lost, forgotten and obscure grindhouse cinema to the masses, each loaded with Criterion worthy deluxe packaging and in-depth bonus content. 

Paul (Duke Mitchell) has just been released from prison when he is contracted by the Chicago mob to execute seven men in Las Vegas and Los Angeles for the sum of 100K. Afterward Paul charters a yacht and sets sail for Rome along with his three former prison pals, We have The Old Man (Lorenzo Dardado), Luke (Jim LoBianco), and Peter (Peter Milo), once in Rome he reveals his plan to kidnap the Pope and ransom him for a dollar from every Catholic in world! Love that set-up, a bit pure genius and that alone should be enough put asses in the seats for this one. 


While not a sequel to Massacre Mafia Style it does have the same tone and aesthetic, a mobbed-up crime caper starring Mitchell in the lead that follows the exploits of a foul-mouthed Italian American and his band of merry criminals, upping the ante by setting his sights on the Catholic guardian of the world, the damned Pope! 

On a technical level the film is sub-par compared Massacre Mafia style but that's just part of the b-movie experience, some shoddy audio and out of focus camerawork mar the production slightly. Mitchell is is fine form here with a few choice monologues and the usual racial insensitivity of the previous film. When he's not poignantly condemning the Catholic Church for their silence during the Holocaust he compares an African American woman's naughty parts to a Brillo pad before asking her to do some housework. Never a man to mince words you will find that most of the dialogue is laced with numerous f-bombs and politically incorrect observations, yet somehow he delivers it with a disarming charm, he's charismatic, I'll give him that. 



The film largely lacks the manic energy of his previous film but is heavy with strange vignettes, such as a surreal three-way with a rather large woman that ends with her ripping a bathroom door off the hinges, all of which is shot with a fish eye lens. The odd detour doesn't seem to fit into the loose narrative but who gives a damn, just go with. The crime story lacks the strong(er) narrative structure of MMS but proves to be quite entertaining through and through, after watching the extras on the disc it becomes pretty clear that Mitchell shot the film with only a loose script on weekends and was often improvised, and it shows. 

The crooner turned actor/director is pretty solid here, a standout among a cast of amateur actors comprised of friends and acquaintances, each sort of fits the mold but are not the most adept actors, again, all part of the b-movie charm.


Gone with the Pope, or Kiss the Ring as it was then known, began filming in 1975 following Massacre Mafia Style and shot on weekends while Duke scraped together funding for the project. Filming was completed but the film sat in an unfinished state in Mitchell's garage until after his death, where it was discovered by Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski from Grindhouse Releasing, years after the director's death. It took a decade to restore the original film elements and reassemble the print from Mitchell's own handwritten script notes before releasing the film into select theaters beginning with the 2010 World Premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Audio/Video: The brand new 2K restoration offers a somewhat surprising amount of depth and clarity with nicely managed grain structure that does not appear to have been overly manipulated digitally. Colors are warm and strong, those garish '70s textures and intricate patterns pop off the screen and the neon glow of the Las Vegas lights look fantastic. restoration afforded the film is a thing of beauty, there are moments of minor vertical scratching and speckling but looking at some of the before/after image comparisons on the extras is proof of the love and care that went into making this screen-worthy.   


Emmy award-winning sound mixer Marti Humphrey has created brand new DTS-HD MA Mono and 5.1 Surround mixes for the audio track, plus a Dolby Digital Stereo option. Each are solid given the audio limitations of the source material with select scenes of dialogue coming through muffled from time to time, but for most of the film the dialogue is consistently clear and the music score comes through nicely. I preferred the original mono mix to the surround, the flatter sound better suited the period and aesthetic. No subtitles option is offered on either the Blu-ray or DVD discs. 

Onto the substantial extras we begin with Gone with the Pope - The Players (67 Mins) featuring interview with film editors Bob Leighton and Robert Florio, cinematographer Peter Santoro, actors Jim LoBianco and John Murgia, and, cult film producer/director Matt Cimber. This making of doc makes for a storied accounting from all the players about their experiences making the movie with recollections of the foul-mouthed Mitchell and his death from cancer.

