The movies culled from re-editing multi-part episodes of the old Disneyland TV series are a mixed bag. Some of them like Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow stand with any of Walt’s theatrical projects in terms of story, production values, and execution. Others, such as Mystery In Dracula’s Castle suffer from weak scripts and a decidedly workmanlike effort both in front of and behind the camera. Escapade In Florence falls somewhere in between these two extremes as it’s hampered by a lousy script, but is made bearable by the location shooting in Italy and the winning performances of stars Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello.
Tommy and Annette play students studying in Italy. He’s working on architecture and she’s a budding artist. They meet when Tommy accidentally almost runs her over on his Vespa motor scooter. The Vespa is the third star of the movie as it’s featured in a number of important scenes.
Tommy is immediately infatuated with Annette, but Annette has no use for Tommy and leaves without intending to see him again. Tommy locates an item she left at the crash site and tracks her down to her aunt’s restaurant.
Despite the fact that there is a local boy (Bruno) who also has the hots for her, Tommy manages to insinuate himself at her table and ends up getting her to feed him pasta! Bruno does some singing at the restaurant and there’s an amusing scene where he’s singing at the top of his lungs right next to Tommy while Tommy is trying to have an intimate conversation with Annette.
Annette also sings some tunes, but she and the movie are let down by the simply hideous songs that unfortunately litter this movie like rat turds in an otherwise passable primavera sauce. In particular, her big number, “Dream Boy” makes you want to hurl your meatballs all over the TV screen.
To make matters even worse, we suffer extra because of the TV origins of this movie. The first episode ends on a musical number and after a very brief scene with the crooks, the part of the movie that was originally the beginning of the second episode starts off with another song!
There are crooks involved because somehow Annette has painted a picture overtop the canvas that held a masterpiece. A copy of the masterpiece is what is hanging where the real deal is supposed to be and the thieves are using her painting to cover up their smuggling of it.
To complicate things further, the head crook is the nephew of the woman who owns the painting. He doesn’t want her willing them to the city of Florence, so he’s stealing them. His aunt’s house is also the place where Annette goes to art school. This coincidence only occurs to help the story along which is really the least of the story’s problems.
The major problem with the script is that it requires Tommy to behave like a super genius some of the time and a super dumb ass other times. He’s a super genius when he sees the painting hidden beneath Annette’s painting and instantly announces that it’s the real deal. Even though he is the person in the restaurant with the least knowledge of Italian Renaissance art.
He ends up barging into Annette’s art class demanding to look at the same artwork there to confirm that he has the real one and that the fake one is at Annette’s art school. He actually declares at one point that the painting hanging up there smells new!
Naturally, despite everyone telling him what a dope he is and Annette telling him to drop dead, he’s right! But then he has to go and act like he was crashing his Vespa without a helmet again when he decides how to handle the fact that he has the masterpiece and the rightful owner unknowingly is in possession of a copy. He’s going to break into her house and replace the fake with the real one!
He refuses to just turn the real painting over to the police because they would think he stole it! Except that they wouldn’t think he stole it because everyone was there when it was discovered and Annette herself said she used it as the backing canvas! Hell, Annette could’ve just turned it in and said somehow they got switched and that would have ended the movie right there.
But sometimes out of the dumbest and most nonsensical of decisions come great things! Sadly, this isn’t one of those times, but Tommy, Annette, and Bruno do manage to get themselves captured and locked in a sufficiently spooky dungeon complete with torches and an iron maiden.
Despite their lives hanging in the balance, the trio use some of their time in the dungeon talking about the differences between Americans and Italians and how Italians think of themselves as citizens of their cities first. Bruno then says to Tommy, “you would you not die for your city, Thomas?” which led to Tommy uttering the best line in the movie: “die for Gary, Indiana?” I think even he was almost laughing when he said it!
Escapes are made, a Vespa chase ensues, and a final showdown at a horse race that sees Tommy repeatedly beaten with an old lady’s parasol wrap things up nicely.
Strictly routine in its “young adults thwarting adult crooks” storyline though the crooks come off a bit more dangerous than we’re probably used to in these Disney movies since they talk about killing the threesome and even mention the possibility of faking their suicides.
Tommy manages to wrangle a few smirks out of the feeble script and Annette once again makes a good foil for him as she did in their other outings including The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones, The Monkey’s Uncle and The Shaggy Dog. Clearly this is third rate copy of their other masterpieces, but without the chimp, wacky inventions, and weird dog-transforming rings.
© 2014 MonsterHunter