Mussolini: The Decline and Fall of Il Duce (1985)


Also known as Mussolini and I




Director:     Alberto Negrin

Starring:     Susan Sarandon (Edda Mussolini Ciano), Anthony Hopkins (Count Galeazzo Ciano), Bob Hoskins (Benito Mussolini), Annie Girardot (Rachele Mussolini), Barbara De Rossi (Claretta Petacci), Dietlinde Turban (Felicitas Beetz), Vittorio Mezzogiorno (Sandro Pavolini), Fabio Testi (Lorenzo), Kurt Raab (Adolf Hitler), Olliver Domnick (SS Colonel), Hans-Dieter Asner (Von Ribbentrop), Franco Fabrizi (Navarra), Massimo Dapporto (Vittorio Mussolini), Riccardo Peloso (Police Commissioner), Antonella Angelucci (Princess).

Originally a four-part television miniseries.

Told from the view point of his son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano, the film presents the last days of fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his family.


Part I. 

Rome. May 4, 1930.  Edda Mussolini, daughter of Mussolini, and Galiazzo Ciano, a diplomat, have their wedding reception.  Mussolini has been the dictator over 40 million Italians for eight years. 

Berlin.  August 1939.  Ciano is thirty-years old. He has carried out the orders of his ruler Mussolini, but he now has become wary of the Alliance between Italy and Germany.  This makes him suspect in the eyes of both Hitler and Mussolini.  Hitler see Ciano's reticence and he says: "Italy needn't participate in the war.  Even if they did, it wouldn't make any difference." 

November 1942 at the Palazzo.  Claretta Petacci, mistress of Il Duce, is becoming more and more demanding of the dictator's time.  She becomes very insistent and Mussolini slaps her hard. 

Edda plays cards with friends and flirts with a man named Lorenzo.  Ciano keeps a diary.  He notes that the retreat of the Germans in Russia has become a route.  Edda asks him if he is spying on her and he asks her why she is so vindictive. 

Mussolini pays a visit to his mistress Claretta.  She warns him that he can not trust his son-in-law Ciano.  Edda asks her brother Vittorio if  their mother knows about Claretta.  He doesn't think so. 

The Americans bomb Italy.  Morocco has fallen, then Algeria, and then Tunisia. Ciano tells Mussolini that the war is lost.  Il Duce does not want to hear that. He warns Ciano against being a defeatist.  He wants no more talk about a separate peace.  He adds that he envies the German toughness.  Later Mussolini demotes Ciano from the position of Foreign Minister.  Mussolini takes the position himself.  Ciano becomes the Ambassador to the Vatican. 

Edda warns her father that his mistress is abusing her situation.  She adds that "they" have turned him against her husband.  Her father says he will stop seeing Claretta.  When Claretta tries to get into the palace she is blocked from doing so. 

It's more bad news for Mussolini.  The Allies have invaded Sicily.  The Allies drop leaflets from airplanes telling the Italians that they have to choose sides and it should be for the Allies.  Otherwise the war will go on and on.  Ciano tells Mussolini that Italy's cities are helpless.  Mussolini reveals that he knows Ciano is keeping a diary. 

A meeting of the Fascist Grand Council is called.  They want to remove Hitler's influence over Italy and give the military forces to King Immanuel.  Meanwhile, the Allies bomb Rome.  Mussolini visits a bombed section of Rome to see the damage first hand.  He tells his aide Navarra to give the victims some money.  With the King's consent, The Council summons Mussolini before it.  Worried, Mussolini seeks solace from Claretta. 

Part II.

The Grand Council meeting goes bad for Mussolini.  Ciano is one of those who speaks against the dictator.  He tells his father-in-law that he must stand up to the Germans.  The King will assume full leadership.  Mussolinit counters with:  "The King is with me." 

The King meets with Mussolini.  He tells him that the country is in ruins and morale is low.  Furthermore, people have lost all faith in him.  He adds that he will accept Mussolini's resignation at once.  Soldiers put Mussolini in an ambulance and whisk him away.  In the streets it's the turn of the fascists to receive mob beatings.  The mob drags Mussolini's statue through the streets of the city.  Edda is very upset.  She cries because she thinks her father will be killed and she will never be able to see him again. 

Ciano and Lorenzo both tell Edda that she has to get out of Italy.  She refuses.  But then the family, along with the mistress, is arrested.  Edda meets with a friendly colonel and tells him that she needs an airplane to fly her and her family to Spain or Portugal.  The plane is made available, but instead of heading to Spain or Portugal it flies to Munich.  They will be guests of Hitler for a few days.  Hitler talks with Edda alone. 

