Italian film poster
|Directed by||Luciano Salce|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis|
|Written by||Franco Castellano|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Edited by||Roberto Cinquini|
17 June 1965 (U.S.)
The movie takes place in 1944, when Italy was divided between the fascist puppet state Repubblica Sociale Italiana (controlling the northern half of the Italian "boot") and the allied-occupied southern half.
Fascist bosses gathered in Cremona (in the far North of Italy and well away from the line of fire) pick enthusiast militant Primo Arcovazzi (played by Ugo Tognazzi) to take into custody professor Bonafe, a noted anti-fascist philosopher, from the rural location where he was confined in and to lead him to Rome (at the time controlled by the RSI).
Equipped with a motorcycle-sidecar combination Arcovazzi picks up the professor and heads towards the Eternal City; along the way the couple wrecks its vehicle to avoid running over a girl (Stefania Sandrelli) who turns out to be a confidence trickster and petty thief; and, after having scammed the professor out of 150 lire, she disappears.
Without a means of transportation Arcovazzi asks a truckload of Wehrmacht soldiers passing by to help, only to have his sidecar confiscated and be made prisoner (along with his original prisoner) by the German forces.
Ending up in a Nazi-controlled jail the couple makes good its escape thanks to an allied air raid, donning German uniforms to pass unnoticed during the commotion but, while Arcovazzi is stealing a Schwimmwagen Bonafè tries to desert him.
The following night the two men stop to sleep in a barn where they rejoin the thieving girl; she is afraid but they instead ask for her help to kill a chicken they managed to steal along the way.
After having dined together the trio falls asleep; the girl wakes up first and leaves with all of Arcovazzi's and Bonafe's clothes and accessories (save for the vehicle).
Depressed by the events Arcovazzi tries to ford a stream, confiding in the Schwimmwagen's noted amphibious qualities but, due to previous damage or his own ineptitude, the German car sinks.
Reaching a village on foot Arcovazzi tries to ask for help at the local fascist party cell ("Casa del Fascio") where they only manage to find a couple of teenagers, armed and fanatized by fascist propaganda (which tried to mobilize even students and youngsters for its cause) who, doubting Arcovazzi's sincerity, shower him with questions only a true-blue fascist can answer.
Arcovazzi's naive enthusiasm seems to finally pay off when he answer all of the boys' questions, but the last one leaves him in dire straits (being based more on historical knowledge of the Classical world rather than the agit-prop slogans Arcovazzi is at ease with); with the two kids' fingers on the trigger it's Bonafe (being a dean of Humanities, thus knowledgeable in the subtleties of the Greek and Roman world) who comes to the rescue of his 'jailer', suggesting him the correct answer. Confiscating a tandem bicycle and a pistol Arcovazzi is able to resume his odissey, until the former bursts a tire.
Forced on foot once again Arcovazzi decides to stop at Rocca Sabina, home of (fictitious) nationalist poet Arcangelo Bardacci, whom he idolizes and whose writings (which he can quote verbatim) prompted him to become a fascist. Reaching the poet's house he's told by his wife that he went fighting with the Italian Army in Albania and died there. Bardacci however is still alive, having had a change of conscience, having embraced antifascism and biding his time hiding in the cellar until the regime he once endorsed finally collapses.
Arcovazzi is offered hospitality in the poet's house, where Bonafe discovers the truth and is allowed to escape in exchange of a promise of rehabilitation for Bardacci once things settle down.
Arcovazzi however manages to catch him once again, resuming the voyage towards Rome with his "captive". Catching a methane powered pullman seems to alleviate the journey's difficulties, but during one of the frequent stops (albeit efficient, methane engines had very limited autonomy, needing many refills), Bonafe escapes for the n-th time.
Pursuing him Arcovazzi manages finally to recapture him, but the pullman is long gone...they finally manage to enter the outskirts of Rome in the dusk hours of early June, 1944.
Unbeknown to them the Italian Capital has just been conquered by the Allies. Groups of GIs were stationed in the squares, celebrating their victory and preserving public order. The couple is at first oblivious to the fact and manage on the way to cross roads with the young girl once again: Arcovazzi demands his clothes back but she mockingly offers him something "even better", a full fascist "Federale" uniform. Having been promised the "Federale" rank if successful in his endeavor Arcovazzi eagerly accepts and dons the uniform on the spot, glowing in the regalia he so long dreamed for, while Bonafe scoffs his head.
Passing along the deserted boulevards of Rome (it's still night) they hear the laughs and jokes of a group of soldiers which Arcovazzi at first believes to be German, speaking only Italian and not being able to tell languages apart; the more cultured Bonafe points out that the men are speaking in English, prompting Arcovazzi to dismiss them as POWs (as German troops had paraded allied POWs through Rome when they contained the Anzio beachhead earlier in 1944).
But the POWs seem to be a bit too loud and relaxed and, after some inquiry, Arcovazzi is horrified at the discovery that he is, actually, behind the enemy lines (and dressed as a party boss, nonetheless).
The U.S. troops, however, treat him more as a curiosity than as an enemy, they cheer him and take pictures of him instead of shooting him on the spot (as the fascist propaganda maintained in depicting all allied soldiers as bloodthirsty brutes).
The reaction of Italian civilians, however, is wholly different; resenting the failures, the brutality and the empty boasting of fascism they throw themselves at him, menacing to lynch him; Bonafe, who during the whole odissey has grown oddly fond of him has to call on a partisan patrol to save Arcovazzi from the mob.
The partisans, seeing his high-rank uniform, are however inclined to shoot Arcovazzi on the spot; seeing the spirits much too inflamed to be convinced otherwise Bonafe asks for a pistol and the dubious "honour" of shooting his former jailer himself.
Leading the wannabe-"Federale" behind a ruined wall he, throws the weapon away, helps Arcovazzi in removing the uniform which was about to seal his fate and lets him go.
- The New York Times
- Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 185.