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Bassilio Battaglia

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Bassilio Battaglia is a major character in both the novel and film Von Ryan's Express. In the film, he is played by Adolfo Celi.

Battaglia was the commandant of an Italian P.O.W. camp towards the end of World War II at which many British and a few American officers and soldiers are kept. His depiction as simply an antagonist or an outright villain depends on whether one is reading the novel or watching the film.


In the original novel, Colonel Battaglia is depicted as a fair man doing the best he can under the circumstances who doesn't like either the Fascist Italians or the Nazis, and it is his brutish second in command Major Vittorio Oriani who cruelly abuses the prisoners. When Fascist Italy surrenders and the Nazis take over the prison camp, a guilt-ridden Battaglia commits suicide.


In the film adaptation, Major Battaglia is a cruel sadist and tin-pot dictator who supports the Black Shirts and the Nazis completely, even insisting on giving the Nazi salute when greeting Colonel Ryan. He is ruthlessly cruel to the prisoners over the objections of his eyeoatch-wearing aide Captain Oriani (now a good guy). He deprives them of medicine and decent clothing. As a result, many prisoners get sick and die, and all of them wear rags. Battaglia also punishes disobedience and misbehavior amongst the prisoners harshly, putting them into a sweatbox for days on end.

When Fascist Italy surrenders, almost all of Battaglia's men flee, fearing the wrath of their former prisoners. Battaglia is taken captive by the men he'd abused. Only Oriani remains out of simple duty to his commanding officer. Senior British officer Major Fincham wants to hang Battaglia as a war criminal. The Major begs for his life, and so Ryan instead convinces the British to punish Battaglia as he punished them - by sticking him into the sweatbox. They do so and leave. Oriani goes with them, deciding he is done forever with Fascists and Nazis.

Later, a group of SS troops led by Colonel Gortz arrived and set Battaglia free. In return, he remains faithful to the Nazis and tells them where he thinks the escaped prisoners are going. Thus it is that they're all recaptured. The SS murder all of the sick and wounded escapees and put the healthy ones on a train. Battaglia cruelly has his former second in command Oriani beaten for betraying him and helping the Allies, and insists the SS put him in among the recaptured prisoners. Gortz complies. Enraged, Fincham rushes at Battaglia only to have the train car door slammed in his face.

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