According to Georges Sadoul, 1860 “marked the highest peak of the Italian cinema during the Fascist period.” The Italian filmmaker and critic Carlo Lizzani agrees with Sadoul's estimate, as do Adam Garbicz and Jacek Klinowski, who write in “Cinema, The Magic Vehicle,”
“Although the structural axis of 1860 is the story of two people, the real hero is the whole Italian nation. A host of sensitively and indivudally portrayed characters file through the screen, among them Garibaldi himself - shown not as a star statesman, but as only one of many freedom fighters.
“The narrative of 1860 is conducted with simplicity and directness; the shooting was done on real Sicilian locations and most of the actors - including those in leading parts - were amateurs. Thus the creative method displayed in the picture is basically close to the future Neorealist practice - indeed, 1860 is justly considered a forerunner of Neorealism, not only because of the manner of execution, but also because of the great strength with which the patriotic message is conveyed.”
The story deals with the adventures of a Sicilian mountaineer who, after the liberation of Sicily, leaves his new wife to join Garibaldi's Red Shirts at Genoa and stays to fight with Garibaldi until the defeat of the Bourbon troops.