VHS Vednesday: Get Rita
GET RITA (1975). Directed by Giorgio Capitani (or Tom Rowe, according to the video box). Starring Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, and Aldo Maccione.
(I couldn't find an image of the US VHS tape cover online; this is the German cover.)
Among the all-time great screen couples, there are several that stand out. Astaire and Rogers. Tracy and Hepburn. Bogart and Bacall. And Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.
Loren and Mastroianni collaborated on 14 movies in all, including several acclaimed classics (Marriage, Italian Style; Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; A Special Day). Their on-screen chemistry was undeniable; unfortunately, it became so irresistible that some filmmakers thought that simply putting them together was guaranteed magic, and so they neglected other aspects of the movie, such as the script.
Get Rita (also known by such varied titles as Gun Moll, Sex Pot, and best of all, Oopsie Poopsie) is one such misfire. The plot revolves around Charlie "The Collar" Colletto (Mastroianni), a hot-tempered gangster with a Rita Hayworth fixation, and Sophia "Poopsie" Pupa (Loren), a prostitute whom Charlie grooms into his mistress and his nightclub's star attraction--until he decides to dump her for a younger Hayworth look-alike (Dalila Di Lazzaro). Things go from bad to worse after Charlie accidentally kills his replacement mistress; Poopsie overhears Charlie telling his loyal henchman Chopin (Aldo Maccione) of the crime, as well as his plan to blame a rival gangster for the killing. To protect herself, Poopsie sets out to counteract Charlie's plan by planting evidence of her own, "framing" the genuinely guilty party.
Get Rita is based on Cornell Woolrich's 1939 short story "Collared"; while I haven't read Woolrich's story, I'm certain that it treats its subject matter a great deal more seriously than the film, which turns every situation (no matter how morbid) into broad farce. As Poopsie tampers with the crime scene, she narrates her actions in a peppy, up-tempo song ("They say the dead don't talk, but this one's gonna squawk!"). Now, I'm a great admirer of dark comedy--but if you're going to turn murder into a joke, it should at least be funny. The jokes in Get Rita just fall flat, from Charlie's opening narration introducing himself ("My doctor says I have the body of a young man. I don't know how he knows; it's in the trunk of my car.") to the climactic slapstick car chase. And then there's the scene where Poopsie shows up at the nightclub with a black eye; I know it was a different time, but it's still hard for me to imagine anybody ever thinking that this was funny. Perhaps the story might have worked better as a straightforwards film noir; unfortunately, that's not the movie that was made.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Get Rita is definitely not a shining moment in the careers of either Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni, and the US release makes it even more difficult to judge their performances, as their trademark chemistry is lost beneath the horrible dubbing. It's especially jarring to hear a squeaky Betty Boop voice coming out of Ms. Loren; it just doesn't suit her at all. Oh well, at least they have 13 other movies to choose from...
Labels: vhs vednesday