Often considered one of the great but "secondary" works of the Italian postwar neo-realist period, this film is almost entirely forgotten and unseen today, unlike Rossellini's benchmark "Rome Open City", made a year earlier, and which is widely known everywhere and is a staple of film classes and to which this effort bears superficial similarities.
Created by the Italian (Communist) partisan organization at the end of the war, it was dedicated to "those who fell so that the country might be reborn." It takes as its starting point the events of September 8, 1943 after Marshall Badoglio signed an armistice with the Allies, and the Italian army was pretty much disbanded. What followed was at first a free-for all (one that would be described vividly in Comencini's much later film with Alberto Sordi, "Everybody go Home"/"Tutti a casa.") Uniforms were thrown off; many tried to reach their homes, join partisan bands fighting the Germans, the former ally which was now the enemy. Others, under pain of execution, had to report for service in the new Italian Social Republic army created by the Nazis and hard-core fascists under under a re-installed Mussolini in the North.
The war was far from over, as everyone thought with the fall of Mussolini in the south and Marshall Badoglio's armistice. Instead its worst and cruelest phase had begun, a civil war, and a war against an occupying enemy. One character says, "We thought we were at the end. Instead we are at the beginning again." The events portrayed are between 1943 and 1945 and involve the confusion, mayhem, and struggle in a Lombardian farm village.
Besides the resistors, there is too a collaborationist upper class that has only its own preservation in mind. Hero Cesare is torn between two women, one a freedom fighter (Lea Padovani), the other a collaborationist dame (Elli Parvo). The film displays a kind of "coralità" or group drama.
There is a wild cowboys-and-Indians style sequence in which the German Major Heinrich (Massimo Serato)and his German soldiers go on go on a rampage involving horses, the gunning down of partisans. It might have come from a western movie if there were different uniforms and a few Conestoga wagons. The last scenes with the partisans routing the Germans (cavalry to the rescue) is especially exciting.
There are many heroes and villains in this story. Much it focuses on Cesare (Vittorio Duse) who brings help to the partisans in the hills. A priest, Don Cesare, plays his role in the resistance too, much as Aldo Fabrizi/Don Pietro in "Open City" and pays with his life. He is played by the young Carlo Lizzani, who became an important director himself. Even Gillo Pontecorvo, who has a small role, might have been inspired here when making his "Battle of Algiers" a couple of decades later.
Director Aldo Vergano does brings excitement to the events, but in a way which sometimes detracts from the human drama. "Open City" is a much greater film There is nothing in this movie, despite the inherent force of what we see that moves us in a way that, say, the death of Anna Magnani or Aldo Fabrizi in "Open City" does.
The film played widely in the U.S. in 1949 and 1950 under the title of "Outcry" in some of the same art houses that had shown "Open City" and "Paisan." It garnered some good reviews, was deemed interesting but not as powerful as its predecessors, then disappeared. It really ought to be more widely known today, despite some of its flaws.
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