Gone With the Pope (1976)   6 comments

Criterion 14mm BD case wrap

A quartet of slow-witted ex-cons plot to kidnap the Pope and demand a dollar from every Catholic as ransom.

creepy pope
Creepy Uncle Pope.

That sounds spectacular. It isn’t. Letterboxd and imdb list Gone With the Pope as a 2010 film because Grindhouse Releasing restored and released it theatrically in that year after someone found a work print of it in a garage. Perhaps they should have left it there. It was made in 1976, no doubt to celebrate the bicentennial. I’ve heard the un-pc quality of this film compared to Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite or The Human Tornado. In that they are both films made in the 1970s, I’ll buy it. Of course using that rationale I Spit on Your Grave is comparable to Pete’s Dragon.


I digress. The Human Torpedo has something Gone with the Pope doesn’t, a script, heart, characters you give a crap about, and some semblance of onscreen talent. Rudy Ray Moore is funny. His stand-up style resembles that of Don Rickles. He abuses the audience and they eat it up. He has great comedic timing and a charismatic presence. The other actors playing with Moore are pretty good too. They at least can have a conversation on camera. In Pope, I wondered if any of the, um actors had even seen a movie. Just godawful.

sitting around
Do we act now?

Also, I think there was something wrong with the cameraman. The framing of the shots was obscenely bad. Often, in close-ups, the frame consisted of one and a half of a person’s eyes. I mean, the guy left out half an eye. It reminded me of those skits on “The Benny Hill Show” in which they show a film with the continuity all messed up. The camera shows an actor, then moves off him and when it shows him again, he has a mustache or a different shirt. I like when I see Benny Hill do it. Here, not so much.

benny hill

Then there’s the music. In Moore’s films, the action moves to a funky soul and R&B soundtrack. Soul Train’s Don Cornelius chose the music for Dolemite. In Pope, writer/director/star Duke Mitchell sings lame, off-key lounge lizard songs as he shoots people.

I wish.

Between scenes of murder and degradation, Mitchell shows romantic montages of he and his girlfriend riding merry-go-rounds and lighting each others’ cigarettes. Sigh.

“I’m sure cotton candy’s good for them, honey.”

There are also scenes in clubs in Las Vegas and Lake Arrowhead, California. Terry Gilliam could easily have used footage of these acts in nightmare drug sequences in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

bad band
Show business!

Finally, there’s the incredibly tasteless and offensive narrative in Gone with the Pope. No group escapes Mitchell’s abuse. He denigrates pretty much everyone he comes across. I don’t think you can watch exploitation films, which I like, and expect them to conform to modern sensibilities. That said, wow.

Did he really say that?

I’ve seen racial or sexual humor in this type of film and, if it’s funny, I laugh. Gone with the Pope isn’t funny. The racial and sexual humor doesn’t work. It’s mean-spirited, lazy, and poorly done. I’m not sure who the intended audience was for this film because it’s hard to imagine anyone finding anything to like about it. I’m glad I saw it and I think it’s important to show films like these just because they are bad and do offend people. After all, it’s hard to rate films if everything you see gets five stars. I won’t say it’s a time capsule because I don’t believe the views expressed speak to the times as much as they do to the tastes of a small group of odd people. I just like seeing what different people do with a vanity film.

duke gun

6 responses to “Gone With the Pope (1976)

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  1. I saw Duke Mitchell’s Massacre Mafia Style first and I think it is easier to enjoy, but I largely agree with your review. Comparing him to Rudy Ray Moore is disingenuous, because, while they are both trying really hard and not completely succeeding, Rudy Ray Moore actually managed to get people to watch his films in enough numbers that sequels were made and remembered. Mitchell made his answer to The Godfather, Massacre Mafia Style, which is PATHOLOGICALLY personal and then this film, which was never finished or released. I appreciated getting to see it because both of these movies, for me, are like watching the local blowhard Italian tough (old) guys I grew up around making a movie without managing to hide the fact that they were ridiculous dopes-there’s no sexy veneer of talent or (better yet) actual thinking about the values of that subculture-it’s just those values put on screen. That being said, to act like Mitchell films are not racist and sexist as all hell, or somehow that their authenticity (in terms of Mitchell’s ego spouting off without a filter) makes up for their poverty of resources (and, I would argue, talent) is basically a lie. I can’t say that I don’t personally laugh at the distance between Mitchell’s ambitions and abilities, or his characters supposed toughness compared to what we actually see on screen, but I understand exactly why most people would not (or, in fact, why I should probably rightfully feel a little guilty that I do). Laughing at Mitchell and his movies’ failure scratches a particular itch I have based on where I grew up and the people I knew. I also find these films fascinating in an academic, cultural history sense-I’d love to write about how they represent the underbelly of the “embrace your white ethnic roots” movement going on around the same time, especially Massacre Mafia Style.

    • Did I say he WASN’T racist or sexist? Just checking. Thanks for reading.

      • Oh, not at all-I didn’t mean you, sorry to be unclear, I meant I’ve seen people lauding the movies around the web and generally it’s “Italian Rudy Ray Moore” this and “authentic” that but I don’t see a lot of “warning: this is has some truly unfunny racial humor” warnings. Sorry to respond to that here rather than you actual review! Also meant to say, the people I saw it with also found the montages jarring when we saw it at a midnight screening. I did laugh out loud at the ending mainly b/c I’ve never seen a movie end quite like it but it’s a long way to get to that.

      • Oh good. I’m not thin-skinned, but I didn’t want to endow this film with my tacit approval. The description of Mitchell as the Italian Rudy Ray Moore and the kidnapping the Pope concept are what enticed me to see this film. I was taken aback by quite a few scenes. Nothing to laud here. I saw it last night at the Brattle and a few people walked out. That’s at the Boston Underground Film Festival! A guy in the audience and I thought it looked like something he made to show in his friends’ basements. As I said, I’m glad I saw it, but whoa.

      • Whoa! I can’t imagine this playing at The Brattle. It did okay as a Coolidge Midnight Movie but the Brattle, not sure it’s a great place for it. The “Italian Rudy Ray Moore” description really is false advertising, though I kind of like it in the sense that I bet Mitchell is rolling over in his grave about it.

  2. Haha you’re probably right. The BUFF filmgoers are different from the usual Brattle crowd. There’s some overlap though. (Me. Ok not just me. )

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