Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Times of the Sicilian Robin Hood

The Literature

Only two biographies in English have been written about Salvatore Giuliano.  The first, in a way pretending to be scholarly or authoritative, is by Gavin Maxwell.  It has the advantage of having been written only a few years after Giuliano's death, and the author had direct access to those who knew Giuliano.  It is immensely interesting and has an immediacy about it that is arresting.

King of the Mountain by Billy Jaynes Chandler
King of the Mountain by Billy Jaynes Chandler

The second is a scholarly study written some thirty years later by a professional historian, Billy Jaynes Chandler.  It is a complete and documented work, and it is particularly informative about the contexts of Giuliano's life, death, and turbulent times.

Both books are important.  The first is dramatic and laudatory.  The second is impassionate and detailed.

The two principal interviews of Giuliano are quite different.  The first, by Michael Stern, was obtained by deception.  Stern is an ancestor of the sort of sensational journalism practiced by contemporary scandal sheets, and reports the apparently sensational without much verification of his conclusions.  His article in Life was superficial, but his subject was so fundamentally impressive that even that (at the time) distinguished periodical could not dismiss Giuliano lightly. 

Maria Cykalis was clearly smitten by her subject, and it is clear in her articles that she fell in love with Giuliano, not only with the man, but with his legend.  She includes details that are almost tender in their description - the contents of Giuliano's shaving kit, the description of him physically so that her affection for the man is palpable.

Other books, articles, and interviews about Giuliano in Italian have many important facts about Giuliano, but tend either to glamorize him (with some justification), or to assess him as a temporary historical phenomenon.

Giuliano is the hero of Mario Puzo's novel, The Sicilian, a book that is entertaining and, for the most part, historically accurate.  Giuliano's personality, as imagined by Puzo, seems to be plausible.  However, the film made from the novel is wildly improbable, with Giuliano appearing as a cross between Casanova and Billy the Kid. 

Salvatore Giuliano a film by Francesco Rosi
Salvatore Giuliano a film by Francesco Rosi

Francesco Rosi's film, Salvatore Giuliano, is a true work of art, although Giuliano appears only as a detached shadow.  It recreates with great accuracy some of the events in the life of the bandit, including an impressive reenactment of the massacre at Portella della Ginestra which uses many of the people who were present on that fateful day.  (As the scene was filmed, many of the "extras" fell to the ground in fear, believing that the massacre was once more taking place.)

All of this simply adds to his legend.  Even revisionists, or those who write histories of post-war Italy and Sicily, are conflicted in how they try to assess Giuliano.  Some barely mention him.  That fact alone, that they felt it necessary to mention him at all, is significant.


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