DISCOVER--fifteen films that nail fascism that aren't Salo

by jonabbott56 | created - 03 Aug 2013 | updated - 27 Mar 2016 | Public

I've watched Pasolini's Salo twice now, enduring it the second time because everyone else continues to praise it as a scathing indictment of fascism. I still can't see it; for me it's just a series of brutal incidents that explain nothing, with no character delineation and everything in basic black and white. It's not even a particularly well made film. The films listed below, however, I feel illustrate quite accurately and painfully how totalitarianism and authoritarian bullying does--and more often doesn't--work.

I wouldn't dream of calling this a complete or comprehensive list. Like most people, fascism isn't top of my list for fun film watching... but every so often a semblance of reality seeps into my comfort zone. Remember--all politicians are scum, but if you don't vote, the nutters get a bigger percentage... and they're the first ones to show up at the ballot box...

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1. Senso '45 (2002)

Unrated | 128 min | Drama, Romance, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.2/10 X  

Trapped in an unhappy marriage, the wife of a high ranking Fascist official starts a dangerous, self-destructive relationship with a duplicitous S.S. Officer.

Director: Tinto Brass | Stars: Anna Galiena, Gabriel Garko, Franco Branciaroli, Antonio Salines

Votes: 1,308

For me, Tinto Brass' Salon Kitty was another celebrated film about fascism that didn't work, but he was far more successful with Black Angel, throughout which the oppressive fear of totalitarianism runs throughout. So often the films that best capture the atmosphere and mood of fascism are those which employ it as a a backdrop to the main action.

2. Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)

Not Rated | 84 min | Family, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  

The Daleks' fiendish plot in 2150 against Earth and its people is foiled when Dr. Who and friends arrive from the 20th century and figure it out.

Director: Gordon Flemyng | Stars: Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir

Votes: 2,631

While the first Dalek story and subsequent film in the Doctor Who canon set the tone for all future stories with its peace-loving pacifist Thals and evil oppressors, it was the second serial and subsequent feature film version with the fascistic Daleks invading Earth, that best captured the theme. Images of a barren London and plundered countryside peopled by slaves and freedom fighters alike living in bleak abject misery were powerful stuff for a kiddie show in the 1960s.

3. Demolition Man (1993)

R | 115 min | Action, Crime, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
34 Metascore

A police officer is brought out of suspended animation in prison to pursue an old ultra-violent nemesis who is loose in a non-violent future society.

Director: Marco Brambilla | Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne

Votes: 134,919 | Gross: $58.06M

A wicked satire of the sanitised and over-protective Nanny State is the backdrop for this standard sci-fi actioner with a B-film plot. How much do we really want to be protected by the authorities, and at what cost? The scene where Stallone finds himself without toilet paper and so swears repeatedly at a machine that issues on-the-spot tickets for foul language is a doozy. There is no greater weapon in the fight against the PC bully than humour and ridicule.

4. Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (2006)

R | 113 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
72 Metascore

A look at the glamorous life at an old-world Prague hotel.

Director: Jirí Menzel | Stars: Ivan Barnev, Oldrich Kaiser, Julia Jentsch, Marián Labuda

Votes: 6,618 | Gross: $0.62M

I don't know what film the guy who wrote the plot synopsis was watching, but this film set in Nazi-occupied Europe is about the day to day struggle of simply trying to survive in a wretched world that is not of your own making. The lead in this film makes compromises, turns his head, closes his eyes, and eventually has to live with what he has seen and done to get on during the war years at a time when the outcome was far from certain. He's not wicked, but weak, selfish rather than selfless. There must have been thousands of him.

5. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

R | 153 min | Adventure, Drama, War

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
69 Metascore

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a plan to assassinate Nazi leaders by a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers coincides with a theatre owner's vengeful plans for the same.

Directors: Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth | Stars: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Mélanie Laurent

Votes: 1,002,604 | Gross: $120.54M

I think we can call this one a win...

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Approved | 80 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.

Director: Don Siegel | Stars: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan

Votes: 37,591

A sci-fi satire on 1950s conformity that ultimately turned out to be quite unnecessary as ten years later there was no such thing... er, until the 1980s arrived, and pod people were everywhere!

7. Jubilee (1978)

Not Rated | 106 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  

Queen Elisabeth I travels 400 years into the future to witness the appalling revelation of a dystopian London overrun by corruption and a vicious gang of punk guerrilla girls led by the new Monarch of Punk.

Director: Derek Jarman | Stars: Jenny Runacre, Nell Campbell, Toyah Willcox, Jordan

Votes: 2,229

Derek Jarman's amusing escalation of 1970s malaise leading to lawlessness and heavy-handed policing in a broken-down Britain is all the more extraordinary when you realise that the 1980s hadn't even started yet. Terrible amateurish performances from the cast, but some great ideas alongside the ultimate realisation that there's not a great deal of difference between anarchy and fascism--the end result is much the same, with everyone living in despondency and fear.

8. Lawman (1971)

R | 99 min | Western

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A lawman from Bannock arrives in Sabbath to arrest all the cattlemen whose wild celebration the year before resulted in the accidental death of an old man.

