Color, 1976(ish), 82m.
Directed by Duke Mitchell
Starring Duke Mitchell, Lorenzo Dardado, Jim LoBianco, John Murgia
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Gone with the Pope

After completing his berserk drive-in mob epic Massacre Mafia Style, director-actor-singer-entertainer Duke Mitchell Gone with the Popedecided to mount another location-hopping look at the violent side of the Italian-American experience with a project known at various points as The Pope and Kiss the Ring. Once again Mitchell would both direct and star in the story of a man losing his soul thanks to greed and ambition, but this time the film would end up completely shot but left unfinished in cannisters for decades until finally seeing the light of day long after Mitchell's death. Grindhouse Releasing teamed up with Mitchell's son, Jeffrey, and many other talented individuals to piece it all together over the course of many years and finally unveiled the finished product to an enthusiastic response in 2010, following by years of staggered screenings before hitting home video in 2015.

The central gimmick of the film - abducting the Pope and extorting a dollar from every Catholic in the world - is a fun idea familiar to '70s paperback thriller readers, but it's really just an excuse for Mitchell to launch into a string of outrageous, very politically incorrect set pieces culminating in a bizarre moment of religious reckoning unlike anything else in cinema history. Mitchell stars as Paul, a married convict who decides to celebrate his parole by jumping right back into the criminal life. At first that means a debauched stay in Vegas, which leads to escorting a trio of his cohorts (all named after Christ's disciples, of course) to Italy. There he unveils the grand scheme to swipe the most famous religious leader in the western world, which means they have to keep the pontiff on their yacht. Of course, nothing goes as planned and a moral wake up is in store for our anti-hero.Gone with the Pope

If you're expecting a typical linear crime story narrative, you can pretty much chuck that out the window within minutes of watching Gone with the Pope. What the viewer gets instead is a parade of dialogue you'd never hear from another filmmaker, ranging from lewd and racist (the "brillo pad" comment in particular) to ambitious attempted philosophy, most notably Mitchell's soliloquy on the boat about his grudge against the church's behavior in recent years. Gone with the PopeAlong the way you also get a tacky Vegas stage act, an unforgettable three way in a hotel room involving an obese hooker, and loads and loads of great '70s vintage cars and clothes. Presumably this reflects the intentions of the original rough assembly Mitchell was putting together before he got waylaid by his Jimmy Durante salute project, but it's been given a modern gloss by Grindhouse's Bob Murawski (an Oscar-winning editor of The Hurt Locker), the late Sage Stallone, and a robust editing team including Robert Leighton, Jody Fedele, Paul Hart, and Robert Florio, while the punchy final sound mix includes some gems like Jeffrey Mitchell's insanely catchy tune, "Jackknife," which became the film's unofficial theme song.

Gone with the Pope looked terrific when it debuted in 35mm in theaters, so it's no surprise that the Grindhouse dual-format edition containing Blu-ray and DVD options looks gorgeous as well. It looks as colorful and sharp as any recent production but also has that certain '70s filmic texture, too, never looking too processed or overly digital at all. Much of the film is shot with large areas of the frame bathed in Gone with the Popedarkness, but the Blu-ray in particular has no problem bringing out all of the detail in even the most shadowy set ups. Audio is presented in three options (DTS-HD MA on the Blu-ray) -- mono, stereo, and 5.1 surround -- which will affect viewers differently depending on how much they want this to feel like a real '70s film. The 5.1 version in particular is very clear and sharp, though if you want a more traditional grindhouse-y ambience, the mono flattens it all down to what you'd expect a film of this vintage to sound like. Check 'em all out; at least one is bound to tickle your ears.

Also in keeping with Grindhouse tradition, this one comes stacked with extras covering everything you could possibly want to know about this highly unusual production. The 66-minute "The Players" gathers many of the participants including actors Jim Lo Bianco and John Murgia, cinematographer Peter Santoro, editors Robert Florio and Bob Leighton, and familiar drive-in director and MItchell pal Matt Cimber, many of whose regular colleagues worked on this film. You'll get plenty of stories about the prestigious Gone with the Popefilms some of them went on to make, the connection to the wacko smut oddity Sex in the Comics, the unorthodox role of the script and "hit and run" line feedings while the camera was rolling for the non-professional actors, and the dire money issues that plagued the project thanks to that Durante special. Santoro returns for the 23-minute "Shooting Gone with the Pope," covering the challenges of the equipment used and the reason staying in focus was such an issue. The most amusing bit involves nabbing a fish eye lens for the film's highly unusual sex scene. Then Santoro gets the shorter 3-minute "Restoring" featurette covering the state of the original elements used to put the final film together, plus an amusing 6-minute piece called "Inserts" about Duke wrangling him with only partial success into shooting some footage (you can figure out its nature by the featurette title) to sell to the Mitchell Brothers, which is included here in all its odd softcore glory. Gone with the Pope

Then there's 12 minutes of hilariously profane outtakes, an Easter Egg containing six minutes of Murgia watching the film for the first time, seven deleted scenes (totaling 17 minutes) with raw production audio or music tracked over it (most of it inconsequential, though you do get to see Duke smoking on a golf cart), a full 8 minutes of Frankie Carr and the Nov-elites doing their live Vegas act, and 20 minutes of the film's premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood including a panel with Bob Murawski, Jeffrey Mitchell, Murgia, Santoro, Florio, and Leighton, not to mention glimpses of folks like Bill Lustig in the crowd. Finally the disc includes the theatrical trailer, separate galleries for production art and the theatrical release including promotional artwork, a Duke Mitchell filmography (with trailers for Massacre Mafia Style and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla tucked in), and the usual array of bonus trailers for Corruption, The Beyond, The Big Gundown, The Swimmer, Cat in the Brain, Cannibal Holocaust, The Tough Ones, Cannibal Ferox, Ice House, Poor White Trash 2, I Drink Your Blood, Pieces, and An American Hippie in Israel. Also on the DVD are bonus DVD-Rom extras including the shooting script for Gone with the Pope and, incredibly, a doctoral thesis on the film's history and restoration. In short, the whole package is a mammoth labor of love to a rollercoaster of a film unlike anything we'll ever see again.

Reviewed on March 21, 2015.