The Reluctant Saint

Música Compuesta por Nino Rota
Duración: 65' 
    Despite an international cast of actors led by Maximilian Schell –fresh from the Academy Award he had received for his role in Stanley Kramer’s wartime drama Judgment at Nuremberg– and with supporting actors like Ricardo Montalban, Akim Tamiroff and Lea Padovani, The Reluctant Saint did not achieve any great commercial success or critical acclaim when it was released in 1962. However, the movie would have deserved a much better fate. Produced and directed by Edward Dmytryk, who had been one of the famous blacklisted Hollywood Ten during the anti-communist McCarthy era, it is a humorous and often quite touching, but not too reverential fictionalized version of the story of the 17th century Franciscan friar Giuseppe da Copertino, who is honored as a Christian mystic and saint by the Catholic church and who was known for his ecstatic visions and miraculous levitations.

    Throughout the first half of the movie Dmytryk focuses mainly on the rural life in Apulia in Southern Italy where Giuseppe was born and on the many incidents which lead him from his life as a simple-minded and humble peasant to unexpected priesthood. Because of his slow wits his mother (Padovani) has kept him in school despite being a grown man and he is seen bearing patiently and good-heartedly the ridicule of his fellow villagers and enduring failed attempts as a laborer. With the help of his uncle Monsignore Vittorio he joins a Franciscan friary where he mainly works as a stable boy managing the sheep and other animals. Eventually he earns the respect and friendship of the visiting archbishop (Tamiroff), who orders that he be trained as a priest, much to the annoyance of the other friars, above all Don Raspi (Montalban), one of the superiors in the community. Despite Giuseppe’s incapacity for the necessary scholarly studies, Giuseppe passes the examinations for the priesthood through all kinds of unlikely and more or less miraculous events. Soon after, when he is seen levitating at the time of his ecstatic prayers to the Virgin Mary, Don Raspi accuses him of being obesessed by demonic powers. Giuseppe is therefore exorcised, but when his miraculous levitations continue, even Don Raspi gets convinced that he must be a saint. In the final scene of the movie the friars process in the churchyard while Giuseppe begins to float upward and Don Raspi takes hold of his robe to prevent him from drifting off.

    Director Dmytryk had already worked together with composer Nino Rota on his British crime thriller Obsession in 1949, and it is very likely that he personally asked again for his services for The Reluctant Saint in 1962. During that time Rota was already at the peak of his popularity, did enjoy international fame thanks to all the music he had already written for many memorable film classics, and just one year later he would compose the scores for Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo and for Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. Although most Rota scores from the 60s have in the meantime become available either on LP or on CD, the truly delightful  music he composed for The Reluctant Saint till now has always been neglected so that we are especially proud to present the complete film score (Track 1 – 18) including even some bonus and alternate tracks (Track 19 – 31) for the very first time on this CD.

    Two tracks with fictitious titles had appeared on a top-rare CAM CMT 10” library LP named “Natalizio” around 1964 and at least the Main Title (with 1:43 minutes) has been made available on the Nino Rota 3CD Gold Ediiton box from GDM in 2009, but never anything else.

    Most of Rota’s score is based on the gentle and cheerful main theme which appears just after the opening church bells in the Main Title and which is almost a musical paraphrase of Giuseppe’s joyful simplicitiy and humility. It will get all kinds of variations during the course of the film, sometimes it may break out into a galop or a can-can when Giuseppe is helplessely running around in the churchyard, whereas it attains a deep spirituality supported by high strings and children’s choir for example in the scene when Giuseppe prays before the broken head of the Virgin Mary and then begins to levitate (end of Tr. 10)

    Rota is in his element alternating humorous and melancholy phrases and often changes the instrumentation without ever sacrificing the empathy he carries towards Giuseppe’s character. With subtle irony he paints a musical picture of Giuseppe’s state of mind when he is tutored by the friars for priesthood, but is incapable of studying and memorizing all kinds of verses from the Bible (second part of Tr. 9): The music in this cue gets almost vexating and irritating with string and woodwind pizzicati as well as dissonances and always gets back to the folk melody Giuseppe himself had often sung before – as soon as he sinks back into his own small spiritual world with the one phrase from the Bible he knows by heart. This bucolic folk melody which evokes the peasant milieu of Southern Italy is introduced for the first time on a clarinet in the interlude during the Main Title (Tr. 1). Interestingly, Rota also used it again just slightly modified one year later in his score for Il Gattopardo.

    One of the finest moments of the score occurs when Giuseppe is confronted with the news about his father’s death and a carriage brings him and his mother back to their old home (Tr. 5). Descending tragic chords lead into a dirge-like lament highlighted by solo English horn which conveys the sense of loss and isolation in a particularly moving way. The theme is beautifully developed in this track and the chimes during the middle part create an additional haunting mystic atmosphere.

    During the last musical tracks heard in the film the religious atmosphere begins to dominate with organ soli and choral hymns sung by the friars (Tr. 12,14,15). We even get a purely instrumental variant of Rota’s lovely hymn “Te Deum Laudamus” at the begining of track 9. The miracle when Giuseppe frees himself from his chains is underscored by a splendid version of the main theme with children’s choir and orchestra (Tr. 16) , and in the final scene (Tr. 17) the full orchestra also joins the choir singing the hymn for a glorious Finale.

    The End Credits (Tr. 18) resonate with peaceful serenity: A reprise of the lilting main theme is followed by a smoothly flowing and elegant version of the lament theme, but without its former gravity and now featuring lovely instrumental soli (accordion, clarinet and flute) which is strongly reminiscent here of two well-known themes Rota had written just a few years before: “Mongibello” from Plein soleil and the “Terra lontana” waltz from Rocco e i suoi fratelli.

    Stefan Schlegel

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