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The Reluctant Saint (1962)

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The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby Maricatrin » February 7th, 2013, 12:58 pm

I don't write reviews; this is more of a scattershot of thoughts, accompanied by scattered screenshots (say that three times fast?) I couldn't find a thread already existing for this movie, so I thought I'd start one myself.

The Reluctant Saint ... one of my favorite films and my biggest flop."
~ Edward Dmytryk.

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Edward Dmytryk was both the producer and director of this unusual and very rewarding film. In an affectionate and reverently offbeat manner, it tells the story of the most awkward, slow-witted and unkempt saint you'll probably ever see onscreen. Comedy, drama, and religion are all elements in this hagiography, told with a deep sympathy and understanding for the human condition. The placard at the beginning of the film reads: "the story you are about to see is true in the essential details"; from what I've read about St. Joseph, or Giuseppe as he is called in the film, I would say this statement is justified.

Joseph of Cupertino lived in 17th century Italy, and is most famously known as "the flying friar", due to the fact that he frequently levitated while in religious ecstasy. Of course his levitation is depicted in the film (it provides the impetus that drives the story to its climax) but it is not the principal story focus - Joseph is.

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Raised in poverty and considered something of a village idiot (he was nicknamed Bocca Aperta, "the gaper") Joseph was initially only accepted as a lay brother by the Franciscans, but became a novitiate in 1625, and, incredibly, was ordained to the priesthood in 1628. All these incidents of his life are depicted here, with some condensing of time and detail, and a pervading sense of down-to-earth (no irony intended) authenticity. In fact, while watching The Reluctant Saint, it's easy to forget that it is a movie - the time evoked, the places, and the people seem so real.

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The assorted cast of Hollywood/International and Italian actors vanish into their characters - this is the first time I ever saw Maximilian Schell; seeing him in any other role makes me all the more impressed by his acting here.

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Schell as Giuseppe always seems to look as though he slept in a stable, walks with an awkward shuffle, and is painfully slow of speech - his tendency to stare blankly into space is likely to annoy anyone trying to converse with him. Today, Giuseppe might be diagnosed as suffering from some form of intellectual developmental disorder, but back in his day he was just termed a simpleton. Schell unflinchingly enacts this side of Giuseppe, while at the same time making us love Giuseppe for his joyful humility, honesty, kindness, and ability to see and return God's love in the lowliest places.

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Akim Tamiroff (in a nice change of pace from his frequent roles as disgusting villains) plays the Bishop who first comes to recognize and appreciate Giuseppe's unusual gifts.
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Harold Goldblatt is Giuseppe's long suffering uncle, and Giuseppe's sharp-tongued but still affectionate mother is played by Lea Padovani.
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Two other characters worthy of mention are Carlo Croccolo as the hunchbacked Gobbo,
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and Giulio Bosetti as Brother Orlando.
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After Maximilian Schell, Ricardo Montalban has the second most important role, playing Father Raspi, Giuseppe's most consistent antagonist. He's not a bad man (perhaps an exemplary one in many respects) but Giuseppe seems to offend his very being.

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Montalban's is a subtle performance, but I think it suggests much ... that the faith of a child, charity, and unselfish love might mean a great more to the Kingdom of Heaven than personal dignity, strict devotions, and years of theological study is a bitter realization for Raspi to accept. How can he bear the thought that a lowly half-wit could be nearer to the Kingdom of Heaven than he can ever be?

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One doesn't have to be a Catholic to enjoy this film. Actually, a fervent Traditionalist might be offended by the scene where the Bishop, after listening to an interminably long theological discourse on the Trinity, wonders out to the stable and reveals to Giuseppe that he has always been troubled by the mystery of the Trinity. As a peasant, he could accept such things simply on faith, but now as a Bishop he feels troubled by the whole question; St. Thomas doesn't help. Giuseppe takes up a blanket and answers simply: “look, one blanket, one God”, then folding it three times, explains “three folds in one blanket, like the Trinity.” Not quite Aquinas, but very much in the spirit of certain parables taught by a carpenter's son.

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I can easily understand how this movie was not a box office success; it must have been a terribly hard "sell". But even more readily can I appreciate those rare qualities that made it one of Mr. Dmytryk's favorites ... it has become one of mine as well.

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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby kingrat » February 7th, 2013, 1:16 pm

Thank you for calling our attention to a film I had never heard of. This is just the sort of film that falls through the cracks. Dmytryk's THE JUGGLER is another obscure but worthwhile film.

