Massacre in Rome
Cast & Crew
In the Nazi occupied city of Rome, an assault on an SS brigade draws retaliation from the military governship. "Massacre in Rome" is the true story of how this partisan attack led to the mass execution of Italian nationals under the orders of SS-Lieutenant Colonel Kappler.
Massacre in Rome on DVD
The Carlo Ponti production was an early film by George Pan Cosmatos, well known as the director of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Tombstone. We can understand why the film didn't receive a wider distribution stateside: In the better original track all of the big-name English actors are dubbed into Italian, even though they mostly play Germans. Without their distinctive voices, talents like Richard Burton and Leo McKern are robbed of much of their appeal. When Italians and Germans are dubbed in English for the export copy, the whole show sounds phony.
Synopsis: Partisans use an improvised bomb to massacre 33 German SS soldiers on the streets of Rome, and the call goes out for retribution - ten Italians for every German. Father Pietro Antonelli (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lt. Colonel Herbert Kappler (Richard Burton) share a love of art but fall on opposite sides of the executions, which are ordered to take place within twenty-four hours. When SS commander Col. Dollman (John Steiner) refuses, General Kurt Maezler (Leo McKern) gives the barbaric order to Kappler, who chooses to implement it with the utmost precision. It's easy -- too easy -- to find parallels between the events of March 23-24 in Rome and the experience of modern troops occupying foreign nations. To hasten the liberation of Rome, partisan fighters organize an ambush on the Via Rasella and use a bomb to blow an entire column of marching SS troops to bits. Outraged calls to raze the neighborhood and slaughter 50 Italians for every German are scaled back by Berlin: No demolition and a kill ratio of only ten to one -- the Nazi idea of restraint. Some of the partisans wore uniforms and thus label their attack a military operation. The Germans dismiss them as terrorists and decree that the rules of war do not apply.
Massacre in Rome is a docudrama with an inordinate amount of philosophizing. Richard Burton's Colonel debates with Marcello Mastroianni's priest and anyone else who will listen. He would seem to be a sensitive man, until the time comes to carry out his orders. Leo McKern's buffoonish general plays piano at a decadent party, which director George Pan Cosmatos intercuts with a partisan being tortured at Gestapo headquarters. Marcello Mastroianni's church superior Father Pancrazio (Robert Harris) relays the Pope's instructions - keep the peace and comfort those that suffer, but don't interfere in the reprisals because the alternative to the Nazis are godless Communists and anarchists. The Fascist Chief of Police is likewise abandoned by Mussolini bureaucrats interested only in surviving the coming liberation.
The regular German Army and the SS refuse to get involved in the massacre, with an eye to the liberation but also aware that Italy is not far-off Poland, where atrocities can be committed with relative anonymity. Given only twenty hours to assemble and liquidate 335 victims in a way that won't ignite riots, Colonel Kappler orders his own staff -- officers with little experience in killing -- to serve as executioners. This part of the picture could be called Kappler's List in that the Colonel must scramble to find enough candidates to fill his quota. Rome has only a few prisoners on death row, so Kappler adds those awaiting sentencing for capital crimes. As time runs out, he pulls in practically every prisoner already in custody, with Jews heading the list. The Fascist police chief frets for hours to come up with a list of 50 political expendables, and finishes a few minutes past his deadline. But Kappler has already instructed his troops to empty out the local prisons, with orders to take the Italian guards should they resist.
All this horrible efficiency eventually ends with the mass killing at the Via Ardeatine Grotto, some man-made caves 2.5 kilometers from Kappler's own headquarters. The sequence avoids direct sensationalism but isn't all that impressive either; the images never confront the enormity of the crime. A surprise ending also has little impact, as we've already guessed the identity of a last-minute addition to the victim list. Massacre in Rome is a sincere effort to dramatize one of the war's more visible atrocities, and by and large it succeeds.
Mastroianni and Burton are convincing enough, although Burton has the edge with a character making dark decisions under pressure. It's always interesting to see how Europeans present their war experience in films, but somewhat frustrating when marketing requires that lead German roles be played by Englishmen. The language confusion has other ill effects. Because the Germans speak Italian, they never seem 'German' enough. And on the all-English track everyone sounds false. The production is adequate but seems to thin out at the end, when limited camera angles cannot hide the lack of hundreds of extras. Only a handful of trucks are seen, and we don't really believe they're full of Italian prisoners.
According to English author Sir Christopher Frayling, the Via Ardeatine massacre was the historical inspiration for the mass killing of Mexican revolutionaries and their families in Sergio Leone's Duck You Sucker, 1971.
NoShame's Massacre in Rome is an attractive show on DVD. The enhanced transfer is from original elements; the color scheme tends to lean a little toward greenish tints. The film has Italian mono and English stereo tracks so viewers can choose which star will speak in his native tongue. It's too bad nobody thought to cobble a hybrid track combining Italian with German, just for verisimilitude.
