The story begins in Rome on that crucial historical day September 8th, 1943 when armistice is declared by the Italian government after the Allies have already liberated the south of Italy. Danilo (Castelnuovo), a shy and sensitive university student, evades enlistment and overcome by fear teams up with his friend Michele (Trieste), a timid accountant. Both try to cross the so-called “Gustav line” more than 100 kilometres south of Rome which separates the Germans and the Allies. By chance, they encounter the sly scoundrel Gino (Milian) who joins them when their train gets stopped by the Germans. They take refuge to the cellar of a canteen in a small village where they meet Orlando (Salvatori), who commands a group of exsoldiers. The partisan leader Edoardo (Valli) instructs them to blow up a bridge which is used by the Germans as a means for getting their supplies. Having secretly procured the necessary explosives for the sabotage from an Italian military camp, the group then breaks up after the sudden news of Edoardo’s capture by the Germans. Back in Rome, they learn about Edoardo’s death and are informed by his widow that his last wish had been that the friends should complete the mission with which he had entrusted them. Deeply moved and inspired to continue their resistance, they change their minds and together with Orlando prepare the sabotage and finally manage to blow up the bridge. Michele loses his life during the operation, but with his courageous act at the same time redeems those of the others.
The choice of Carlo Rustichelli as composer for Un giorno da leoni was certainly no coincidence as one year before he had already supplied the music for the two celebrated Italian anti-war film classics Kapò and La lunga notte del ‘43 which also dealt with Italian Fascism during World War II. By the way, the German march heard during the “Main Title” (Track 1) of Un giorno da leoni when we see documentary footage of German troops and tanks invading the now open city had originally been composed —also as “source music”— for Kapò. The pomposity of this march is used here in an even more sarcastic way as there are several pauses in between which are filled with the oppressive sound of soldiers’ marching feet. There is also a relation with La lunga notte del ‘43 as the same tension-filled ominous string chords which represented the Italian fascists there are heard here when the partisan group in disguise sneaks into the Italian military camp to get the explosives they need (Tr. 9).
Rustichelli, who with his score for Un giorno da leoni started a long and fruitful collaboration with director Nanni Loy, was one of the most versatile and distinguished Italian film composers who was firmly rooted in the operatic as well as the folkloristic tradition of his country. His music —even more so than the one by other Italian film composers- always sounded characteristically Italian, he had an inimitable lyrical symphonic style and an immense melodic gift. Un giorno da leoni is a prime example of this. The main theme, the so-called “Tema partigiani” (Tr. 4) has that typical Rustichelli touch with its melodic beauty and its discrete elegance. It is one of those touching themes which goes straight to the heart. Through this music which throughout the score recurs in many subtle variations —particularly impressive is the gorgeous meditative reverie for solo piano (Tr. 10)— the composer lets us feel his empathy towards the group of partisans, their plight and determination. Often this almost folksong-like theme is played by an intimate guitar and accordion duet backed by just a few strings and the by turns mournful and nostalgic as well as hopeful and serene character of the music is kept in a wonderfully delicate balance.
A second motif which from the beginning of the film on turns up again and again is a descending melodic piano line which mostly underlines the disillusionment of the protagonists or tragic loss. In the scene where the three young men flee from the Germans, run over a bridge and reach a small village it is extended into a brilliant baroque largo which is a perfect complement to the images (Tr. 3).
The full orchestra is used sparingly, but when it appears it is all the more effective. So strident dissonance with outbursts of the full brass section and piano staccati underscores the appearance of the German fascists when for example they stop the train (beginning of Tr. 3). And highly dramatic and passionate music with an intricate intertwining of the two main themes describes Michele’s final heroic act of leaping onto the bridge and triggering the explosion (Tr. 16). The frantic orchestral outcry of the Finale (Tr. 17) was not used in the film itself, but it was probably meant as a musical reminder that the fight against the Nazi terror regime in Italy was not yet over at the end of 1943.
