Originally published on this site here, in Italian.
Produced by: Jupiter Generale Cinematografica
Directed by: Francesco Massaro
Written by: Giuseppe D’Agata; Francesco Massaro; Ugo Pirro
Cinematography: Dario Di Palma
Editing by: Ruggero Mastroianni
Music by: Fiorenzo Carpi
Running time: approximately 92 minutes
Full movie (ITA) from Minerva Pictures’ YouTube channel
WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
An Italian Army officer (Ugo Tognazzi) recalls the main phases of WWII, the birth of the republic and the beginning of the Strategy of tension.
In a parallel universe, this could be the latest movie by Marco Tullio Giordana, or perhaps a noir directed by Francesco Rosi, and instead it’s an Italian comedy signed in 1972 by the then debutant Francesco Massaro.
Il Generale Dorme In Piedi is considered by most a modest comedy with great actors1, and even this may be true: this movie, in fact, has many of the defects of the Italian comedies of the Seventies.
But it also has something different.
It is always said that Italy has never really dealt with Fascism. This too, at least in part, is true. As evidence of this, and an echo is also present in this movie, during the so-called First Republic there were some strange, at first sight also botched, attempts of coup or presumed such, some of which carried on precisely with the contribution of neo-fascist subversives and veterans of the regime.
Il Generale Dorme In Piedi, even in the schemes of comedy, scratches the surface of this strange climate, halfway between European liberal democracy and the push towards Greek and Chilean Colonels.
And so Col. Umberto Leone relives the fragments of a past that never passes. In Libya, his stubbornness led him to clash with one of his superiors, from whom he will later receive a medal due to a perhaps necessary lie. In Greece, Leone, a veterinarian assigned to the mules of the Alpines, will be used to treat the Alpines themselves, but with excellent results. Thus began, in the glorious Italian tradition of the old hand, his career as a real military doctor, who, after the war, led him to direct the Scuola Superiore di Sanità2 in Florence.
And it is precisely in Italy that he will be involved, along with a reluctant but more democratic official (Franco Fabrizi), in what we now know as Piano Solo: sent to guard the lagers prepared in Sardinia for the political opponents, the soldiers pass some days in total boredom, to then be hastily recalled back3.
Of course, there is also a memory of the Badoglio Proclamation in September 8th, 1943: fortunately escaped from the Germans, Leone will even find himself aboard the Baionetta corvette, along with the Italian royal court.
In all these episodes, which Leone will novel in a memorial with a blackmailing flavor, his neurosis manifests, making him, in his sleep, talk as a perfect political opponent of Fascism, first, and of Italian democracy (attempted coup included), then: shouts against Mussolini, against the Savoys and Prince Umberto4, in favor of the Republic first and then even of the various communists, anarchists and extremists of the Left Wing5. And apparently he is not the only one to have these problems, in the Army.
What do the nocturnal ramblings of Leone mean? An intimate opposition to the various Italian political drifts? An intimate republican or revolutionary faith? And does the fact that others have the same problem tell us something about the conduct of the Country?
This, in fact, is not explained in the movie, nor, it must be said, is left to anything other than the free intuition of the viewer: Leone itself, moreover, does not seem to be placed in a precise political area, if not in a sort of indecisive, latent antagonism towards the various forms of State and Government that followed one another in Italy. In this uncertainty, perhaps, there is one of the traits that made this movie to be considered a modest comedy and nothing more6.
In reality, seen today, Il Generale Dorme In Piedi seems to fit, perhaps in a minor tone, into a whole Italian cinematographic tradition, that of the political movie. And it may be no coincidence that actors Ugo Tognazzi and Giancarlo Fusco, in addition to editor Ruggero Mastroianni, will return the following year in Vogliamo I Colonnelli by Monicelli.
Indeed, perhaps, flying a little with the imagination and playing with the most immediate sensations, one could almost imagine Il Generale Dorme In Piedi just like a sort of prequel of Vogliamo I Colonnelli: the narrative universe is more or less the same, the shabby and dialectal Italy we have seen in decades of comedies; the Country is obviously in the hands of a bunch of incompetents and ready for anything coup leaders; society is entangled in an indissoluble chain of connections, small blackmails, gray areas that, even if (as Longanesi said7) prevent the revolution from being made8, on the other hand have allowed that same society to cope with virtually all the upheavals possible and imaginable, from the Gothic War onwards, without being completely destroyed.
In short, a comedy with a slightly bitter taste, a political movie with some laughs, a parody of the Army in a very delicate moment in Republican history, great actors (also including Mario Scaccia, Mariangela Melato and Daniele Vargas, so far not mentioned, and Georges Wilson in a small part).
Maybe it’s not much, but it’s all in all enough to take a look at a movie that many people don’t even know.
Full movie (ITA) from Minerva Pictures’ YouTube channel
AA. VV.. Il Mereghetti. Dizionario Dei Film 2011. Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore S.p.a., Milano, 2010
FilmTV – https://www.filmtv.it/film/3006/il-generale-dorme-in-piedi/ (last visit 01/10/2019)
Il Davinotti – Trivia about the movie – https://www.davinotti.com/index.php?forum=40006646 (last visit 01/10/2019)
IMDB – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0175654/mediaviewer/rm50755584 (last visit 01/10/2019)
Italian Wikipedia – https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuola_di_Sanit%C3%A0_Militare (last visit 03/10/2019)
Malvino – Il blog di Luigi Gastaldi – http://malvinodue.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-italia-non-si-potra-mai-fare-una.html (last visit 06/10/2019)
- By the Mereghetti Dictionary, ed. 2011, Vol. 1, p. 1386, for example. Also this note on the FilmTV website is of a similar tenor.
- Which in reality is the Scuola di Sanità Militare: see the magical Wikipedia.
- It should be noted that, in reality, only the Carabinieri should have participated in the Piano Solo and not, as in this movie, the entire Army, of which the Carabinieri were also an integral part at the time.
- That Leone, in fact adhering to the fascist propaganda here, perhaps also because of his personal homophobia, would like to intern.
- Among them his own brother, whose reputation also owes his failure to promote General at the beginning of the movie.
- The same flong of the movie, after all, published on the forum of Davinotti, reports an enthusiastic opinion of the public for having finally seen “a just «so funny» movie“.
- Or perhaps Missiroli, as Giuliano Ferrara wrote, as referred here; or perhaps Flaiano, as it also occurred to me at the time of writing the draft, and as it almost seems to creep into the cited article; or perhaps even MEP Crescenzo Mazza, Member of the 1st Legislature, quoted in a comment to the article. Meh.
- A revolution, moreover, of which one could not say how much it was hoped, nor in what it would have consisted from time to time.