Italy Moves Towards War

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 172nd installment in the series.  

March 6, 1915: Italy Moves Towards War 

In the confused, chaotic days of July 1914, when Austria-Hungary set in motion the events that would unleash the First World War, the Dual Monarchy’s leaders faced a crucial dilemma that would require a tough decision – but in characteristic fashion they just tried to ignore it. 

Since the medieval period the ruling Hapsburg dynasty counted among their possessions the ethnic Italian lands of Tyrol, Trentino, and Trieste, expanding to include Lombardy and Venice in the 18th century. Although they lost Lombardy and Venice to the newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1859 and 1866, respectively, the older ethnic Italian territories remained in Hapsburg possession and soon became a major source of friction between the old feudal realm and the new nation, where nationalists called for the “redemption” of Italians suffering under the Austrian boot. The Austrians only made things worse with the Hohenlohe Decrees banning Italians from public office in August 1913; Italy and Austria-Hungary were also competing for influence in the Balkans. 

Italy was nominally allied with Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance with Germany – but this was a strictly defensive agreement, and when war clouds began gathering Rome warned Vienna that Italy was under no obligation to fight by Austria-Hungary’s side if the latter provoked a European war by her actions against Serbia. At the same time, German leaders rightly feared that Italy might join their enemies to get the Tyrol, Trentino, and Trieste. 

As Europe slid towards war in July 1914, the Germans repeatedly urged their Austrian colleagues to bite the bullet and voluntarily cede the Italian territories in order to keep Italy out of the war. But Emperor Franz Josef and Foreign Minister Count Berchtold, under pressure from the powerful conservative Hungarian Premier István Tisza, refused to begin dismembering their own empire – after all, this was the whole point of the war against Serbia). They were aided by the political situation in Italy, which was adrift during this period due to the deaths of chief of the general staff Alberto Pollio from a heart attack on June 28, 1914 (the same day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated) and Foreign Minister San Giuliano, who died following a long illness on October 16, 1914. Furthermore longtime Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti had resigned back in March 1914 and his successor, Antonio Salandra, was relatively inexperienced. 

Italy declared its neutrality on August 3, 1914, but Austria-Hungary’s Italian problem wasn’t just going to go away: as the war dragged on into 1915, Italian nationalists were beating the drums for war, arguing that it was now or never as far as liberating their ethnic kinsmen. The “interventionists,” as they became known, staged noisy demonstrations and sometimes attacked pro-peace rallies across Italy, while both sides turned to the press to make their case to the public, waging a bitter war of words in political newspapers.

Indeed the controversy over whether Italy should intervene in the war split the Italian Socialist party, as hyper-nationalist socialists like the rabblerousing journalist Benito Mussolini renounced the party’s traditional pacifism and were expelled (or left before they could be expelled – above, Mussolini is arrested after a pro-intervention rally turned violent in April 1915). In the fall of 1914 Mussolini founded a new newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia – apparently with funds provided by the French government and Italian industrialists – which he used as his platform to advocate intervention against Austria, fiercely condemning Salandra’s opportunistic “wait and see” policy of sacro egoismo (sacred selfishness). 

Mussolini presented a range of arguments and sometime shifting rationales for going to war beyond simply liberating the northern Italian provinces, including imperialism and mystic notions that war would improve the Italian people. On March 4, 1915, he wrote that expansion in the Adriatic region would set the stage for an Italian empire in the Mediterranean, “looking towards the east, where Italian expansion can find vast and fertile soil for its energies.” Two days later he wrote that war would “temper” the Italian national character like a “burning forge.” 

Under mounting pressure from the interventionists, in the first months of 1915 the Italian government drifted towards war, further enticed by British and French promises of territory around the Adriatic. On February 12, Italy warned Austria-Hungary that further military activity in the Balkans would be viewed as a hostile act; two days later, the Austrians brushed off the threat and bombarded the port of Antivari (today Bar), Montenegro. 

Around this time public agitation was reaching a fever pitch, with the anonymous author “Piermarini” noting, “Italy looks very much like a country getting ready for war… Many officers told me that their men kept asking, ‘When are we going to fight?’ just as if Italy was already at war… Almost every day there are demonstrations in favour of going to war.” On March 4, Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino secretly presented Italy’s demands to the Allies, including territorial compensation and generous loans; against their better judgment the Allies eventually assented to many of these, formalized in the Pact of London on April 26, 1915 (conveniently ignoring the fact that their promises conflicted with Serbian ambitions in this region). 

Meanwhile Austria-Hungary, facing up to facts too late, staged a last-ditch attempt to keep Italy out of the war – and Sonnino, ever opportunistic, was more than happy to see what he could get out of them. On March 9 Austrian ambassador Karl von Macchio finally agreed to Italian demands to cease offensive operations in the Balkans (not much of a sacrifice, considering Hapsburg forces were unable to mount an attack following their defeat at Kolubara). This laid the groundwork for talks on territorial concessions, and on April 8 the Italians presented sweeping demands including the Trentino and land on the Dalmatian coast – but these were rejected out of hand by Emperor Franz Josef. The Great War was about to spread to a new front. 

Wooing the Neutrals 

Italy wasn’t the only neutral country trying to play the two sides off against each other. Across the Balkans, the Allies and Central Powers were both trying to recruit the smaller neutral powers of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania – for the time being, without success. 

Allied efforts during this period focused on getting Greece to help Serbia under the terms of their Balkan League defensive pact, offering the Greeks territory in Turkish Asia Minor as a reward. They received a sympathetic hearing from Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, but Greece’s King Constantine, who was married to Kaiser Wilhelm’s sister Sophia, opposed intervention and on January 29 Greece refused to come to Serbia’s aid. 

None of this deterred Venizelos, who on March 1, 1915 proceeded to offer the Allies three divisions for an amphibious landing near the Dardanelles– without, however, asking the rest of the Greek government. As it turned out, the idea was a non-starter because the Russians didn’t want to share the Turkish straits with the Greeks, but the fact that Venizelos made the offer without consulting anyone was enough to bring down his government. 

On March 3 Venizelos belatedly presented the idea to the Greek Crown Council, which firmly rejected it on March 5; on March 6, King Constantine dismissed Venizelos, making way for a new, pro-German government formed by Dmitrios Gounaris, who officially declared Greek neutrality on March 10. But this hardly spelled the end of the wily Venizelos, who’d continue working to bring Greece into the war on the side of the Allies – with or without the consent of the king and the crown council.

See the previous installment or all entries.

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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