Il Federale (The Fascist) (1961)





Director:     Luciano Salce.

Starring:     Ugo Tognazzi (Primo Arcovazzi), Georges Wilson (Prof. Erminio Bonaf), Gianrico Tedeschi (Arcangelo Bardacci), Elsa Vazzoler (Matilde Bardacci), Mireille Granelli (Rita Bardacci), Gianni Agus (Capo del fascio di Cremona), Stefania Sandrelli (Lisa), Renzo Palmer (Partisan),  Luciano Salce (German officer).

an Italian fascist has to capture an anti-Mussolini professor; the fascists gets his man, but they have a series of mishaps getting back


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Rome 1944.  A group of clerics talk about for whom they are going to vote for prime minister?  They like this Prof. Erminio Bonaf

The professor talks with the clerics.  They tell him he must hide in one of his two houses.  After all, they might arrest the professor.  The professor can't believe it and asks why would they arrest him?

The Italian fascists are picking up people from the apartment building where the professor lives. The professor sees them as he rides home on his bicycle.  He gets so nervous that he rides the bike right into one of the fascists.  The fascist tells the professor to go home.  It's almost curfew and he has to be in his building in two minutes. 

A drill instructor teaches the new soldiers how to use the bayonet. 

The police are really mad.  The dragnet did not pick up the biggest fish:  the professor.  The captain says they should sent the drill instructor, Arcovazzi Primo, to go get the professor.  Over the loudspeaker, Primo, is called into the captain's office.  The captain asks him if he was in command of the dragnet the other day?  Yes, sir.  Well, the order was that no one escapes the dragnet.  And yet the biggest fish got away!  The man who got away was Bonaf, the leader of the Savoy-Badoglios, the future democratic President.  They call Primo an idiot.  Now his instructions are to go immediately to Villalago, Abruzzo.  They will give Primo only 48 hours in which to catch Bonaf.  And if he accomplishes this task, he will have a good shot for a promotion. 

Primo takes off, but he has to stop, turn around and admit he doesn't know who this Bonaf guy is.  They show him a photo of the man and it seems like he recognizes the professor, but he tells the captain that he doesn't know him. 

The professor is with his Aunt Enrica.  He explains that he couldn't stay in Rome because the police are looking for him.  The absent-minded aunt says maybe he came for Rosalba, a girl the professor once knew. 

Primo comes whipping around the corner on his motorcycle complete with a side car.  He slams on the brakes and parks the motorcycle. 

Rosalba calls out for Enrica and Auntie goes over to her and says that there is someone that has come for her.  She looks for the professor, but he has taken off.  The policeman shouts down to the two women that he is looking for Erminio Bonaf.  Auntie says he was here a minute ago.  Maybe he has gone into the house.  Primo checks out the house but does not find the professor.  After Auntie leaves, Rosalba points to the professor's hiding place.  Primo opens the bottom drawer of a large hutch and there is the professor.  Auntie and Rosalba just don't recognize how serious the situation is for the professor.  They think he is needed in Rome.  

The professor gets in the side car and they take off.  He passes some of his neighbors on the way to Rome.  One disappointed man comments that now even the professor has gone and joined the fascists!

On the ride to Rome the professor wants to reason with Primo.  But Primo tells the professor that he doesn't talk to prisoners of war. They pass a sign saying beware of bandits and then Primo's motorcycle runs out of gas. Primo goes to the back of the side car for a tin of gasoline.  He pours the gasoline into the gas tank, but has to drop the can onto the road when a bandit shoots a row of bullets at him.  Primo grabs the professor and they both jump off the side of the road for cover.  The professor tells him those men are not bandits, but partisans.  He adds that they should surrender.  If they don't, the partisans will attack at night and kill the policeman.  Primo says they will kill both of us.  The professor tells him no, they won't kill him, because they are on his side.  So Primo forces the professor onto the road and then walks behind him.  The professor shouts:  "Don't shoot!  I'm Bonaf!  I'm Professor Bonaf!"  His answer is a short burst of submachine gun fire that forces both men off the side of the road again. 

