St. Francis of Assisi was an extraordinarily complex and difficult figure whose effect on his contemporary society was electrifying. Even today, many people are moved by his visionary message of universal toleration. Twelfth-century Italy had an exceptionally grim and regimented society, but the barefoot monk from Assisi undoubtedly had the courage that comes from deep faith and was able to transcend the oppressiveness of the time. In this Italian/British-produced film, director Franco Zeffirelli attempts to bring his vision of this great man to the screen. The contemporary (1970s) example of the hippie movement contributed a great deal to the style in which the story is told. The musical score, using ancient Italian melodies, was arranged by Donovan. The film is visually beautiful in a way which tends to minimize the squalor of the times. As the movie begins, Francis (Graham Faulkner) is the son of wealthy merchants, and enjoys his share of wine, women and song without serious thought. When war and disease devastate his neighborhood, Francis undergoes an anguished transformation which culminates in his appearing before the local bishop and removing his clothes to renounce his previous life and family before dedicating himself to God. The culminating dramatic moment is Francis' appearance before Pope Innocent III (Sir Alec Guinness), to make his case for an independent religious order under new rules.
by Clarke Fountain synopsis