The Last Four Days


Director: Carlo Lizzani
Year: 1974
Rating: 6.0
Country: Italy

This Italian production is surprisingly tense considering that I think most of us know how Mussolini's last days end. I wasn't aware though of just how complicated the political situation was. As far as I can tell this is fairly historically accurate with many of the scenes being shot where they actually took place. The film is in Italian but has two big American stars in it - Henry Fonda as Cardinal Schuster and Rod Steiger as Mussolini. Both are dubbed into Italian. Steiger plays Mussolini fairly low-key throughout with only an occasional whiff of his bravado on display. And though we know what a monster Mussolini was, Steiger makes his situation and him somewhat sympathetic so that when the end comes you feel a little regret.

But a monster he was. Mussolini later came to be considered a puppet to Hitler but Mussolini was the first in Europe to take on the fascist mantle and become a dictator. Hitler and Franco were to follow. Both Hitler and Mussolini interestingly got there initially through democracy - a lesson to us all - as Mussolini was elected Prime Minister in 1922 and in 1925 took over total power. At first he was quite admired in America and a hero to Italian-Americans but his foolish and costly war in Ethiopia in which hundreds of thousands of natives were killed, his assistance to Franco in the Spanish Civil War and his alliance with Germany turned him into a villain. He had visions of conquering the world with Germany but in truth his Italian army was a disaster, never able to contribute very much and needing the German army to take over for all purposes when the Americans invaded and who had to rescue him from prison in 1943.

By April 1945 it was nearly all over. The Americans had taken over most of Italy other than Milan and areas to the north, the Germans were surrendering, Mussolini's black shirts were vanishing like rats on a sinking ship, the partisans were everywhere and the Italian army was no more. Mussolini's thinking is all over the place - one moment thinking he could put up a resistance in the mountains; at another time trying to contact Churchill to make a deal with him - that they join up and fight the Communists; or perhaps surrendering to the Americans where he will be safe and then finally attempting to flee to Switzerland with his mistress Claretta Petacci.

He and his band of fascists that remain by his side begin to conspire to leave Milan - by having to ditch the Germans "protecting" him but in truth making sure that he doesn't skip out. The Americans are trying to get to him as well and have an agreement with the new Italian government to have him handed over to them, the Partisans are looking for him but they are divided as well between those who want to hand him to the Americans and those who want to execute him. This is where Franco Nero finally shows up as the one who accepts the order to kill him before the Americans find him. On April 28th he and his mistress are taken out of a car by the side of the road and shot. Hitler was to die two days later.