The Germans decide to free Mussolini from the clutches of the Italian soldiers.  The Italians receive orders not to resist the Germans and they don't.  They take Mussolini to see Hitler. 

September 1943.  Munich.  Edda learns that her father is free and in Munich.  The problem is that she and her family are prisoners in Munich.  Edda gets to see her father and he tells her that everything is fine.  He adds that Hitler greeted him at the airport and "I can count on him.  The power's in my hands again".  The former dictator is planning a comeback.  He says they will move the capital north and that there will be a new rehabilitation of fascism in Italy and the birth of a new fascist republic.  A big problem, however, is that Italy is cut in two with the Allies controlling southern Italy.  And another problem is that Italy is still dominated by Germany.  Hitler warns that he can always bomb Italian cities into rubble at any time.  Hitler adds that Count Ciano is a traitor four times over and so should die four times.

Edda is allowed to leave Munich for a visit to Italy.  She goes home to her mother, who is now very upset because she has learned about Claretta Petacci. 

September 1943.  Navara Prison.  Claretta is released from prison.  Hitler wants Mussolini to give the traitor Ciano a trial and then execute him.  Mussolini tells Ciano what Hitler had said about him dying four times. 

Part III.

 Mussolini returns to Italy.  Back in Munich, Edda and Ciano suspect their German servant, a pretty girl named Felicitas Beetz, is a spy for the Gestapo.  So they carry out a fake fight to throw her off base. 

Salo-Villa Feltrinelli.  October 1943.  Il Due establishes his new government.  But his mistress can only see him from outside the fence.  German soldiers are all over the place.  Mussolini tells Claretta to stay away from him because it is just too dangerous for her.

Munich is bombed and Edda returns to Italy.   Mussolini asks for Ciano to return to Italy.  Ciano returns and soon learns that there will be a special tribunal for him and other members of the Fascist Council who opposed Mussolini.  Meanwhile he is imprisoned.  Edda aks her brother Vittorio to go to Munich and bring her children to her.  On their way back Vittorio and the children see the partisans hanging three people, presumably fascists. 

In prison Felicitas visits Ciano. She is a spy for the Gestapo, but she has also fallen in love with Ciano.  On one of her visits the two have sex together.  She will son not be able to see him again because she failed in her mission to find out where Ciano's diaries are hidden.  (He gave them to his mother to hide.)

Edda talks with Felicitas and asks her if she loves Ciano.  It's obvious that she does.  Edda and Felicitas plan Edda's escape to Switzerland.  In the meantime, Mrs. Mussolini pays a visit to Claretta.  She tells the mistress to leave her husband alone. 

Edda tries to get her father to relent for her husband's sake, but he is inflexible.  She tells her father that she now hates him. 

Edda had given Felicitas poison in a vial and she in turn gave it to Ciano.  Ciano and four others are tried and condemned to death.  Ciano is designated as the main culprit of the group. 

Part IV.

Since all hope is lost Edda takes the diaries and her children and with Lorenzo's help they meet a Swiss guide who helps them hike to sanctuary in Switzerland.  Mussolini receives a letter from Edda.  She tells him that she has the diaries and will publish them if he does not release Ciano.  Mussolini shouts:  "You are all against me."   Mussolini still does not relent. 

Ciano tries to commit suicide only to find that water is in the vial instead of poison.  He is furious thinking that Felicitas switched the vial contents.  The next day the condemned five are shot in the back (because they are traitors) by a firing squad. 

Hitler calls Mussolini to tell him that he is now moving to his bunker in Berlin.  The Allies in Italy have now crossed the River Po.  They will be in Milan soon.  Mussolini becomes more and more depressed.  He says:  "In all my whole life, I never had a friend".

Spring 1945.  In Switzerland, Edda turns over Ciano's diaries to the United States.  Felicitas is able to get Lorenzo out of prison, there for his part in the escape of Edda and her children. 

Mussolini decides to go to Switzerland at once.  German soldiers come in to take them to that neutral country.  Mussolini's mistress also shows up.  Mussolini and Claretta travel in a convoy provided by the Germans.  They come under fire, however, from the Partisans.  They are caught in a trap.  The Germans negotiate with the Partisans and agree to leave the Italian fascists behind for permission to pass through the Partisan blockade.   They try to hide Mussolini in one of the German trucks by putting a German overcoat over Mussolini's Italian uniform and also placing on his head a German helmet. 

