Uomini contro (Many Wars Ago) (1970)





Director:     Francesco Rosi.

Starring:     Mark Frechette (Lt. Sassu), Alain Cuny (Gen. Leone), Gian Maria Volontť (Lt. Ottolenghi), Giampiero Albertini (Capt. Abbati), Pier Paolo Capponi (Lt. Santini), Franco Graziosi (Maj. Malchiodi), Mario Feliciani (Colonel Doctor), Alberto Mastino (Marrasi), Brunetto Del Vita (Col. Stringari), Nino Vingelli (Wounded Soldier from Naples), Zdravko Smojver, Antonio Pavan (Lt. Pavan), Emilio Bonucci, Francesco Acampora, Luigi Pignatelli (Avellini), Spartaco Conversi, Maurizio Mastino, Daria Nicolodi (Nurse), Bruno Pischiutta, Gianni Pulone (Wounded Soldier from Rome), Franca Sciutto.

In Italian with English subtitles. 

anti-war movie about Italian mutineers in the battle against the Austrians in the Alps



Spoiler Warning:

An Austrian patrol is coming. The Italian troops have to get down. Then the order is given to fire! An Italian soldier comes up with his hands in the air. Firing stops and the man comes over to the Italians. Someone says that the man is a deserter! The man says he just got lost. The sergeant says to the lieutenant that this deserter has a habit of getting lost. His name is Giuseppe Marrasi.

The unit marches up to the front, by a wall of sand bags. Lt. Sassu of the 10th Company comes to talk to the commander, Captain Abbati.  Sassu says he was at the front for four months in Trentino. [Trentino is a province in northeast Italy that is well known for its mountains that are a part of the Alps.]

The commander says the division of men under General Leone are retreating back to the sand bag wall. The Austrians are taking Mount Fior.

As the Italians march, someone shouts out for them to halt. The troops halt. General Leone tells Lieutenant Santini to find out who ordered the halt and then shoot the man. The lieutenant really doesnít want to do that but the General demands that he carry out the order.

The man talks to the fellow who issued the halt. Heís only 21 years of age. The lieutenant sees a dead man being carried on a stretcher. He has six of his men fire into the air. He then goes with the stretcher to show the general the dead man. The general is contented and the 21 year old soldier still lives.

Austrian artillery shells start landing among the men and they start running away from the road and into the mountains. Now the Austrian cavalry on horseback charges the men. The Italian soldiers are nearing the sand bag wall and heavy fire hits the Austrian cavalry.

The cavalry men start using their sabers to kill Italian soldiers, many of whom are carrying their wounded men. After the skirmish, there are lots of dead soldiers on the battlefield.

General Leone tells his men that they left Mount Fior only because they were ordered to leave it. But now they have been ordered to retake Mount Fior. "We will attack immediately." But they will now attack it from the sides.

The General is thrown off by his mule. He gets back on it. One of the soldiers rushes down the slope to help the General. When the march begins again, some of the men from the unit that the hero is from throw him down and start punching him. They say the fellow should have stayed in line and done nothing to help the General. The beat down is stopped.

At night, to the blowing of trumpets, the Italians attack the Austrians. It looks like the Italian soldiers are getting slaughtered, mowed down by Austrian machine guns.

In the morning, the Italians are in their trenches. The General inspects the different units.

The distance between the two adversaries is around 250 meters. The General stands up and looks out through his binoculars at the enemy trenches. A lieutenant warns him that the Austrians have good snipers and itís dangerous to stand there Two bullets hit not far from the General. Now the General steps back and has a soldier do the same thing he did. The lieutenant protests that the snipers will adjust their shots and could very well kill the soldier. And thatís exactly what happens. Four or five bullets are shot at the soldier and one hits him. He is badly wounded.

The General calls the soldier an authentic hero. He then gives him some money to buy himself some wine on the General.

Italian soldiers crawl toward the Austrian trenches. As they get closer, they throw hand grenades into the enemy trenches. Then the Italian soldiers in the trenches are released to attack. And again many of the Italian soldier are mowed down by Austrian machine guns.

Now the Italian wire cutters are to be send out to cut the Austrian barbed wire down. Two soldiers and one officer, 2nd Lt. Avellini, are send out to do the cutting.

Lt. Santini says that the wire cutters are of no use either by day or by night. The men hear the fire of machines guns opening up. A little later they see two of the wire cutters returning. The 2nd Lt. is dead and one of he soldiers is wounded. The second soldier reports that the wire cutters donít work.

One of the wire cutters works so now Lt. Sassu is going to have to go out to cut the barbed wire. But Lt. Sassu has just returned from a mission, so Major Ruggero Malchiodi has to tell Lt. Santini to take the job.  Santini knows that the assignment is a death sentence and at first he says no, he will not volunteer.  So Major Malchiodi makes it mandatory that Santini go.    

