Revisiting Gone With the Pope, the Exploitation Jewel with an Unlikely Oscar Twist
The joy of cruising the movie margins is that one thing leads to another. So, a few years back, after I'd suffered through the 1952 Poverty Row comedy Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla for my bad-movie book, I couldn't help but get Googling to find out what happened to its leads, Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, whose comic act in the movie aped Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to the very limits of copyright infringement. Turned out that Sammy did not much moviewise after that (he died last year), but Duke burned bright in the last years of his life. Mitchell's first film as writer-director was 1974's Massacre Mafia Style, aka The Executioner. While it didn't make him a household name or set the box office aflame, in 1975 Mitchell set about making a second flick, then called Kiss The Ring, later given the awesome title of Gone With The Pope. One viewing of the trailer on YouTube (embedded after the jump) had my jaw on the floor.
Yours should follow, but be warned, this is NSFW in every way:
I soon learned that Mitchell hadn't finished the film before his death in 1981 at age 55. Most tantalizing was that Grindhouse Releasing were undertaking a painstaking restoration. So began a correspondence with the company's co-owner, Bob Murawski, who next week finally gives Gone With The Pope its world premiere -- and does it the very same week that he's up for his first Oscar as editor of The Hurt Locker. We chatted this week about his labor of love.
Why the fascination with exploitation movies?
I'm more interested in the ideas in a movie than its production value. I think Hollywood can learn from them. A lot of times, the cheaper movies are a lot more pure -- they have more heart, as opposed to being corporate cookie-cutter pieces of garbage.
When did you get interested in the schlockier side of cinema?
When I was a little kid growing up in Michigan, in a tiny town north of Detroit that didn't even have a theater, we'd get the Detroit newspaper and I'd see all these ads for drive-in movies like The Toolbox Murders or Meatcleaver Massacre. I cut them out, and I had these whole scrapbooks full of them. It'd be years before I could see the actual movies. I became hooked on these kinda movies -- the ads, novelizations of Night of The Living Dead and Halloween that I'd read before I even saw the movies, and whatever I saw on TV, like Hammer or Roger Corman.
How did you hear about Duke Mitchell?
Like a lot of people, I came to him through Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. I hadn't seen the movie then but I'd seen the trailer a bunch of times. But back in 1995, Bill Lustig [director of Maniac Cop, among other exploitation flicks] and I watched the Video Gems VHS of The Executioner, which I think he'd been given by Sage Stallone [now co-owner of Grindhouse Releasing], who I hadn't met at that stage. We both thought it was one of the funniest, most off-the-wall and entertaining movies we had ever seen.
What was it about the movie?
It was like Duke Mitchell had seen The Godfather and said, "Hey, I'm an Italian, I can do better than that." And I think in his mind, he really thought he had, even on just $50,000. The ads he did were like, "Our movie's got more guts, more action, more dynamite!" I love it when you see a movie that's just one person's vision, like Rudy Ray Moore or Ed Wood Jr. And Duke, when he's making these long speeches, the soliloquies about being Italian, they're like nothing you've ever heard. It's just dumbfounding, for minutes, but he's got so much passion.