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Italy, 1959 (MIFF 1960, Programme 24)

Director: Roberto Rossellini

In 1959, General Della Rovere received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Festival and the O.I.C.C. Award; thus, it is the first significant film to be made in many years by the noted director of Open City.

The story belongs to the time of the German occupation of Northern Italy. Bertone, a petty blackmailer and swindler, is unmasked by Colonel Mueller, Commander of the S.S. in Italy. Impressed by the strong personality of the man, Mueller decides to use him to impersonate General Della Rovere, whom the Germans had previously killed. In order to ferret out the Italian resistance leaders, Bertone, as the general, is sent to Milan's San Vittore prison. Once there, he identifies himself with the General. His role is convincing; he gains the respect of the prisoners who believe him to be their head - General Della Rovere; right-hand man of Badoglio's anti-Fascist Rome Government.

One day, the Germans introduce a group of prisoners into the prison, aware that among them is Fabrizio, a resistance leader, who is certain to contact the "General". But the false general is shaken by a crisis of conscience, touched deeply by his fellow-prisoners' behaviour and their respect for him; feeling that he has become more and more one with them he refuses to continue his informer's work.

While the immediacy of Rossellini's neo-realist classics is absent in this dramatic reconstruction, he has obviously been impressed by this material more than any he has directed since, and the result is often intriguing, gripping, moving, sometimes even amusing, but always significant.

Vittoria De Sica gives his best performance for some time as the "General". Hannes Messemer superbly plays the Gestapo Colonel, whilst also effective are Vittorio Caproli's tortured fellow prisoner, and Sandra Milo's prostitute.

Throughout, however, it is unquestionably the hand of the director which gives a unity of style and tone to this document of its time.

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