Santini starts out with a soldier, but after a little while he just stands up and starts walking toward the Austrian trenches. He knows he's going to die anyway, so may as well just walk to the barbed wire.  The soldier thinks that the lieutenant is crazy, but the he stands up and follows him. They reach the barbed wire and start cutting. They are both cut down by machine gun fire.

The Italian soldiers start rebelling and throwing their weapons onto a fire.

The word goes out that 4th, 5th and 8th companies are rebelling.

Lt. Ottolenghi calms down the men under his control and he tells them to stay put in their shelters. The Colonel comes in and asks the lieutenant if he can count on his company? Yes, sir. Will his men take part in actions against the mutineers? The lieutenant answers that he doesnít think so. Will the lieutenant take part or not?  No, sir.

The General calls for the decimation of the mutineers. Firing squads are set up. One soldier tries to make a break for it, but is shot down and then brought back to be in front of the firing squad.

Soldiers are put into suits of armor and sent out with wire cutters to cut down the Austrian barbed wire. All the men are mowed down.  The machine gun bullets went right through the armor. 

Now there will be another attack on the Austrian trenches. And once again itís a slaughter of the Italian troops. And now the Austrian troops start yelling at the Italian troops not to attack like this just to get massacred.

Lt. Ottolenghi says they should attack the Italian officers still in the trenches. He stands up, but gets shot down quickly. A fellow officer, Sassu, picks him up and carries him back to the trenches, but Ottolenghi dies.

Sassu is told by the General that none of his lookout holes are well placed to observe the battle and to see the enemy. Sassu tells the General that he will take him to the best lookout hole at position number 14. Across from that position an expert Austrian sniper can put a bullet through the hole every time he fires. The young man tells the General to look out. He does so, but no one fires a shot at the lookout hole. The General likes this lookout position and praises the young officer.

After the General leaves, Sassu passes a stick back and forth across the lookout slit and the sniper blows the stick in half. The young officer is disgusted with the enemy sniper.

Lots of wounded men are examined briefly and all are told that they shot themselves to get out of the fighting. They are sent to the military court.

Lt. Sussu comes to the hospital to see Captain Abbati. They talk for a little while.

Giuseppe Marrasi starts running toward the Austrian trenches. Italian sentries start shooting at him. Marrasi get close, but never gets to the Austrian trenches. He is shot from behind by the Italians.

Italian soldiers are complaining again that they have to attack the enemy again tomorrow. Some say they die in vain. Another soldier says: "I donít want to sacrifice my life for them."

A soldier comes into the officersí barracks saying that General Leone is dead. Sassu offers up a toast to the dead general. All of a sudden the general arrives, clearly alive. Sassu does some fast talking to avoid getting in trouble with the general.

The next morning the Italians are supposed to attack the Austrians again. Italian artillery opens fire, but it's killing their own men. The men run for cover.

The men are in their shelters for awhile, but friendly fire keeps coming down on them. They get scared and try to run away from the firing, while the officers try to stop them.

Major Ruggero Malchiodi gets so mad at the soldiers that he wants a firing squad to shoot every tenth soldier in line. Sassu refuses to lead the firing squad so the Major has to get someone else. The firing squad just shoots in the air, so the Major says he will just have to execute the men himself. He starts firing at the seven chosen men, until the firing squad shoots the Major dead.

The command to attack is given and the soldiers start rushing toward the Austrian trenches.

The general calls Sassu in to speak to him. He is amazed that Sassu has never even been wounded seriously. When the general gets serious, he tells Sassu that his behavior caused the death of Major Malchiodi.

So now Sassu will be shot by a firing squad. He is shot down by the firing squad.


Good anti-war film dealing with the fighting between the Italians and the Austrians in World War I in the Italian Alps.  The Italians just keep throwing their troops into battles that they can't possibly win.  The soldiers never even get beyond the Austrian barbed wire fences before they are mowed down by machine  guns.  The idiocy and futility of the Italian soldiers' situation leads to a lot of disciplinary problems for the Italian commanders.  The film shows one absurd situation after another that the troops have to put up with.  Their duty was to do and die in futile endeavors. 

On the DVD the director says he lived through a period of lots of wars such as the Korean War and the Vietnam war. He says he wanted to bring forward all of the absurdities and horrors of war with an example from Italy in WWI.  He says thousands of bodies were left on the battlefields. Death was inevitable for the men who were sent out to cut the enemy's barbed wire. He was interested in the inability to accept absurd orders and thatís what lead to mutinies among the soldiers. The General became a fanatic who respected all of the military rules and regulations, even the most ferocious, like decimation and execution for any mistake.

The director says he wasnít interested so much in the telling of a story but of investigating human behavior faced with so many absurd orders being dispensed by higher command.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


For the  historical background see A Farewell to Arms (1932)  --  with Helen Hayes & Gary Cooper


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