Primo thinks he has a way out.  He uses his pistol fire to start a gasoline fire for the gasoline has spilled all over the road.  He waits a little while until the fire is bigger and is putting out a lot of black smoke and then the professor and he jump onto the motorcycle and take off.  They get away from the bandits.  A road marker says it's 170 kilometers to Rome. 

The professor has Primo stop so he can urinate.  Primo does the same thing around the corner.  The professor takes off.  Primo shoots Bonaf's hat off his head and the professor stops dead in his tracks with his hands up. 

Primo starts doing tricks on his motorcycle to impress the professor.  A pretty girl runs into the road and Primo has to slam on his breaks, but it's too late and the motorcycle flies off the short cliff.  The two passengers fall out and the cycle stops farther down the hill.  The girl thinks she has killed the men, but finds out they are okay.  Primo is really mad at her and says that she just committed an act of sabotage.  He now goes to check on his motorcycle.  The girl tells the professor that her name is Lisa.  The professor can't find his glasses.  Lisa sees them and puts her backpack over them.  She then tries to sell the professor a pair of binoculars saying that these are better than glasses. 

She goes down to ask Primo if he will take her to Rome?  He says he should send her to Germany.  He says the cycle is a military vehicle and the professor is a prisoner of war.  He chases her back to the professor.  She grabs the professor's glasses, puts them on the professor's face and says she has these glassed she will sell him for only 150 lira.  The professor pays her.  She says goodbye and the professor tells Primo that the girl has a store in her backpack.  The glasses she sold him work better than his old pair.  Primo tells him the glasses are his old pair.  The professor is a bit surprised and disgusted. 

Primo asks the professor to help him fix the motorcycle, but the professor says the Geneva Convention says POWs do not have to collaborate with the enemy. 

Primo sees a truckload of German soldiers headed up the highway.  He is going to ask them for help with his motorcycle.  He runs out into the middle of the road.  At first the truck just goes around him, but it then stops a little ways down the road.  The Germans fix the cycle and then commandeer it.   Primo misunderstands and thinks they are just going to do a test drive of the cycle.  The professor straightens him out.  So now Primo starts yelling at the German officer that they can't take his cycle.  So two soldiers jump out of the back of the truck, grab the two Italians and throw them onto the back of the truck with the soldiers.  And away they go. 

They reach German headquarters.  A Lt. Rudolf Bauer gives Primo a requisition receipt for the motorcycle and tells Primo goodbye.  As the two Italians walk away the lieutenant asks who's the man with Primo?  Primo gives the officer the man's name and the lieutenant recognizes it.  He goes over to the professor saying it is an honor to meet him.  Bauer says the professor is a first-class thinker, but unfortunately he wrote in favor of the Jews and that made the fuehrer mad.  They lock the professor up in their jail. 

Primo protests that this man is his prisoner.  The officer doesn't care.  So Primo says that he read that book defending the Jews and he is in complete agreement with it.  This gets Primo thrown into the cell with the professor.  Primo tells his fellow prisoner that they are going to escape.  After all, that is the duty of a POW. 

At night the Germans fire their anti-aircraft guns at Allied planes.  The professor prepares an explosive chemical mixture and they blow the door open.  A guard comes in but Primo hits him in the groin area and down he goes.  The guy starts to get up but the professor knocks him down again with his umbrella.  The professor changes into the guard's German uniform and the two of them walk out of the prison. An officer asks them their section and they say anti-aircraft fire, so the officer puts them on an anti-aircraft gun.  Neither man knows how to fire the weapon.  Primo fools around with the gun and blows a hole through a headquarters wall.  

The two Italians sneak away from the gun, but are grabbed for a fire bucket brigade.  The professor substitutes gasoline for water in one of the buckets.  When the gasoline hits the fire, there is a big explosion and larger fire.  The two use the confusion to run over to a German squad car.  The driver is there and the professor, with his German uniform and ability to speak fluent German, is able to convince him to take Primo to the airport.  The driver throws Primo into the back seat, gets in the driver's seat and takes off. 

