Rappresaglia (Massacre in Rome) (1973) 





Director:     George P. Cosmatos

Starring:      Richard Burton (Lt. Col. Herbert Kappler),  Marcello Mastroianni (Father Pietro Antonelli), Leo McKern (Gen. Kurt Maelzer),  John Steiner (Col. Dollmann),  Anthony Steel (Maj. Domizlaf),  Robert Harris (Father Pancrazio),  Peter Vaughan (Gen. Albert Kesselring),  Renzo Montagnani (Questore Pietro Caruso),  Giancarlo Prete (Paolo),  Renzo Palmer (Giorgio),  Duilio Del Prete (Partisan),  Guidarino Guidi (Guido Buffarini-Guidi). 

massacre of Italian citizens (especially Jews)  after partisans attack a German SS company


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

In Rome Italians watch as a German SS police unit noisily marches up the street known as the Via Rasella.  This has been going on for about five days and always occurs at the same time.  

Father Pietro Antonelli restores religious paintings.  And he teaches others how to do it  -- others like sweethearts Paolo and Elena, both partisans. 

March 22, 1944.  The father-general comes with two German intelligence officers to speak with Father Antonelli.  The two German officers are Lt. Col. Herbert Kappler and Col. Dollmann.  They want to talk with Father Antonelli because one of the foremost art judges in Germany has indicated that the painting that was send to Germany is a fake.  They want the real painting, not a copy.  The father says he sent the painting to Germany himself.  The father-general asks Father Antonelli to check on the painting's authenticity and clear-up the matter. 

The SS rounds up an extended family, including the grandmother who has a hard time walking.  They are accused of being partisans and working against the German occupation of Italy.  Kappler starts to interrogate one of the young men. 

Father Antonelli goes to speak with the father-general alone.  He does not like cooperating with the Germans to give them the original of the painting they want, but the father-generals insists that they must work with the Germans.  If they don't, the Germans could well take everything from them.  They could, in fact, plunder Italy's art. 

Kappler speaks with some of the Italian government people.  One of them is Guido Buffarini-Guidi.  It is said that he is the most hated and the most feared Italian in Italy.  Guido explains that he is upset with Kappler because he is interfering with the Italians' preparation for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Italian Fascist Party.  Kappler defends himself by saying he is not against celebrating the anniversary.  He just doesn't want the celebration to be a public one.  Kappler says that fascism in Italy is not very popular these days, so why should they provoke the populace with a public celebration of fascism? 

And speaking of provocations, what about the German SS unit that marches through the streets of downtown Rome?  Kappler explains the himself ordered the 11th company of SS policemen to march very publicly.  He wants to make sure the Italians know the Germans are still very much a presence in Rome.  He doesn't want the partisans getting too many fanciful ideas.   Kappler says that fascism is dead in Italy and that Mussolini will have to go.  And he says that, in spite of of the fact that he was the one to engineer the rescue of Mussolini from the Italian partisans.

Paolo and Elena speak with other partisans.  Paolo is to set off a bomb meant for the SS marchers.  He is told that after he lights the fuse, it will take him 45 second to round the corner.  The fuse takes 50 seconds to burn. 

Berlin is being bombed every night.  The Third Reich is sinking.  The BBC (British Broadcasting) reads a list of German war criminals working in Italy.  Kappler doesn't want to get on that particular list. 

The General Commandant of Rome is being entertained by a German military singer and a local whore.  The men who were arrested earlier are being tortured by having their faces slapped over and over again.  Soon their faces are all bloody.  Meanwhile, the resistance makes the bomb.  The plan it to put it in a street cleaner's cart and have Paolo push it over to Via Rasella to await the arrival of the SS marchers. 

March 23, 1944.  Father Antonelli gets a message from Kappler.  He writes that he is sending some first-rate turpentine to the father.  And Kappler wants to see Father Antonelli  in his office.  Father Antonelli bring the painting all packed up to be sent to Germany. 

Paolo receive his street cleaner's uniform.  Other partisans get weapons and grenades. 

Questore Pietro Caruso helps maintain order among the Romans.  Paolo gets into position as a street cleaner on the Via Ravelli. 

Father Antonelli is still waiting for Kappler to show up.  Kappler arrives and tells the father that he doesn't have to open up the package to check on the painting.  He trusts the father. Kappler also tells the father that he is sorry to have to take the original from him. 

