An old-fashioned tear-jerker centered on two Yanks-in-Europe scurrying around picturesque Italy, “Something to Believe In” is an embarrassing return to the big screen after a decade-and-a-half by producer Lew Grade that looks like it will sink faster than his 1980 doozy, “Raise the Titanic.” Despite good widescreen production values, and a game try by actress Maria Pitillo, this glorified disease-of-the-weeker will fast forward to vidbins and afternoon TV in mature territories.
Pitillo (“Godzilla”) plays Maggie, a Las Vegas croupier who suddenly finds she has lymphoma and only weeks to live. After reading a magazine article about a weeping statue of the Madonna with supposedly miraculous powers, she decides she has nothing to lose, scrapes together some dollars, and ups and offs to Italy.
Already in Europe is Mike (William McNamara), a young American concert pianist-cum-composer forced to play bars to subsidize his studies in Paris. Rebelling against his stuffy teachers, who say he is all technique and no inspiration, he also ups and offs — to Naples, to take part in a competition in a last-ditch attempt to kickstart his career. Tooling through the countryside , he miraculously happens to meet Maria, hitchhiking her way to the town of Trevino for her recuperative date with the statue.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has sent a specialist, in the form of Monsignore Calogero (Tom Conti), to investigate the phenom, and he promptly orders the church closed. When Maggie starts to fall sick, and it’s revealed that the statue is a fake planted there by a local artist (Maria Schneider) to bring tourism to the dying town, Mike arranges for Maggie to visit the original statue privately in hopes of a miracle, before he hightails off to Naples to play in the competition.
With a thunderous finale built around the performance of a piano concerto and an exotic portrait of Europe (all colorful Italians and lovely old buildings), the pic seems to exist in some kind of cinematic time-warp going back 40 years or more. Given that no amount of dialogue could have made the story believable, the script is commendably economical with words, and, through sheer technique, helmer John Hough and his tech crew — especially lenser Tony Pierce Roberts and editor Peter Tanner — manage to avoid the worst potholes.
McNamara is bland as the gallant hero, though Pitillo partly compensates with a perf that does the best job possible under the circumstances. Brit thesps Conti and Ian Bannen look like they’re having fun playing Italian clerics, which is more than can be said for Schneider, who’s grim-faced throughout.
Early seg set in Las Vegas features a host of cameos: Robert Wagner as Pitillo’s casino boss, Jill St. John as a doctor, William Hootkins as a car salesman, and Roddy McDowall as a man at a bar. Composer Lalo Schifrin can be seen conducting (his own two piano concertos) in the finale.