Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Massacre" film uneven
Cleveland Press November 8, 1973
"Massacre in Rome" is a fictionalized movie based on the incident known as the Ardeatine Massacre. In 1944, 335 Italian hostages were killed by the Nazis in retaliation for a partisan attack on SS troops in Rome which resulted in the death of 32 soldiers.
The picture sets up a debate on the viewpoints of duty to a higher authority vs.the dictates of conscience.
The debaters are Col. Kappler (Richard Burton), a real character, and Father Pietro (Marcello Mastroianni), a fictional priest.
The picture is uneven and eventually boring as it tries for both action -- the planning and then the attack on the SS, the eventual reprisal massacre -- and for meaningful commentary.
More pretentious than dramatic, and typical of the picture's failings, is a scene in which the Gestapo chief and the Italian priest quote bits of Homer to each other.
In an attempt to hype the picture the makers have resorted to even more pretentious tricks in editing. An example of this is the cross cutting from scenes showing a German soldier singing a tenor aria, "Una furtive lacrima," to scenes showing a bloody, screaming prisoner being questioned by the Gestapo.
What does come through quite well is a picture of bureaucratic red tape and madness, the horror of putting together a list of people to be killed somehow deadened by the mundaneness of it all, the paper shuffling and phone calls.
There is also the shifting of responsibility the request for a direct order, the insistence of "putting it in writing" as though in expectation that someday, somewhere there will be an accounting.
The picture is based on the book, "Death in Rome," a controversial work which had as its premise that the massacre could have been avoided had the Pope intervened.
Whatever the merits of the pro and con arguments over the book the movie is both heavy handed and unconvincing, suggesting without supporting arguments the premise that the Nazis would listen to arguments from the Pope.
Carlo Ponti, the film's producer, has had problems with both the Vatican and the Italian Government over his marital status which may suggest his choice of subject matter in this and in his previous movie, "The Priest's Wife."
Richard Burton fares best among the performers. The portrayal is fairly restrained and he suggests an under-current of irony. Skillfully, without overdoing it, he indicates the inner conflict when he is ordered to participate personally in the executions.
Mastroianni is best in the slower scenes, but when he shows excitement or anger his English isn't up to the demands.
Leo McKern as a German general is allowed to get away with some of the most atrocious scenery chewing ever put on film.