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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby RedRiver » February 7th, 2013, 1:46 pm

THE JUGGLER is quite good. Sensitive and moving. Dumb question from a protestant: I assume Saint Joseph usually refers to the father of Jesus. But there's this man as well. Are there multiple saints with the same name?

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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby ChiO » February 7th, 2013, 3:04 pm

Oh, yes. Can think of five named John off the top of my head: The Forerunner (the Baptist), the Beloved (the Disciple), Chrysostum, of Damacus, and of the Ladder. At least two St. Gregory's that were friends.
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby Maricatrin » February 7th, 2013, 5:33 pm

kingrat wrote:Thank you for calling our attention to a film I had never heard of. This is just the sort of film that falls through the cracks. Dmytryk's THE JUGGLER is another obscure but worthwhile film.


You're welcome; thanks for returning the favor by telling me about a film that I had never heard of before.

RedRiver wrote:THE JUGGLER is quite good. Sensitive and moving. Dumb question from a protestant: I assume Saint Joseph usually refers to the father of Jesus. But there's this man as well. Are there multiple saints with the same name?


Yes, as ChiO has already said, there are many saints who share the same first name. Confusion is generally avoided by adding an "of somewhere or other" or some such designation. So this Joseph is known as Saint Joseph of Cupertino, to separate him from several other Josephs (Jesus' earthly father being the most famous, and the only Saint Joseph safely referred to by only his first name.) Even among the apostles, we have James the Greater and James the Lesser. If the saint in question has a last name, that helps too ... for instance, to add to the long list of Johns, St. John Roberts name is always given in full.
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby moira finnie » February 8th, 2013, 9:30 am

Great to see your impressions of this lovely, forgotten movie recalled, Mary-Kate. The Reluctant Saint (1962) was shown at my parochial school when I was a kid just before Christmas for about five years in a row. I always enjoyed it, though many of my classmates felt like the inmates in a prison after repeated viewings. (Wise guys in the audience got to know the dialogue so well they would shout lines out just before Maximilian Schell said them, prompting our principal, the 4'9" Sister Helen, to get her pointer out and sharply poke the mouthy kids between their shoulder blades as she threatened "to give them their walking papers." I always wondered if walking papers were like report cards on our behavior).

I find it interesting and amusing that Dmytryk did this film after A Walk on the Wild Side and before The Carpettbaggers--talk about 180 degrees of difference and a demonstration of versatility! I've always liked his smaller scale movies from the lurid propaganda pieces like Behind the Rising Sun, Back to Bataan and Hitler's Children to such dark gems as Murder, My Sweet, Cornered and The Sniper very much too, though The Reluctant Saint seems so different from all of those commercially astute productions.

The Juggler (1953) is quite moving, with an excellent performance from Kirk Douglas (in his early period, imho, when his best work was done). It is occasionally shown on TCM and is available on a MOD DVD. Though Dmytryk is perhaps remembered best for his troubles during the HUAC persecutions and his later career revival with burly block busters such as The Caine Mutiny, Raintree County, and The Young Lions, the director often dealt with spiritual themes in several other films, with varying degrees of artistic success; including the little-known but interesting Christ in Concrete (1949), The End of the Affair (1955), The Left Hand of God (1955), and The Mountain (1956).

Re: the number of Josephs who are saints
St. Joseph, the incredibly patient father of Christ was always numero uno in my book. There are also a gazillon St. Johns in Roman Catholic history (a partial long list of such saints can be found here).

The Reluctant Saint (1962) can be seen in its entirety on youtube here:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1mT7IvgfiY[/youtube]
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby Maricatrin » February 8th, 2013, 12:58 pm

Thank you Moira, and thanks for sharing your memories as well... I've always associated the term "walking papers" with military dismissal ... but I guess it can apply anywhere!

That Dmytryk called The Reluctant Saint one of his favorites suggests to me that he might have had a preference for his "smaller scale" work as well.

I like Left Hand of God , but had forgotten the director. I have a better memory for faces than names, I guess. Murder, My Sweet is my favorite of the Marlowe adaptions I've seen.

I've never been a big fan of Kurt Douglas, but The Juggler (1953) still sounds worth checking out.