Paolo waits and waits.  It is almost 2 p.m. and the troops cannot even be heard in the distance.  Another street cleaner stops by to say something to Paolo.  He wants to know who he is and why is Paolo working on his street?  Paolo says he is just filling in for Emilio.  The fellow things Paolo is smuggling something and asks if he might get something special.  Paolo says he will see the street cleaner later and give him something.  It is now 2:30 p.m. and there still is no sign of the SS policemen.  The partisans say that if they do not show within the next 15 minutes, they will call the whole thing off.  Elena tries to get rid of a man who is following her. 

It is 2:42 p.m. before they hear the troops marching on the streets.  As they come up the Via Rasella, Paolo lights the fuse.  He rounds the corner and with Elena they run away.  Just as the troops are passing the street cleaning cart, the bomb goes off with a huge blast.  Many German SS police men die immediately or die later from their wounds.  The total is 32 dead.  Those SS police still alive start firing at the windows of the apartments around them.

Kappler  is informed by telephone of the bombing.  Kappler grabs Dollmann to go with him.  He tells Dollmann that the 11th Company has virtually ceased to exist. By the time Kappler and Dollmann arrive, the Germans have rounded up a lot of citizens and have detained them.  The Commandant of Rome tells Kappler that he wants revenge for "my poor boys".  He wants Kappler to destroy the whole neighborhood.  Kappler opposes this idea saying that the German were the ones who were attacked and therefore they have the moral advantage and destroying a whole neighborhood would negate that advantage.  The Commandant of Rome tries to call Gen. Kesselring for orders about what to do.  The general is not available, so the Commandant of Rome next tries to get Gen. Yodel in Berlin. 

Father Antonelli tells his colleagues that yes, he has heard that the German are rounding up innocent people.  When he returns to his office, he finds Elena and Paolo there.  Elena says that they will leave as soon as it is dark. 

The Commandant of Rome tells Kappler that Hitler is roaring mad about the Via Rasella affair.  He wants Italians killed at a rate of 50 of them for every dead German police officer.  Kappler opposes the idea, saying that Hitler will reconsider.  He adds:  "And this time we are not the wild animals."  It is Kappler's plan to get the men from the prison who are waiting to be executed any way.  He tells the Commandant that reprisals never are effective, but the Commandant says that this reprisal will stop the partisan attacks. 

Kesselring says he can't be bothered by the little things.  Germany cannot hold out for more than a couple of months. Yodel calls to say that he will ask Hitler to reconsider the 50 number.  The Roman partisans are upset that there is no mention of the massacre on Via Rasella on the German radio broadcasts.  The BBC talks about the fighting at Anzio, where the Allies landed on mainland Italy. 

The resistance committee meets.  The chief says the Germans won't risk starting a rebellion in Rome over a massacre of Italian citizens. He says that none of their partisans will come forward. 

The Commandant of Rome has received his orders directly from Hitler.  The ratio for the reprisal will be just 10 to 1, not 50 to 1.  That means that 320 will die for the 32 dead SS policemen.  And Hitler wants this reprisal carried out in 24 hours. 

Kappler is going to have a hard time getting 320 men from the prisons.  There are just too few people awaiting execution to reach the figure of 320.  So he decides to include everyone arrested that day after the bombing at Via Rasella.  He also will included any prisoners in prison for serious offenses.   The Commandant tells Kappler that if he is having trouble reaching the 320 figure, he should take Jews.  He is informed that there are 57 Jews in the prisons.  Kappler will take them. 

Col. Dollmann visits with the father-general.  He explains that 320 Italians will be shot in reprisal for the Via Rasella massacre.  The German officer says he wants to stop the reprisal for it could inflame the Romans.  He says that the only person who might be able to stop the reprisal is none other than the Holy Father himself.    But it is unlikely that the Pope will intervene against the reprisal.

Kappler goes to see Caruso, the chief of police.  He takes ten names from Caruso and puts them on the reprisal list. Kappler tells Caruso that he still owes him 50 names.  Caruso obviously does not like this assignment, but he starts typing up a list of 50. 

March 24, 1944.  Il Duce says he needs more information about this upcoming reprisal against the Romans. 