Disc one has two trailers (although the English one uses an Italian track as well) and a poster and still gallery. Disc two has interviews with the late director Cosmatos, cameraman Marcello Gotti and an archived interview with Marcello Mastroianni. Equally interesting are three lengthy interview featurettes about the true events of the massacre, with two real-life partisans and historian Sandro Portelli. An attractive liner booklet contains excellent essays on the film and its makers written by Richard Harland Smith.
For more information about Massacre in Rome, visit NoShame Films. To order Massacre in Rome, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Massacre in Rome on DVD
TCM Remembers - Leo McKern
TCM REMEMBERS LEO MCKERN, 1920-2002
The recent death of Leo McKern, 82, marked the passing of one of Britain's finest and most respected character actors. He was suffering from ill health in recent years and was moved to a nursing home a few weeks before his death on July 23 2002 in Bath, England. An actor of commanding presence with a deep-throated voice, the portly, bulbous-nosed McKern had a long, distinguished career spanning more than half a century, earning numerous plaudits along the way in all major mediums: theatre, film and television.
Born Reginald McKern on March 16, 1920 in Sydney, Australia; he served with the Australian Army during World War II and worked in regional theatre in his native Sydney before immigrating to England in 1946. It was a slow start, but after a three-year apprenticeship of painting scenery, stage-managing and acting, McKern eventually joined the celebrated Old Vic theatrical company in 1949 and proved one of the more versatile actors in the troupe tackling diverse roles in comedy, the classics and serious contemporary parts.
His film debut came in Murder in the Cathedral (1952) but it took a few years before he made his mark in cinema. Some of his best film work included roles as Peter Sellers' comic henchman in the classic satire The Mouse That Roared (1959); a bungling train robber in the charming Disney film The Horse Without a Head (1963); a nefarious professor who kills off his colleagues for amusement in the brilliant black comedy A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964); Clang, a cartoonish villain in the Beatles' pop film Help! (1965); Cromwell, the persecutor of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and as Thomas Ryan in the David Lean drama, Ryan's Daughter (1970).
Yet despite all the accolades McKern earned in theatre and films, it was television where he foundinternational fame as the wily, irascible barrister Horace P. Rumpole in John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey in 1975. Infusing the character with beguiling skill and energy, McKern made the acerbic, wine swilling, Tennyson-quoting Rumpole a much loved figure that was adored by critics, audiences and even its creator Mortimer. Perhaps Mortimer offered the most fitting tribute when he once referred to McKern - "His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet above the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality." Enough said.
By Michael T. Toole
KATY JURADO, 1924 - 2002
Katy Jurado, an Oscar nominee and major actress in Westerns, died July 5th at the age of 78. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico on January 16th 1924 as Maria Cristina Estella Marcela Jurado Garcia, daughter of a cattle rancher and an opera singer. Jurado started to appear in Mexican films in 1943. After 15 films in her native country, director Budd Boetticher saw Jurado attending a bullfight (Jurado wrote about the subject for Mexican newspapers) and cast her in his Bullfighter and the Lady (1952), her Hollywood debut. For much of her career Jurado alternated between the two film industries. In the US, she was memorable for the sensual energy she brought to roles in High Noon (1952), One-Eyed Jacks (1961) which was directed by Marlon Brando, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and John Huston's Under the Volcano (1984). She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for Broken Lance (1954). Jurado's Mexican films were in a broader range of genres and included Luis Bunuel's El Bruto (1952), Ismael Rodriguez's We the Poor and Miguel Littin's The Widow Montiel (1979). She won three Ariel Awards (Mexican equivalent to the Oscars) and one special award. She was married to Ernest Borgnine from the end of 1959 to summer 1963. One of her final films was The Hi-Lo Country (1998), a contemporary Western directed by Stephen Frears and co-starring Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Penelope Cruz.
by Lang Thompson
DOLORES GRAY, 1924 - 2002
Broadway and nightclub star Dolores Gray died June 26th at the age of 78. Her movie career was brief but consisted of high-profile MGM musicals which guaranteed her a place in film history. Gray was born in Chicago on June 7th, 1924 (and where, according to a common story, she was accidentally shot by a gangster as a child and had a bullet in her lung her entire life). As a teenager she began singing in California until Rudy Vallee featured her on his radio show. Gray moved to Broadway in 1944 and then to the London stage in 1947, solidifying her reputation as a singer/actress while constantly giving the gossip columnists plenty to write about. She had two small singing roles in Lady for a Night (1941) and Mr. Skeffington (1944) but didn't really light up the big screen until It's Always Fair Weather (1955) even though Gray reportedly didn't much care for the role. Her rendition of "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks," which has her gunning down a slew of male dancers on-stage and kicking them through trap doors, is a genuine showstopper. Three more unforgettable musical roles quickly followed: Kismet (1955), The Opposite Sex (1956, which Gray turned down Funny Face to do) and Designing Women (1957). That was it for Gray's film career. She kept busy with TV appearances (mostly singing though she did one 1988 episode of the cult show Dr. Who) and a busy recording and nightclub schedule. In 1987, she appeared in a British production of Follies at Stephen Sondheim's request.
by Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Leo McKern
I would prefer a world that didn't need protecting.- Father Pietro Antonelli
And I would prefer a religion that didn't need priests.- Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973