The opening-credits sequence of The Pope of Greenwich Village promises much: As Frank Sinatra’s voice caresses the air with “The Summer Wind,” we see a man meticulously preparing himself for an evening out. He slips on an expensive jacket, natty tie, classy accessories. He walks out into the evening with smooth self-assurance.
The upshot of this is that the guy, Charlie, is a maitre d’ at a fancy restaurant. Still, he knows what he’s about, and he’s got great dreams. He and his girlfriend, Diane, plan to break out of their home in Little Italy and own a restaurant in the country someday.
Charlie’s got a problem, however. The problem is he’s bound by blood to a perpetual loser named Paulie, his third cousin. Paulie, working as a waiter at Charlie’s restaurant, promptly gets them both fired when he won’t stop stealing money.
Out on the street, Paulie comes up with a new scheme. He buys a share of a racehorse—he’s heard the horse is the offspring of a champion, by means of “artificial inspiration”—and then plans a burglary to have enough money to bet big when the horse comes in a winner. Paulie drags a reluctant, unemployed Charlie into the plot, without telling him that the payroll they’re going to take belongs to the local underworld kingpin.
It’s one of those movies in which the characters keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble. The Pope isn’t a depressing movie because of this, however. The only depressing thing is that so little has been done with a potentially rich subject.
Vincent Patrick, whose maiden screenplay this is (he adapted his same-named novel), has things going in all directions. Charlie’s concern for his helpless, no-good cousin is touching, but his gruff devotion isn’t really given enough background to make it comprehensible. It becomes tough to believe that the family connection is enough. And Diane’s character is never successfully integrated into the story; after a while she just disappears.
Director Stuart Rosenberg, who might have brought the film’s tangential elements together, just contributes to the mess. He doesn’t seem to be equipped to impose any overriding sensibility that might have brought things into focus.
If the film is a rather enjoyable mess, it’s because of the cast. Daryl Hannah is appealing as Diane, and there are well-turned supporting bits by Kenneth McMillan, as a thief who helps Charlie and Paulie; Burt Young, as the gangland chief; and Tony Musante, as one of Young’s henchmen, who has tears in his eyes as he tells his old friend Paulie he’ll have to maim him.
Eric Roberts—most recently the psycho husband in Star 80—manages to be both studied and overwrought as Paulie. Oddly enough, that’s appropriate for this character, but Roberts would benefit from watching his co-star, Mickey Rourke, for a lesson in natural screen acting.
Rourke, the hairdresser of Diner and the motorcycle boy in Coppola’s Rumble Fish, is short, not conventionally handsome, and speaks softly most of the time. But he’s got the kind of screen presence that inspires immediate audience sympathy, and when he’s on screen in The Pope, the film blows through with the ease and pleasant feeling of the summer wind.
First published in the Herald, June 26, 1984
Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke: what a set it must have been. IMDb says this movie was prepared and steered through pre-production by Michael Cimino, which conjures up a wilder project.