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General della Rovere (Il generale della Rovere) is a 1959 film from Italy directed by Roberto Rossellini.

The film is set in Genoa in 1944 in the dying days of Fascist Italy—the Germans have occupied the country and installed Benito Mussolini as a puppet, while the Allies hold the southern part of the country. Vittorio De Sica (more famous as a director of films like Bicycle Thieves) plays Emanuele Bardone, a petty criminal who masquerades as "Colonel Grimaldi" and affects the manner of an aristocrat. He is in cahoots with a German sergeant, running a scheme in which Bardone collects bribe money from locals whose loved ones are in the hands of the Germans, then splits the money with the sergeant. Sometimes, they actually get a person out.

Eventually he gets busted. Bardone makes the mistake of coming to a particular woman and telling her that he's prevented her husband's deportation, only for the woman to tell him her husband was shot. Bardone is arrested for bribery.

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Meanwhile, an anti-fascist Italian officer, one General della Rovere, tries to infiltrate enemy lines only to be almost immediately caught and shot by the Germans manning a roadblock. SS Col. Müller, head of the German garrison in Genoa, hits on an idea. He will have Emanuele Bardone impersonate the general! Bardone will be put in a jail for political prisoners, and, while posing as the general, will glean intelligence which he will share with Col. Müller.

But will Bardone play along?


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Tropes:

  • Becoming the Mask: Bardone, a con artist and weasel, is asked to impersonate a hero of La Résistance. In the end he becomes a hero of the resistance, accepting death by firing squad rather than give over the identity of a covert operative, when he could have gotten a big cash bonus and a ticket to Switzerland.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: A radio erupts to life to broadcast a news report of stalemated battle lines at Anzio (thus fixing the date of the story to January-May 1944), then becomes silent again.
  • Creator Cameo: Rossellini can be seen as a nervous-looking man at the Gestapo office.
  • Driven to Suicide: Branchetti, who managed to avoid revealing Fabrizio's identity despite a brutal round of torture, kills himself so that he won't break when the Nazis torture him again.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Bardone bravely faces execution by firing squad rather than betray a resistance leader.
  • Fatal Family Photo: An unusual example in that it's someone else's family. But towards the end Bardone gets a letter from the real Della Rovere's wife, complete with a picture of her and her two sons. It helps Bardone in Becoming the Mask.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Olga, who apparently was once Bardone's lover and still carries a torch for him. When Bardone can't sell a fancy ring for 50,000 lira—it's fake—Olga finally tries to buy it despite knowing its fake. When he won't sell to her, she simply gives him 30,000 lira, all she has.
  • La Résistance: The real della Rovere is shot before he can join them. Bardone accepts death by firing squad rather than expose the identity of "Fabrizio", a resistance leader who is among the men arrested in a roundup and being held with Bardone.
  • Lingerie Scene: An entire Fanservice scene is dedicated to Bardone's luscious young lover Valeria lounging around the bedroom in a very tight silk nightie, while the two of them snipe at each other.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Col. Müller, furious that the roadblock guards shot the real della Rovere instead of taking him alive, orders that all of them be transferred to the Russian front.
  • Shot at Dawn: Bardone is shot by firing squad, along with several other prisoners, keeping the secret of "Fabrizio" to the end.
  • Spy Speak: The radio operator on the submarine dropping off the real General della Rovere broadcasts the code message "The piano tuner has arrived" to the La Résistance people picking him up.
  • Stock Footage: A lot of Allied bombing of Genoa (an important port city), and of the damage caused.
  • Translation by Volume: Lampshaded. Col. Müller's driver screams at Bardone in German, only for Col. Müller to roll his eyes and tell the driver that obviously Rovere doesn't speak German and won't understand.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Col. Müller says this word-for-word (well, word-for-word in Italian) when trying to get Banchelli to reveal which prisoner is "Fabrizio". When Banchelli doesn't talk, the torture commences.
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