Mussolini: The Untold Story (1985– )
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But Mussolini would have only himself to blame for what happened. He had far too grandiose ideas for his country. Italy was a cultural hub in Europe. In terms of real military power it was nothing. It's heyday of military power was in the Roman Empire. There was a momentary change in the 1860s under Garibaldi's army, but they were fighting to unite Italy. After 1870 the Italian army became a joke again - in 1896 it achieved an unenviable status in European history as the first colonial power to be defeated totally in a war by a "third world" country (Abyssinia - modern Ethiopia).
This situation continued in World War I where greed for territory made the Italians join the Allies. They proceeded to lose battles for nearly two years. So despised were they by their French, British, and American Allies, that when they walked out of the Versailles conference the three others ignored them until they came back on their own.
Mussolini came to public attention at this time, and he had larger international support than certain people later wanted to admit. Italian politics was pretty corrupt, and many non-Italians (like Austin Chamberlain and Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw) actually admired Mussolini as the strong man who would shake Italy into it's proper position in the world. To an extent they were not wrong. Mussolini did some repair work on the effectiveness of Italian life (the phrase was, "he made the trains run on time"). With the aid of some associates, his son-in-law Count Ciano and Air Marshall Balbo, he improved the aviation industry and Italian diplomacy. He also would demonstrate some wisdom - he would be the first person to question the business honesty of Ivar Krueger, the crooked Swedish "Match King".
But he was ruthless suppressing dissent - he did arrange the murder of Matteotti, the Socialist politician, in 1924. It almost caused his regime to fall, but he was able (barely) to weather it. He kept confronting Balkan states over territories that he felt were Italian by right. His belligerence would continue over the years. Sometimes the effect was actually not so bad: When Austria was nearly toppled by a Nazi coup in 1934, Mussolini sent his tanks to the Austrian border as a warning to Hitler not to move. It worked (the only time Hitler blinked in the 1930s). Mussolini, to his credit, tried to continue this policy with British and French support, but those two countries failed to take him up on it. After he was roundly condemned in 1935 for invading Ethiopia (and so avenge the 1896 humiliation), he found more in common with Hitler, and this basically doomed him.
Italy's military ineptitude kept making it's allegiance a millstone around the neck of whoever was "lucky" enough to join them. Besides Ethiopia, Mussolini invaded Albania and Yugoslavia (and it helped delay the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, thus helping bring about the defeat of the Nazi invasion). The Italian navy was smashed at Taranto by the British air force (an attack the Japanese noted, and used as a model for the attack on Pearl Harbor). The African colonies fell to British troops (alleviating some of the gloom of the British defeats of 1940-42). In 1943 Mussolini was overthrown in a palace coup. By 1944 he was freed by Otto Skorzeny, Hitler's favorite special agent, and set up in northern Italy as head of "The Republic of Salo". It was a temporary success for Il Duce. When the Nazis fell, so did he. Instead of that image I suggested at the start, he died in April 1945, shot by partisans, and hung upside down in a square in Milan.
This film does point out some favorable or partly favorable aspects to Il Duce. He did stimulate the country (far more than most of the politicians of the teens and twenties). He had mistresses, but he was a family man, with a daughter and two sons (one of whom was killed in Ethiopia). His daughter loved Ciano, and when the Count was involved in the palace coup (and subsequently captured by the Nazis), Mussolini did not interfere with his execution. Raul Julia does very well with his performance as Ciano, a weak man who gradually found he had to speak out (in his posthumous diaries) about the evils he saw. And in showing the emotional turmoil that Il Duce faced, George C. Scott does open up some sympathy for the dictator - but not much. His daughter never forgave him for not saving her husband.
I think the thing about Il Duce is that no matter how much evil he did, and how many people he killed, he was a family man. Hitler was not, and Stalin barely was. So he seems slightly more approachable to us than the others. It does not excuse his evil, but it slightly waters it down. This series managed to do this quite well.
I found it accurate (to a point) and one of George C. Scott's greatest works. This film did not receive the acclaim it should have. It must be seen to be appreciated.
I also recorded it in 1989 here in the UK on a VHS system.
The DVD is exactly the same running time today and is exactly the same program scene by scene.
Unless it was drastically cut by one and half hours before it was originally broadcast,I cannot see how it was seven hours long.
All three programs are exactly the same running length.
This does not detract from the program which I think is an excellent portrayal of a man who was corrupt, immoral, and blinded by his own power and ideology.
The acting by George C Scott and Raul Julia is superb,who demonstrate the differences between the two men.
Although not always historically accurate, it does provoke thought about WWII not just from the usual UK/USA & Germany angle, but to the situation in Italy which was still only a country 50 years old and full of conflict after the results of the 1st world war.
I would recommend this to any person interested in a different aspect to troubled period.
One of histories great ironies lies in this: Had the Deuce avoided WWII which the Germans really didn't want him involved in anyway, he might have had the acclaim for glory that he vaingloriously sought.
