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Last Days Of Mussolini
cast: Henry Fonda, Franco Nero, Lino Capolicchio, Umberto Raho, and Luciano Pigozzi

director: Carlo Lizzani

124 minutes (12) 1974
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Benito Mussolini - Il Duce - was a fascist leader defined by some of the more pertinent descriptors of what is a contested ideology. Comparisons are regularly drawn between Hitler and Mussolini, which are readily done on the basis of timing, what with both leaders in power at the time of the Second World War; but there were some major differences between their fascism in application. That in itself is a study for another day.

In Last Days Of Mussolini, director Carlo Lizzani pulls together a tight movie that concentrates on the final four days of the Italian dictator's life. Originally released in 1974, Last Days of Mussolini is a historical drama full of intrigue and no little passion. It is clear that Lizzani's mixed cast of Italian nationals and Hollywood heavyweights works well. Oscar winners in Rod Steiger and Henry Fonda play prominent roles in the production, as you would expect given that these two were massive stars in their heyday.

Steiger plays Il Duce in the title role and despite the banana skins that await an actor when playing such a historically prominent figure, Steiger does not disappoint. Fonda also puts in a commendable performance as the Milanese Cardinal and shows great aptitude in bringing home the callousness of the Italian clergy during Mussolini's reign. The fact that Mussolini had the support of an established religious order is a major difference in the regimes of his and Adolf Hitler's.

Despite its advancing years, Last Days Of Mussolini is a wonderfully well crafted movie that reminds us of the atrocities of the war - and with many of them done in pursuit of domestic domination. A fact that we can easily brush over as we are bombarded with foreign based Vietnam and 'war on terror' offerings. The final days of Mussolini's life are filled with suspense and reflection, two points that Lizzani brings to the fore here.

As well as trying to outrun partisan enemies at home, Mussolini is also being hunted by the Americans, led by the indefatigable Jack Donati. Eventually the totalitarian leader is brought to book when he is captured at Lake Como - which brings about some introspection on the part of Mussolini as he waits for his captors to decide his fate. Ennio Morricone's score is particularly resonant during these scenes.

The flashback scenes work with economical grace and afford the viewer the opportunity to get an insight into Mussolini's past as well as to understand the workings of his mind when captured. There are some notable performances from Italian and Italian-American actors such as Lino Capolicchio and Giacome Rossi-Stuart but Franco Nero stands out as the dictator's executioner.

It has been said that history itself is a contentious term, particularly in regard to conflict, as it is inevitably written by the victors; which in turn leads to a biased perspective given that impartiality is impossible to maintain, such is human nature. Either way, Last Days Of Mussolini is still a significant piece of movie-making and this re-launch on DVD is most welcome.
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