The professor makes his way over to an Italian household.  There they think he's a German officer, so he takes advantage of that and demands that they feed him immediately.  At the airport the driver makes sure Primo starts filling in all the trenches.  The father comes home and pretends it's okay that the German officer has some food.  Meanwhile, he puts his shotgun together and loads it.  Now the professor has to sweet talk his way out of this one.  He convinces them that he is Italian and from Abruzzo.  But now that he is Italian, how dare he try to eat their food?  They throw the professor out of the house. Primo is still at the airport filling in ditches when Allied planes start dropping hundreds of of bombs on the airfield.  He has to dig a foxhole for himself very quickly and does so.  But then two Germans jump into the foxhole and throw him out.  He runs to a larger foxhole, but is thrown out that one too.  So now he jumps into an automobile and takes off. 

The professor changes German army clothes with a farm field scarecrow.  He tells the scarecrow that now it will scare both birds and men.  Lisa walks down by the lake with her big backpack.  The professor tries to steal a chicken but runs right into Primo.  They throw the two chickens they caught outside the hen house.  Lisa is there and grabs one of the birds. Primo catches her. 

The three Italians prepare a fire to cook one of the chickens.  Primo can't seem to be able to kill the chicken.  Lisa laughs at him.  So he grabs her and tells her to kill the bird.  The country girl kills the bird and they eat it.  After dinner Primo and the professor get into an argument about democracy and freedom.  The professor explains freedom and democracy to him, but he doesn't want to accept it.  

The next morning they awake and find Lisa gone, along with the Italian police uniform.  Primo says he will catch that girl and have her shot!  The professor just laughs. 

They drive down the road until they come to a river.  Primo says that these German cars are amphibious and he drives the car right into the water.  The illusion lasts for a little while, but soon the boat sinks with them in it. 

They go back to the river bank, dry out their clothes and rest.  The professor suggests to Primo that they both stay away from Rome and just wait the war out.  Primo could even go see his girlfriend.  The policeman says he will do his duty and bring the professor back to Rome.  The professor recognizes a local woman and shouts out to her.  He goes over to Eleonora and kisses her hand.  She is very happy to see him.  Eleonora introduces Bonaf to her son.  They shake hands. Eleonora's husband is in Russia and their family has fallen on hard times.  She gives the strawberries they collected to the professor, but Primo takes the strawberries and eats them.  A plane flies over and drops one of its empty fuel tanks.  It floats, so the two men get on and Primo rows them across the river. 

Across the river the guys go into an office building.  There two young men accuse them of being American parachutists and claim that they are here to blow-up the Fascist headquarters!  Primo has to prove he is an Italian fascist by answering a bunch of questions on the history of Italian fascism.  When the young men are satisfied Primo is a fascist, he throws one of the fellows down the stairs.  He takes the guy's clothes and puts them on.  Then he takes their bicycle.

Riding tandem on a two-seater Primo tells Bonaf that by nightfall they will be in Rocca Sabina, Arcangelo Bardacci's hometown.  Bardacci was Primo's teacher.     

The men see a trainload of wounded German soldiers passing by.  An accident makes the bike useless so Primo grabs a railway cart and fixes it up so he can bike on the railway.  They go into a railway tunnel and run right into a mound of gravel.  They didn't see the sign just outside the tunnel entrance. 

They start walking and run into a young Italian fellow who is too afraid to even tell the guys what the name of the next town is.  He keeps saying he doesn't know anything.  He walks away from them. 

The guys reach the town.  It's not in good shape.  They reach Bardacci's house, but Bardacci is dead.  The pretty niece talks to the guys and lets them come in to the house.  The professor has a cold.  The three of them along with Bardacci's widow have a bean dinner and wine together.  After dinner music is put on and Bonaf dances with the niece. 

But Arcangelo Bardacci is not dead.  He is up in the attic.  His wife brings him a late dinner.  She tells her husband that Primo is downstairs.  Bardacci jumps up saying that of all his students Primo was the most fanatical.  He adds that Primo must not find out that he is here or else.  The wife says later she will bring paper and pen so her husband can do some  writing.  Late at night on her way to see her husband, the wife tries to pass by Primo's door, but he catches her.  He asks where is she going with those candles in her hand?  She says she was coming to give them to Primo.  He lets her into the room.  Soon he starts getting very fresh with her.  Above them her husband is listening in on the conversation and he is angry about what he hears.  He throws a rope ladder down and climbs down stepping right on top of the professor.  The professor figures out who he is and tells him that Primo is armed, so it's better that he not go into the room.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Bardacci is able to get away from Primo and she leaves his room.  The professor and Bardacci discuss how to get even with Primo.

