From a screenwriting perspective, Pasquale Festa Campanile was a fairly active fellow. Beginning in the 1950s, Campanile would go on to pen nearly 60 motion pictures, including a heap of melodramas and sex comedies, most notably the Senta Berger guilty pleasure When Women Had Tails. During the early ’60s, he would collaborate with both Elio Petri and Luchiano Visconti on The Assassin (1961) and The Leopard (1963). He was also the fellow responsible for writing and directing the gritty cult 1977 thriller Hitch-Hike with Franco Nero and the late David Hess, proving the late Italian filmmaker knew how to choose his battles when it came to subject matter.
Alas, not all battles are meant to be won. And Campanile’s 1967 World War I dramedy The Girl and the General should serve as evidence to that effect. Here, top-billed Rod Steiger ‒ usually the first person in a room full of actors to start chewing on the scenery and overdoing it a tad ‒ gives a remarkably subdued performance as a one-armed Austrian General who unceremoniously halts a meeting with top brass to relieve himself. Were it not already an indication of where the movie in question is heading, Steiger then has the misfortune of being abducted by two inept Italian soldiers led by Umberto Orsini ‒ who doesn’t have enough sense to realize he’s on the wrong side of the border.
Certain he’ll be rewarded with a thousand-lire prize for capturing such a high-profile prisoner (this was obviously back when the lire still had value), Orsini decides to escort his accidental prisoner back to Italy. With an unsteady hand on his rifle, he orders General Steiger to start walkin’ across the scenic but rocky terrain ‒ thus beginning one of the dullest Italian films I have seen since Ludwig (which also featured Umberto Orsini, so I’m starting to suspect he may be the culprit). As the pair trek cross-country, they eventually make the acquaintance of a young Italian lass ‒ as played by Virna Lisi ‒ who soon reveals that a woman is just as capable of being petty and greedy as the rest of the species.
So, Lisi assumes command of the prisoner from Orsini ‒ also in the hopes of a lofty reward, as they are most certainly hard times (why else would anyone kidnap Rod Steiger, right?). Sadly, however, The Girl and the General fails to become as cute or as interesting as its scenario suggests. Most of Campanile’s jokes fall flat, while the ones that actually are funny are only amusing for a matter of milliseconds. For the most part, it’s three people who really don’t like each other and who are utterly incapable of compromising coming to grips with their own situations. The message is perfectly clear, but it seems to be delivered without so much as a degree of sincerity or care.
To say nothing of a poor, depressed, one-eared mule who has to step on a landmine just to get away from the boredom this motion picture emits. Why, not even the great Ennio Morricone can save this dud: his score, which was probably phoned in, sounds like an early attempt at what would eventually become the score from Sergio Leone’s 1971 spaghetti western A Fistful of Dynamite (which also starred Rod Steiger). When the film found its way to America, MGM wound up promoted it as something more than it really is (“What happens when the roles of man and woman are reversed? The Girl and the General is what happens!”), as it was clear they didn’t know what else to do with it.
Presented here in its original U.S. incarnation (which was either trimmed down or just poorly edited to begin with, I’m not sure), The Girl and the General receives a widescreen DVD debut from the Warner Archive Collection. The print used for this release is more than adequate, as is the mono English audio. If I could just rate the flick by its audio and video aspects alone, this WAC title would receive a better review, even if it is a barebones offering (read: no trailer). Ultimately, though, The Girl and the General just isn’t a very interesting picture (at least it wasn’t to me) ‒ and I don’t say that because the one and only moment of Virna Lisi nudity is clearly performed by a younger stunt double.
(Although that certainly did not help any, either!)
In Short: It’s easy to see why history forgot about The Girl and the General, but I can’t castigate the feature completely. After all, this Warner Archive Collection release is the perfect film to put on if you have a fair bit of housework to do.