Spanish-born actor Antonio Banderas was hot in the mid-1990s, starring in Hollywood films like Philadelphia (1993), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Desperado (1995), Evita, (1996), and The Mask of Zorro (1998). Before his career in the United States took off, however, he starred in a little known Italian miniseries later released as a film about a young, handsome and idealistic Italian socialist who became an influential Italian leader. That Italian leader was Benito Mussolini.
Written by Vincenzo Cerami, et al, and directed by Gianluigi Calderone, Benito (1993) was a 307-minute Italian made-for-TV movie starring then 32-year-old Antonio Banderas in the titular role. It was later released as a film in the U.S. by Lions Gate Entertainment. The movie charts Mussolini’s rise from young laborer to socialist revolutionary leader, ending prior to his creation of the National Fascist Party. The topic of pre-World War I Italian socialism is a little too esoteric for American audiences, so Lions Gate probably released this in the U.S. to capitalize on Antonio Banderas’ popularity.
It seems strange to think of 20th Century Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini as a left-wing political figure, but if it wasn’t for World War I, that may have been his claim to fame. Mussolini’s father, Alessandro Mussolini, was a socialist who named his son Benito Amilcare Andrea after Mexican president Benito Juárez and Italian socialists Andrea Costa and Amilcare Cipriani. As a young man, Mussolini avoided military service by hiding in Switzerland, where he studied Marxist philosophy, became active in labor unions, and wrote for the socialist newspaper L’Avvenire del Lavoratore. Back in Italy, he joined the Socialist Party and became editor of its newspaper, Avanti.