All in all, Rustichelli has written a lovely, haunting and highly emotional score dedicated to the spirit of the partisan soldiers which now gets its world premiere on this CD. Only the “Tema partigiani” track had been available before on the CAM compilation CD “Carlo Rustichelli — Ritratto di un autore”. As bonus tracks we have included a few short cues which were not used in the film or meant as alternates as well as two source music tracks which were not composed by Rustichelli.
In addition to Un giorno da leoni our CD also contains as a bonus the first ever release of the rather short score —with a duration of about 20 minutes— which Rustichelli wrote for the 1968 war movie La battaglia di El Alamein. Directed by Giorgio Ferroni (under the English pseudonym of Calvin Jackson Paget), the movie which dealt with the 1942 battle between Rommel and Montgomery in North Africa from an Italian point of view had a quite interesting international cast of Italian, French and British actors starring Robert Hossein (as Field Marshal Rommel), Michael Rennie (as General Montgomery), Frederick Stafford (as Italian Lieutenant Borri), George Hilton (as British Lieutenant Graham) and Enrico Maria Salerno (as Major Borri). Although loosely structured and episodic, the film’s story mainly concentrates on the heroics of an Italian infantry division and on the conflict between the at first inexperienced and tough Italian Lieutenant Giorgio Borri and his good-natured older brother Claudio, a veteran Major. When Montgomery’s clever counter offensive wears out the Axis forces, Rommel who is short of supplies orders his army to retreat to Tobruk and the Italians have to serve as a shield to the withdrawing German troops till they are almost entirely defeated. In the end Lieutenant Borri sacrifices his own life in a heroic gesture whereas his brother and a few other surviving Italian soldiers are taken prisoner by the British army.
Particularly convincing is the first half of the movie where the director tries to be as fair as possible to all the three war parties and also in several instances shows the chivalry of the soldiers who are enemies whereas during the second part the more conventional action scenes of the climactic tank battle in the desert between the hapless Italian foot soldiers and the superior British army prevail.
Almost from the outset a mood of despair and hopelessness is established which is also underlined by Rustichelli’s ominous and suspenseful music with its string tremoli and threatening chords —by the way, at the beginning of track 23 we hear the same descending musical phrase as in the “Military Camp” track of Un giorno da leoni, only this time in a more urgent and powerful arrangement— and with the mysterious sombre humming of a male choir. Music is used very sparingly throughout the first half of the picture with many short and disjointed cues so that we have decided to combine some of them to somewhat longer tracks.
For the last scene of the film where the few remaining Italian soldiers march along as prisoners Rustichelli has written a superb tragic march with male choir (Tr. 32) which has all those typical melodic imprints of his symphonic style and which remains unforgettable after having seen the film. It first appears in a purely orchestral and more subdued version when Lieutenant Borri escapes from the British camp and has to traverse the desert to get back to his base (Tr. 27). A poignant dirge for solo trumpet and organ accompanies the death of the chivalrous and sympathetic Lieutenant Graham who is accidentally shot during a night raid by the Italians (Tr. 28) as well as the sacrifice of Lieutenant Borri (Tr. 30) -both had almost become friends if there had been no war, and the music functions here as a connecting link between them.
Besides an oriental dance in a bar (Tr. 26) and a Scottish bagpipe tune which is imitated by two electronic organs (Tr. 25), there is also a nice solemn orchestral variation with male choir and high strings of the famous Italian “Rusticanella” theme for the scene when the last surviving Italian soldiers get captured (Tr. 31). Originally, “Rusticanella” had been a march song of the Italian Blackshirts during the 1920s and was composed by Domenico Cortopassi. During the film’s Main Title it is sung by the soldiers of the infantry company accompanied by a small band and we have put this track therefore into the bonus section at the end of the CD (Tr. 33).
In the case of Un giorno da leoni we had access to the mono master tapes from the Sugar music archives whilst those for La battaglia di El Alamein had been recorded and preserved in stereo. We are pleased to present both complete original soundtracks on this CD, two quite different scores for anti-war films which bear testimony to the mastery of Carlo Rustichelli, one of the most gifted composers the Italian cinema has ever had.