I forgot to add that I got my copy of The Reluctant Saint (1962) from Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/The-Reluctant-Saint-Maximilian-Schell/dp/B002QXOYQK, where it's available on DVD or streaming. I got the DVD, but I know nothing about what is considered good, bad or ugly in the digitized film world, so offered no opinions on the subject. If I can see the actors and hear what they're saying, I'm happy. :lol:

I know Moira has already seen this, but in case any else might be interested:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_O9SLrHQbs[/youtube]
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby moira finnie » February 8th, 2013, 1:18 pm

Mary-Kate wrote:Thank you Moira, and thanks for sharing your memories as well... I've always associated the term "walking papers" with military dismissal ... but I guess it can apply anywhere!

Come to think of it, the military analogy--complete with Drill Instructor nuns--is quite apt. :wink:

Mary-Kate wrote: I know nothing about what is considered good, bad or ugly in the digitized film world, so offered no opinions on the subject. If I can see the actors and hear what they're saying, I'm happy. :lol:

I'm the same way...give me a good story and actors, and I'm oblivious to most technical issues.

I loved your music video using Simple Gifts with highlights from the film.
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby RedRiver » February 8th, 2013, 2:19 pm

By any chance, was Saint Louis a cardinal? I hope not!

This director made some fine movies. His Raymond Chandler telling is my favorite as well. CAINE MUTINY is an enthralling military drama. An utterly fascinating story with characters you can reach out and touch. And I'm a big fan of the book. Dmytryk's choices were perfect. BACK TO BATAAN is another moving war story, with a fine performance by Mr. Wayne. I had forgotten he directed THE SNIPER. The little guy who shoots women? That's some good filmmaking. This was the best of the small scale crime films released recently as a set. (Maybe not so recently. I forget.)

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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby Maricatrin » February 8th, 2013, 5:02 pm

moirafinnie wrote:I loved your music video using Simple Gifts with highlights from the film.


Aw, thanks. :D Always glad to hear that.

RedRiver wrote:By any chance, was Saint Louis a cardinal? I hope not!


We're in Peabody and Sherman territory here. :wink: Actually, he was a King of France. He managed to be an exemplary man and a darn good king, a combination frequently hard to maintain.
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby JackFavell » February 12th, 2013, 6:44 pm

Wow, I've never heard of this movie. Anything with Maximilian Schell AND Akim Tamiroff is great in my book. Thanks for posting the link you two.

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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby Professional Tourist » February 12th, 2013, 9:20 pm

I too have appreciated the heads-up and link to this movie. I watched it on snow day (last Friday) and enjoyed it. Maximilian Schell was very good. Never before had I heard of a saint who levitated! Toward the end, when the friars are walking together in prayer, when Giuseppe starts to lift up and Raspi grabs hold of his cassock to keep him from floating away -- that reminded me of "The Flying Nun." I wouldn't be surprised if this film were its inspiration. :D

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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby Maricatrin » February 13th, 2013, 6:28 pm

JackFavell wrote:Wow, I've never heard of this movie. Anything with Maximilian Schell AND Akim Tamiroff is great in my book. Thanks for posting the link you two.

Professional Tourist wrote:I too have appreciated the heads-up and link to this movie. I watched it on snow day (last Friday) and enjoyed it. Maximilian Schell was very good. Never before had I heard of a saint who levitated! Toward the end, when the friars are walking together in prayer, when Giuseppe starts to lift up and Raspi grabs hold of his cassock to keep him from floating away -- that reminded me of "The Flying Nun." I wouldn't be surprised if this film were its inspiration. :D


I'm so glad to hear that people, who weren't aware of it before, are enjoying the film. :)

Professional Tourist wrote:Maximilian Schell was very good. Never before had I heard of a saint who levitated! Toward the end, when the friars are walking together in prayer, when Giuseppe starts to lift up and Raspi grabs hold of his cassock to keep him from floating away -- that reminded me of "The Flying Nun." I wouldn't be surprised if this film were its inspiration. :D


There have been some other saints who were purported to levitate at times, but none approach the frequency of St. Joseph of Cupertino, or the number and credibility of the witnesses present.

I love that little touch in the final scene, and Raspi's resigned expression that accompanies it.
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Re: The Reluctant Saint (1962)

Postby RedRiver » February 13th, 2013, 6:34 pm

I appreciate that this thread has made me think about the films of Edward Dmytryk. A director who made a whole bunch of movies I've never heard of, and a handful of literate, challenging classics.


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