The film presents with a degree of historical accuracy the terrible end to which Italy and its Deuce came as a result of the quest for glory. It comes as a shock that the Anglo-Americans would bomb Rome. Count Ciano lolling on the beach at Lido as the flying fortresses zoom over exclaims, "The Pope lives here." This film is an excellent warning for our time which has produced a new pied-piper. This one claims to personally talk to God. The Deuce at least had the good graces to be an atheist.
Scott was the right age to play Mussolini in his later years, but is less convincing in the earlier part of this massive two-disc, six hour miniseries. On the other hand, try to find an actor who could convincingly complement Scott for the earlier parts of the story, especially when George is the star name that sold this program in the first place.
There are similar hurdles to get over in order to really enjoy this miniseries for what it is: an American take on a distinctly Italian subject. Despite a first-rate small screen director in William A. Graham (the "other" Billy Graham, he will tell you, with good humour), the production has a bargain basement look to some of its scenes. Even those involving European locations. The background artists also look less than enthusiastic, as if they didn't know why they are doing whatever they are supposed to be doing in any given scene.
BUT--and here is just one man's opinion, George C. Scott is worth seeing in almost anything. Seeing the actor who won an Oscar (and famously refused it) for playing General George S. Patton take on the opposite side of the military coin, as it were, is fascinating. Especially since Scott is best remembered for playing Patton. Was he trying to show his virtuosity as an actor? Was he trying to eradicate the public's pigeon-holing him as one of the U.S.'s most famous warriors?
Given that it was around this time that Scott resurrected Patton in the so-so TV movie THE LAST DAYS OF PATTON, it seems likely he was simply looking for a good role.
MILD SPOILER BELOW! Whatever his reasons, Scott is magnificent as Il Duce, at times despicable (as in his treatment of a female English journalist which would fit right in with current headlines involving men who abuse their power) and at other times tender and loving towards his family.
Scott is limited at times by the production values and especially in the scenes when he is supposed to be younger, but even medium Scott is great Scott, in my books. Scott is well-supported by some big names: Lee Grant as his long-suffering wife, the luminous Virginia Madsen as his mistress, and as his three oldest children, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Gabriel Byrne and, surprisingly and effectively, Robert Downey, before he added the "Jr." to his name. Raul Julia also shows up as Duce's son-in-law, count Ciano, but he pales in comparison to Anthony Hopkin's performance in the same role for another Mussolini miniseries also made in 1985.
The bottom line here is while MUSSOLINI: THE UNTOLD STORY is not in the same league as, say, THE WINDS OF WAR and its even greater sequel WAR & REMEMBRANCE, it is still the canvas upon which the reviled Italian dictator's life is painted by one the 20th-Century's most powerful actors. How much you like Scott will influence how much you like this miniseries. And were it not for these ground-breaking miniseries in the first place, we would likely still be stuck in the old-style weekly series format, emphasizing one main plot per week, instead of allowing room for multiple story arcs and deeper characterizations, which are the norm today.
Mussolini, newspaper editor came to power after total Italian disillusion with World War I and their participation in it. Probably most in Italy felt they should have stayed out. They started as an ally to Germany and Austro-Hungary with the Central Powers. Then overnight they switched sides and fought a bloody war of attrition for three years. A post war depression with a lot of parliamentary politicians unable to solve an economic crisis and Italy was in the mood to listen to anyone promising prosperity and stability.
How stable? Italy was a kingdom ruled by the House of Savoy. King Victor Emanuel gave Benito Mussolini the seal of office and as Prime Minister he ruled for over 20 years under those auspices. Another war removed him though the Nazis tried to prop him up.
With the trappings of democracy Mussolini ruled as dictator with a dummy parliament and reserved unto himself the title of Il Duce. Just like his chum Adolph Hitler appropriated Der Furhrer for himself.
Unlike Hitler who was an aesthete and maybe impotent, Mussolini liked living large. Married with a family, his wife played by Lee Grant here he had one voracious appetite for the opposite sex. There is a famous story of how he raped a famous American correspondent, most likely Dorothy Thompson which is reenacted here. Did this past election ever bring that one to the forefront of my viewing memories.
In the end all Mussolini had was his mistress Clara Petacci or I should say the last and most well known of them. Virginia Madsen plays Clara exactly as she was a rather naive and stupid groupie. Take note of Robert Downey, Jr. playing Bruno Mussolini, a favored younger son, a chip off the old block who was killed in World War II.
Still the main feature of Mussolini: The Untold Story is a fascinating and compelling performance by George C. Scott. As Il Duce Scott is the real deal. And instructive in light of an uncertain future America faces.
Some of the liberties they took, from having Mussolini bravely meeting his death (he didn't!) or the made up scene of him raping a reporter (he didn't), are dramatic license, but the biggest problem is downplaying how he became Hitler's partner in crime. Hitler is a minor character in this film.
I guess the biggest problem is that it makes Mussolini sympathetic, when the man deserved no sympathy. He was at best a guy who facilitated evil and at worst, an active participant.
One scene disturbed me. It was when Mussolini brutally raped American journalist Dorothy Thompson (played by Deborah Norton who was superb in Yes, Prime Minister) on his office desk, with two guards standing outside looking very uncomfortable. I wondered how Mussolini was able to get away with this crime. But I later learned this incident never happened in real life.