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GENERAL DELLA ROVERE (IL GENERALE DELLA ROVERE) (director/writer: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters: based on a novel byIndro Montanelli/Indro Montanelli/Sergio Amedei/Diego Fabbri; cinematographer: Carlo Carlini; editors: Cesare Cavagna/Ann Maria Montanari; music: Renzo Rossellini; cast: Vittorio de Sica (Bardone/Grimaldi/General della Rovere), Hannes Messemer (Colonel Mueller), Vittorio Caprioli (Banchelli), Giuseppe Rossetti (Fabrizio/Pietro Valeri), Sandra Milo (Olga), Giovanna Ralli (Valeria), Baronessa Barzani (Contessa della Rovere), Anne Vernon (Mrs. Fassio), Mary Greco (The Madam); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Moris Ergas; Criterion Collection; 1959-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
It’s too contrived to be as good as Rossellini’s WW II films from the 1940s, but it has its own unique power in chillingly capturing the collective horror of fascism at work.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It won the “Best Foreign Film” award in 1960 by the New York Film Critics and won the Golden Lion at the 1959 Venice Film Festival. Italian director Roberto Rossellini (“Germany, Year Zero”/”Paisan”/”Stromboli”)was not pleased with his critically acclaimed and box office hit character study film, shot in black and white, believing he betrayed his experimental techniques by making a slick mainstream film.Nevertheless it was the great director’s only film since his 1945 Open City to be critically and commercially well-received upon its initial release, to his chagrin. It’s a true story that’s based on the novel by Indro Montanelli, and is fortunate to have a tight script by Rossellini, Montanelli, Sergio Amidei, and Diego Fabbri.

Bardone (Vittorio de Sica) is a compromised black-market operator, gambler and con man, working out of Milan, going by the alias of Grimaldi, who gets nabbed by the Germans fleecing vulnerable Italians anxious to hear about their imprisoned relatives in the German occupation. Evil Nazi Colonel Mueller (Hannes Messemer) forces the con man to pose as General della Rovere, a heroic Italian general and Resistance leader, to in trade receive a pardon or else face a possible death sentence. The general secretly returned to Italy to aid the partisans and was killed trying to escape a roadblock. The colonel at first wants Bardone to pose as the general in a hostage exchange for one of the Nazi generals captured and then more importantly to finger the Italian partisan leader Fabrizio, who is not recognized but was supposedly captured in a Gestapo sweep of troublemakers and placed in the same prison as the false Rovere. Now Bardone is offered a wad of cash and a permit to live in Switzerland, to betray his country and only look out for himself. But the cowardly Bardone undergoes a change of heart, as the political prisoners look to him for leadership and he begins to take his new role in life seriously–even to the point he martyrs himself in order not to reveal the identity of Fabrizio.

The bravura performance by de Sica and the chilling performance by Messemer give the bleak but uplifting patriotic melodrama just the right treatment in contrasting a flawed being who never lost his humanity despite his misdeeds with a perfect being who has lost his humanity hiding behind the insanity of the Nazi laws. It’s too contrived to be as good as Rossellini’s WW II films from the 1940s, but it has its own unique power in chillingly capturing the collective horror of fascism at work.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”