Director: Michael Winner | Stars: Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall

Votes: 3,158

A powerful rancher's wayward sons and staff go on a loutish drunken rampage with their pay packets and accidentally kill a man. In rides ruthless lawman Burt Lancaster to administer frontier justice. Fairly straightforward, you'd think, and we've seen it all before, but as the merciless carnage progresses, even the most rabid law and order zealot will start to think--hang on a minute... How about a jail sentence, or even a trial maybe? The law of averages is equally unforgiving, so it stands to reason that Michael Winner had to make a good film one day, and this one is excellent, cleverly reversing expectations as the lawman marches mercilessly forward until all involved are in boxes.

9. Magnum Force (1973)

R | 124 min | Action, Crime, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Dirty Harry is on the trail of vigilante cops who are not above going beyond the law to kill the city's undesirables.

Director: Ted Post | Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Mitchell Ryan, David Soul

Votes: 47,160

When the original Dirty Harry, while very difficult to take seriously, was justly labelled fascist by hand-wringing liberal critics for its rather unambiguous take on right and wrong, the makers cleverly responded with this sequel, in which a hanging judge enlists three brutal motorcycle cops to administer terminal justice to bad guys the courts had failed to convict. By pitting reasonable and fair Harry against pure, undiluted vigilanteism, Clint and co. rather ingeniously repositioned Make-my-day Harry as a slightly unconventional moderate!

10. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

R | 118 min | Drama, Fantasy, War

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
98 Metascore

In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.

Director: Guillermo del Toro | Stars: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú

Votes: 518,406 | Gross: $37.63M

Fascism's profound lack of wonder and imagination, and intolerance for same provides the backdrop for this beautifully realised fairytale that positions itself perfectly to avoid all the usual traps that so often befall such fare. Still one of a kind.

11. Private Vices, Public Pleasures (1976)

104 min | Drama, History

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  

Rudolf is a good-natured pan-sexual golden boy, who cavorts on his rural estate with a host of beautiful, aristocratic lovers and friends of both sexes. He refuses to leave his country ... See full summary »

Director: Miklós Jancsó | Stars: Lajos Balázsovits, Pamela Villoresi, Franco Branciaroli, Teresa Ann Savoy

Votes: 492

The bad guys win in this joyous celebration of eroticism based on the Meyerling affair in Austrian-Russian politics... although it might be argued that the young hedonists did more living in their short lives than the forces of darkness will ever enjoy.

12. Sleeper (1973)

PG | 89 min | Comedy, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
77 Metascore

A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government.

Director: Woody Allen | Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mary Gregory

Votes: 35,701

Magnificent... A treasure trove of tiny jewels, each one sparkling in a different way. The nerdy owner of a health food shop goes into hospital for a minor operation and wakes up two hundred years in the future to discover that scientists have discovered steak and sweets were good for you and that America is an incompetent totalitarian dictatorship populated by idiots (it could never happen...). He promptly becomes implicated with bone-headed revolutionaries and a bourgeois airhead (Diane Keaton, marvellous). Writer, director and star Woody Allen was hilarious before he got all precious about film, and this little gem overflows with inspiration, insight, and some great visual gags, physical comedy, wit, satire, and slapstick. Not only hasn't it dated, it's more relevant than ever. Takes no prisoners, takes no sides. His best film?

13. Soylent Green (1973)

PG | 97 min | Crime, Mystery, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

In the world ravaged by the greenhouse effect and overpopulation, an NYPD detective investigates the murder of a big company CEO.

Director: Richard Fleischer | Stars: Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Connors

Votes: 48,602

A sort of big budget Twilight Zone story built around the 1970s bogeyman of over-population, with the memorable image of the dissenting populace being inhumanly and callously scooped up by indifferent industrial diggers and the elderly being gently invited into the welcoming embrace of comforting state-sponsored euthanasia.

14. THX 1138 (1971)

R | 86 min | Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
75 Metascore

In the twenty-fifth century, a time when people have designations instead of names, a man, THX 1138, and a woman, LUH 3417, rebel against their rigidly controlled society.

Director: George Lucas | Stars: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie

Votes: 42,122 | Gross: $2.44M

A bleak sc-fi parable in the 1984/Brave New World manner about an entire society being lied to by their invisible masters. Mechanical cops that issue meaningless soothing reassurances while they beat the crap out of people are just one discomfiting prediction.

15. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

R | 171 min | Drama, Romance

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In 1968, a Czech doctor with an active sex life meets a woman who wants monogamy, and then the Soviet invasion further disrupts their lives.

Director: Philip Kaufman | Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, Lena Olin, Derek de Lint

Votes: 29,163 | Gross: $10.01M

Saving the best until last? The invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russian tanks woke the world up in the self-satisfied '60s, and offers a chilling backdrop to this gentle romance as Bohemia gives way to pod-like conformity. Genuinely unsettling in its spot-on portrait of day to day life in a craven totalitarian world where some adapt more easily than others.

Jon is not on Facebook, but can reply to comments here, at the base of this list.

Thank you, Ryan!

Obsessed with the popular culture of the 1960s and surrounding decades, Jon Abbott has been writing about film and TV for over thirty years in around two dozen different publications, trade, populist, and specialist. He is the author of several books, including

Irwin Allen Television Productions 1964-1970, Stephen J. Cannell Television Productions: A History of All Series and Pilots, The Elvis Films, Cool TV of the 1960s: Three Shows That Changed the World, and Strange New World: Sex Films of the 1970s.

See his Amazon author's page, and his other lists on the IMDB, all under the pre-fix DISCOVER.