The Assisi Underground (1985)

Ben Cross in The Assisi Underground (1985)

The Assisi Network

With the Germans exerting their control over Italy, Bishop Nicolini (James Mason - North Sea Hijack) asks Padre Rufino Niccacci (Ben Cross - Chariots of Fire) a former peasant turned man of the cloth, to take on a special mission to help a group of Italian Jews. In total he helps 300 Jews dressing many as monks and educating them in the way of the Catholic church to provide them cover whilst others are taken in by his parishioners in Assisi where the town's printing press is secretly used during the night to produce fake identity cards for those in hiding. Colonel Valentin Müller (Maximilian Schell - Avalanche Express) is placed in Assisi as the Commandant but as a Catholic is convinced by Padre Rufino that whilst the German's may have given him his orders to come to Assisi it is God's doing that he is there.

As I understand there are in fact two versions of "The Assisi Underground" an extended version which runs to over 3 hours and one which comes in at under 2 hours which is the version I watched. In truth I am kind of grateful that it was the shorter version which I watched as whilst telling an important story "The Assisi Underground" is not the most entertaining of movies. I know, a movie about the holocaust and the persecution of Jews shouldn't be entertainment but the dryness of "The Assisi Underground" causes it to lack something which other similar movies have.

James Mason in The Assisi Underground (1985)

The trouble is, and this may come from the fact that the version I watched was the shorter version, that "The Assisi Underground" ends up being a series of scenes which focus on close misses. An early scene which sees Padre Rufino escorting a small number of Jews out of Assisi rests on a scene where the train is stopped by German soldiers who just as they are about to rumble that a passenger is a Jew is prevented by a British bomber attacking the station just at the right moment. It doesn't mean that the movie is with out detail, we see how Padre Rufino had to talk to Mother Giuseppina to get her on side in hiding Jews in the convent but the detail is outweighed by scenes of close encounters and not unfortunately exciting scenes full of atmosphere and danger which gets you to the edge of your seat.

The knock on effect of this and I presume from watching the edited down version is that the character depth is not always present. Both Ben Cross and James Mason make Rufino and Bishop Nicolini decent, gentle characters but we never really learn a great deal about them. This is even more the case when it comes to the various Jewish characters as we never get to know anything about them other than they need help.

What this all boils down to is that "The Assisi Underground" is of interest in an informative way, working as an introduction to what went on in Assisi during WWII but as a drama about the work of the monks in providing aid to the Jewish population it comes up short.