Little Rita of the West

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“Killing off the Western musical, almost a decade before Paint Your Wagon.”

I came into this almost entirely blind, watching it based on the title and the first three minutes off YouTube. You can understand my surprise, after Rita (Pavone) and her German sidekick (Dalla) take out a gang of stagecoach robbers, finishing off by gunning one down in the back, as he lies dazed on the ground, when they… burst into song? Yep, what I didn’t know was, this is actually a musical, designed around the talents of Ms. Pavone, who was apparently a huge pop-star in Italy in the sixties. Hence the songs. Okay, that makes a bit more sense. But it’s still an extremely odd beast, swinging from obvious spoof to apparent seriousness at the drop of a catchy tune.

The plot has Rita “liberating” gold from various bad guys, in conjunction with her Indian chief partner (Mitchell), with the intention of destroying it, believing it’s the root of all evil. That brings her into conflict with “Ringo” – sharing the same of a popular spaghetti Western character, but really a thinly-disguised Man With No Name – and “Django,” a not-at-all disguised copy of that iconic character, down to him dragging a coffin containing a machine-gun, and possessing broken hands. But she then meets and falls for another outlaw, Black Stan (Hill), who ends up sentenced to death after he tries to run off with Rita’s stash of gold awaiting destruction.

Much of this clearly isn’t intended to be serious, such as Rita’s rocket-propelled grenades which clip on to her gun, the local sheriff (Pavone’s husband and manager Teddy Reno) who’d rather be a lumberjack hairdresser, and the frequent references to “frontier humour,” whenever anyone makes a bad joke. But the confrontations with Ringo and Django are played more or less straight, and Little Rita (who is indeed little, at barely 4’10”) is actually made to look something of a bad-ass, punching above her weight. There are actually some genuinely impressive bits of satire, too, such as one victim asking to die “American style,” which means he gets to tell his life-story before the final breath, unlike “Indians and Japs.” The finale, too, needs to be seen to be believed, and is an absurdist breaking of the fourth wall.

However, for every smart and witty moment, there are probably two really stupid ones, while most of the performances would get their actors fired from Benny Hill for excessive comedic mugging. And the songs don’t help: I’m not averse to the concept (I’m a big My Fair Lady fan, and we’ve also seen enough Bollywood films to be able to cope with sudden jumps into musical numbers), but these are damn near irredeemably-awful. The result often finds its way into lists of the worst spaghetti Westerns ever made: if I can certainly see why, I’ll confess I was generally entertained, if only by the sheer “WTF?”-ness of proceedings. It’s more or less unlike any other GWG film you will ever see, and I’ve not seen any other spaghetti Westerns with a female lead either: for such originality alone, I can’t condemn it entirely.

Dir: Ferdinando Baldi
Star: Rita Pavone, Lucio Dalla, Terence Hill, Gordon Mitchell

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