The Partisans check all the trucks.  When they come to Mussolini's truck, the checker sees Italian pants under a German overcoat.  He proceeds to the back of the truck to see the man up close.  He almost immediately recognizes Mussolini.  Mussolini is arrested in the name of the Italian people.  Claretta insists on going wherever Mussolini goes.  They let her be with the former dictator. 

Edda listens to the radio in Switzerland and hears that Mussolini and Claretta Petacci have been executed. 


Good movie.  It was interesting watching the family problems of Mussolini complete with a mistress and a son-in-law who came to actively oppose his policies. This movie is more about the fall of Mussolini than the rise of the man or the covering of the period of his greatest achievements.  That's o.k. because who really wants to see a victorious fascist anyway.  Susan Sarandon is very good as the tough-willed Edda, daughter of Mussolini.  Anthony Hopkins is good as her husband, although at times he seemed a bit too calm for the terrible situations in which the character found himself.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  


Historical Background:


1883  --  Benito Mussolini was born in Predappio, Italy.  His father was a blacksmith and a socialist and his mother a teacher.

1891  --  at age 8, Mussolini was expelled from school for stabbing a boy in the hand and throwing an inkwell at a teacher. 

1901  -- at age 18, he qualified as an elementary schoolmaster.

1902  --  he emigrated to Switzerland to escape military service.  He was thrown out of the country because of his socialist organizing efforts.  Mussolini quickly returned to Switzerland.  But he went back to Italy when his mother became very ill (and later died).

1908  --  he worked for the Central Organ of the Socialist Party in the city of Trento (then controlled by Austria-Hungary).

1914  --  outbreak of WWI.  A group of revolutionary syndicalists, who supported Italy's entry into the war, broke with the Socialists and the group soon was transformed into a Fascist organization.  Mussolini was a member of this group.  

1914 (November)  --  supported by his mistress Margherita Sarfatti, he founded a new newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia, (The Italian People) and a pro-war group, Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria.

1917  --  Mussolini was called for military service and was wounded during grenade practice.  He returned to edit his newspaper. 

1919  --  Fascism in Italy becomes an organized political movement in Milan.  Mussolini ran for office and failed in the year's elections.

1921  --  Mussolini enters Parliament.  The Fascists turn to violence to intimidate political leftists.

1922  --  after the failure of three liberal governments and wanting to avoid civil war, Vittorio Emanuele III invited Mussolini to form a new government. At age 39, Mussolini was the youngest Premier in Italian history. 

The rise of Fascism in Italy was similar to the rise in Germany.  Fascism prospered because of: post-war economic depression, the rise of a militant left, and a feeling of national humiliation and shame at the decreasing influence of Italy abroad.  Support for Fascism was especially high in the wealthy classes and that of the large land owners.

1923  (June)  --  a new majoritarian electoral law assigned two thirds of the seats in Parliament to the coalition which had obtained at least 25% of the votes.

1924 (June 10)  --  the assassination of socialist deputy Giacomo Matteotti after he called for the cancellation of the latest elections because of glaring irregularities. 

1925 (Jan. 3)  --  Mussolini basically announced a dictatorship in Italy when he took full responsibility for the Matteotti assassination and the violence used by the Fascist foot soldiers.

1925  --  the Press Laws meant that all journalists had to be Fascists.

Mussolini had little opposition. 

1935-1936  --  Mussolini waged a successful war in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). 

1936-1939  --  Mussolini and Hitler intervened on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

1939 (April)  --  after a brief war, Italy annexed Albania.

1939 (May)  --  Mussolini made a "Pact of Steel" with Hitler.

1939 (September)  --  Hitler invades Poland to start WWII.

1939 (October)  --  Mussolini attacks Greece but was pushed back by a Greek counterattack.  Germany had to come into Greece to bail out Mussolini.

1940 (June 10)  --  Mussolini finally declared war on Britain and France.

1943  --  after the Allies pushed the Axis forces out of North Africa and then invaded Sicily, Mussolini's colleagues turned against him.  The King then stripped Mussolini of his dictatorial powers.  He was soon arrested and sent to seclusion at a mountain resort in Abruzzo, Italy.

1943 (Sept. 8)  --  Italy surrenders. 

Mussolini was freed by a Nazi raid on the mountain resort.  He lived in Gargnano and set up the Italian Social Republic. 

1945 (April 27)  --  near the village of Dongo,  just before the Allied armies reached Milan, Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci tried to board a plane for Switzerland.  But Italian communist partisans caught them. 

1945 (April 28)  --  Mussolini and his mistress were both executed in the village of Giulino di Mezzegra.

1945 (April 29)  --  the bodies of Mussolini and his mistress were hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto, Milan, along with those of other fascists.


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