Up next is Shooting Gone with the Pope (23 Mins) with cinematographer Peter Santoro who goes into some depth about the sub-standard cameras and lenses used during the shoot, the various film stocks used and pulling double-duty as the sound man  on set, which does explain some of the audio problems on the disc. Santoro again returns for the brief Restoring Gone with the Pope (3 Mins) discussing the art of film restoration including scanning the original negative, color correction and various amounts of digital manipulation to remove vertical scratches and tastefully managing film grain.  



The disc offers seven Deleted Scenes (17 Mins) which don't offer too much of interest, an extended take and a few additional scenes that don't seem to feed the loose narrative. Out-takes (13 Mins) features video clips and audio of Mitchell sounding agitated at blown line deliveries and obtrusive noise fro passing planes.

Once again Peter Santoro returns for an introduction to Insert Shots (6 Mins) in which he sort of red-faced explains that Duke wanted to film hardcore sex scenes to sell to production companies to help fund his movies. Apparently it didn't go so well but the footage starring Duke and a young woman has survived and is on display here. 

I very much enjoyed the comedy-musical stylings of Frankie Carr and the Nov-elites who are showcased during the film, here we have the raw footage of that performance in Las Vegas (8 Mins). I wish I knew more about this band, I was captivated by the towering ginger-haired guitar player, she was a cutey. 


Then straight into footage of the 2010 Hollywood World Premiere at the Egyptian Theatre (21 Minutes) featuring a discussion panel  with Murawski, Murgia, Lo Bianco, Santoro and Florio. You can glimpse Blue Underground's own Bill Lustig in attendance as well as actor Clu Gulager (The Initiation).

The bonus content on the disc is finished-up with the Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins), Production Material Gallery(26 Images), a Theatrical Release Gallery, (25 Images), a very  lengthy Grindhouse Releasing trailer reel, plus a Duke Mitchell Filmography featuring trailers for Massacre Mafia style and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Aside from the DVD-Rom content which includes the story treatment, script pages and various written materials there are several Easter Eggs buried away on the disc including additional interview material with actor Jim Lo Bianco, a silent rough-cut version of the three-way scene and video of actor John Murgia watching the completed film for the first time and looking quite bemused. 

The whole package arrives in a Criterion style clear case housing both the Blu-ray and DVD, plus a collectible fold-out poster of the artwork featuring writing on the film from John Skipp. 
Special Features:
- Spectacular 2K digital restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
- Gone with the Pope - The Players (67 Mins) 

- Shooting Gone with the Pope (23 Mins) 
- Restoring Gone with the Pope (3 Mins) 
- 7 Deleted Scenes (17 Mins) 
- Out-takes (13 Mins) 
- Insert Shots (6 Mins) 
- Frankie Carr and the Nov-elites Live in Las Vegas (8 Mins) 
- Hollywood World Premiere (21 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Still Galleries: Production Material (26 Images), Theatrical Release (25 Mins) 
- Duke Mitchell Filmography 
- Grindhouse Releasing Trailer Reel 
- DVD-Rom Extras: Story Treatment, script Pages and Written Materials 
- DVD Easter Egg: Mugia watches the Film for the First Time (6 Mins)
- DVD Easter Egg: Roll 23  (2 Mins) 
- Blu-ray Easter Egg: Additional Jim Lo Bianco Interview (2 Mins) 

The journey of the long forgotten Gone with the Pope (1976) from dusty cans of film in Duke's garage to the silver screen and now onto a dual format DVD/BD from Grindhouse Releasing is a proper testament to the late Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski's dedication to the preservation of cult-cinema, not to mention the further story of how lounge-crooner Duke Mitchell somehow became a legend of underground filmmaking. It's a very strange and wonderful story that might make for an interesting film itself along the lines of Ed Wood (1994) or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) .  

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