When Primo wakes up he finds the professor missing from his bed.  He puts on his clothes and runs outside.  He grabs the niece and demands to know where the professor is.  She asks him to let the professor go because the war is lost for Italy anyway.  She suggests to Primo that if he could talk to her uncle, he would listen to him.  Yes, but Bardacci's in heaven.  No, he's actually in the attic.

The profess gets on  train at the station.  Suddenly he sees Primo running for the train.  He sits right next to the professor, but doesn't realize it because he is in a clerical costume.  It doesn't take him long, however, to figure out it's the professor.  He grabs him and the two jump off the train when it is going very slowly.  Primo gets on a bus, but the professor does not.  He runs off.  Primo realizes his mistake, jumps off the bus and runs after the professor.  He catches up to him, but not until  both men have entered a minefield.

The two men just stand there without moving.  Through the night they stand there in the cold.  The next morning a farmer comes along with his family walking through  the mine field.  Primo and the professor try to warn them about the mines, but the farmer says he put that sign up there to keep the Germans out of his fields.

The two men now walk down the road.  They run into Lisa again.  She doesn't have Primo's uniform, but she has a better one.  She has the uniform of a party secretary.  Primo puts it on.  At this point they are only 6 kilometers from Rome. 

They walk toward Rome.  As they get closer, they see Americans soldiers passing by them in a jeep.  Primo says that they are POWs, but the professor is not so sure.  Primo walks into Rome wearing the party secretary uniform and Romans stop and stare at him and ask themselves is the man crazy?

Primo says he can't understand a word of the German song being sung in a bar.  The professor says that's because they are Americans and are singing in English.  The dense fellow still doesn't get it.  He thinks Rome is just full of American POWs.  He turns the corner and runs into a substantial group of American soldiers.  And they are stunned that a fascist bigwig would just come walking into their corner of the world. They figure he has to be an American pulling a practical joke on them.  One of the soldiers even takes his photo. 

But now a larger group of partisans are coming after the party secretary.  About 50 men catch up with Primo and start beating the hell out of him.  Even some women get in some hits.  The professor sees some of his partisan friends and he waves them over and asks them to make the other partisans stop beating up that man.  The men push through the crowd and drive them back.  But when they fully realize the victim is a bigwig fascist, they want to shoot him down immediately.  The professor steps in and says that the man will be his prisoner.  He kicks Primo in the behind to get him moving. 

Primo tells the professor to go ahead and shoot him.  The professor tells him:  "Your death would have no meaning.  The age of violence is over."  The professor pulls off that stupid party secretary uniform from Primo's upper body.  He gives Primo his bourgeois coat and tells Primo:  "Go! You're a free man, even if you don't like freedom."  Primo walks down the street.  A car stops to pick up the professor. 


Good film.  It is partly a comedy, a farce.  All types of problems arise when a fascist policeman is given the job of capturing and bringing back to Rome an important Italian politician, but not of the fascist variety.  The fascists want to eliminate the opposition.  The film gets across the evil of fascism.  Primo the policeman is a good man, but he loses all perspective when he is caught up in fascism.  He is a fanatic and is going to bring in his man, no matter what happens.  Someone else, other than a fanatic, would have let the professor go and said the man escaped with the help of the partisans. But facts and reality never enter into Primo's head.  He is horribly treated by the German soldiers, which would have gotten most people thinking that fascism is not a good guide for anyone.  But not Primo.  He only thinks about doing his fascist duty regardless of the insane situations he gets into.  The man is so blinded by his narrow view of life that he can't even tell when power switches sides.  The film is saying that fascism makes people blind to what is right and gets them blindly following the fascists rules no matter how undemocratic and inhumane they are.  A fascist has a moral compass that is all wrong, that turns humans into monsters.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)