Kappler now has to find a good place to kill the 320 men. He says he needs a large grotto that will make for a natural death chamber.  Father Antonelli comes to see Kappler.  Kappler tells the father that the massacre will be a lawful reprisal.  The father objects that the reprisal will constitute human slaughter.  Kappler says that the reprisal cannot be stopped.  It's too late!  Father Antonelli tells the German to destroy the list. He goes on to say he pities the colonel and that he or we will stop Kappler.  Kappler says that the Pope prefers to hear about the reprisal after the deed is done.  He then tells the father:  "Don't press your luck." 

Father Antonelli goes to see the father-general, but the man is currently at the Vatican.  So the father goes over to the Vatican.  The only thing the father-general suggests is that they ask the Germans to postpone the executions and then tell the Germans that the Italians will have a requiem mass for the dead German SS policemen. 

The Commandant of Rome tells Kappler that two different officers have refused the assignment to direct the reprisal.  One of the officers said that the reprisal is a job only for the SS.  So what is the Commandant to do?  He decides that Kappler, as the commander of the security forces in Rome, should carry out the orders for the reprisal.  Kappler doesn't want this assignment, but does take it. 

Kappler talks to his men.  He warns them if that they refuse to participate in the killings, they will be arrested and court-martialed. He says that all 74 of the men in the unit will take part.  He tells the men about the limestone tunnels that will be used as the killing and burial place of the Italians to be executed.  After the reprisal is finished, the tunnels will be blown shut.  Kappler adds that the limestone will quicken the decay of the bodies in the tunnels.  The Italians will be shot in groups of five.  And this all has to be done quickly.   He says:  "Our best safety is speed."

Kappler learns that ten more German policemen have died from their wounds.  So now 330 Italian men will be killed.  Ten more Jews will have their names placed on the list.  The Lt. Col. also asks to be provided with ten cases of cognac for his men will not find this assignment an easy one. 

Father Antonelli learns that the Pope is not going to do anything.  He is very disappointed in the top clergy.  He walks out of the office of the father-general. 

The trucks, filled with Italians, move out to the tunnels.  Father Antonelli asks Kappler to postpone the reprisal.  Kappler refuses.  He says there is no more time and there's nothing the father can do about it.  Kappler and his men leave.  Father Atonelli sees the diagrams of the caves on the walls and figures out where the reprisal will take place.  He grabs a bike from a man on the street, telling him that he needs it. 

Caruso learns that the Germans have already taken 55 prisoners from his list.  He becomes very upset saying that the Germans took too many people, five too many, in fact

At the tunnels the truck drivers rev their engines so that the sound of the shootings will not be heard outside the caves.  Five after five after five Italians are killed at a time.  There are old men, middle-aged men, young men and boys among those to be killed.  In the tunnels the men are forced to kneel down.  The executioner then pushes the man's head down so that when the victim is shot in the neck, the bullet will go through the brain almost immediately killing the subject.  

Father Antonelli arrives at the tunnels, but the guards will not let him pass.  So the priest decides to go way round the guards to get in.  All he has to do is follow the sound of the revving truck motors.  Some of the executioners are drinking a lot of cognac.  One German can't execute anyone.  So Kappler takes the man into the tunnel.  He forces one of the victims down on his knees.  The man be executed turns his head around to see executioner.  Kappler is shocked to see that he will be executing Father Antonelli.  But Kappler carries out the execution. 


Questore Pietro Caruso was tried by an Italian court, found guilty and executed. 

Gen. Kurt Maelzer was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.  He died in prison. 

Gen. Kesselring was  found guilty and was sentenced to death in 1947.  The death sentence was not carried out and the general was released in 1952. 

Lt. Col. Kappler was found guilty and given life in prison.  As of the time of the movie, he was still serving his sentence. 


Good movie.  This is the first movie I have seen about Germans killing Italians for their surrendering to the Allies and actually becoming an ally with the Allied countries.  For the Germans it was only natural for them to engage in ridiculous massive reprisals on innocent citizens.  The Italians got a break.  The Germans only killed 10 Italians for every dead German, while in places like the Soviet Union, the more usual proportion was 50 to 1.  It was interesting seeing how difficult it was for the Italian Caruso and the German Kappler to find 330 names of innocent Italians to be killed.  They tried to take people from the prisons, but there weren't enough prisoner who had committed really serious crimes.  And it's not really surprising that in a pinch Kappler was told to take Jews for the list of 330 names. 

Richard Burton did a good job, but it was hard to see the great Brit as a German SS officer.  Marcello Mastroianni was good too, but his character as a priest was just too one-dimensional -- too saint-like.  There was no real love story in this film, which is relatively rare for historical films.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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