– The Jeweller’s Shop (1988): This turgid drama was adapted (under “strict Vatican supervision”) from a play by Karol Wojtyla, who wrote it before he changed his name to Pope John Paul II. (I guess his parents weren’t named Mr. and Mrs. II after all….)
Now, you’ve got to be curious about a movie that’s written by the Pope. What kind of fabulous screenwriting career might His Holiness have enjoyed if the papacy hadn’t interfered? Conversely, would Joe Eszterhas have made a good pontiff? Ah, fate, what a tangled skein ye weave.
Anyway, the movie itself is a sincere (if somewhat drab) love story. Top-billed Burt Lancaster stars as The Jeweller, but he doesn’t really do anything other than smile benevolently at couples who enter his shop to buy wedding rings. (When he does speak, he babbles a lot of incomprehensible mush about how his scales measure “the weight of a man’s life.”) Is his character a metaphor for God? He sort of reminds me of Bela Lugosi in Glen or Glenda, but I doubt if the similarity is intentional. (Unless, perhaps, the Vatican cut out a scene where Burt yells “Pull the string! Pull the string!” at a herd of stampeding water buffalo. Just speculating.)
The subject of passion is approached somewhat cautiously in this film. (After all, we’re talking about the Pope here, not Harold Robbins.) Characters stand still and talk at great length about love, but are careful to only kiss the air beside each other’s cheeks. My favourite scene is an incredibly stilted marriage proposal, in which the man asks, “Do you want to be my life’s companion?” The woman responds by running into a shop and buying a pair of shoes, leaving her beau standing puzzled on the sidewalk. She returns, explaining that she wanted to be as tall as he is to
answer his question. (She still isn’t.) Her answer, after all that, is, “No.” I missed the next few lines of dialogue because I was laughing, but somehow they agree to get married anyway, giving Lancaster another opportunity to jabber pointlessly while selling the happy couple some rings.
I hear that the Pope received writing credit for another movie, but I haven’t been able to track it down yet. (It’s called Our Brother’s God, or Our God’s Brother, or My Brother the God or something.) In its place, here’s my review of S.S. Girls.
– S.S. Girls (1976): I doubt very much that the Pope was involved in making this sleazy little number. On the other hand, no credits of any kind appear anywhere on the tape, so you never know….
As the story begins, the insane Gestapo kommandant Hans Schelenberg is given orders to root out and destroy any traitors he can uncover among Germany’s high-ranking officers. To accomplish this, Schelenberg opens a bordello. His plan works like a charm, because Nazi generals apparently are given to yelling out incriminating statements like “Hitler is mad!! Mad, I tell you!!” during moments of sexual ecstasy. After the girls finish their work, Hans shows up
wearing clown make-up and a pope costume (aha!), and passes judgment over the backstabbing generals, who get stripped and led to their doom on horseback, wearing pillowcases on their heads.
Obviously, this flick borrows a lot from the Ilsa movies, but its almost childlike approach to the wall-to-wall depravity makes it much easier to take. Orgies contain almost as much ballroom dancing as groping. Bestiality is depicted by a quick shot of a woman self-consciously hugging a dog. Nude women play horsey atop giggling
Wermacht officers, as they trot around the room in a silly parody of the RCMP’s musical ride.
This is one of the only movies I can think of in which every single character is a Nazi. Not just common or garden Nazis either, but crazy Nazis; all panting, giggling, shouting and rolling their eyes like loons.
If you’re looking for some ridiculous softcore trash, S.S. Girls offers a perfect blend of excess and ineptitude.
First published in FFWD Weekly, on August 26th, 1999.