Wednesday, January 4, 2012


THE CRAZY KIDS OF THE WAR was the fourth star vehicle produced for 21 year-old singer-dancer Rita Pavone, Italy's freckle-faced answer to Brenda Lee's "Little Miss Dynamite", whose huge voice, boundless energy and theatrical savvy made her popular with young and old alike. This World War II musical comedy, which anticipates Jerry Lewis' WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT? in some ways, was scripted by the writing team of Franco Castellano and Giuseppe Moccia, whose earlier successes included several films for Catherine Spaak (EIGHTEEN IN THE SUN, CRAZY DESIRE, THREE NIGHTS OF LOVE, THE LITTLE NUNS), some Lucio Fulci comedies (THE MANIACS), Mario Bava's notorious DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, the Diabolik spoof HOW TO KILL 400 DUPONTS, and other comedies for the director of this one: Steno.

The story concerns an endlessly hungry US Army major (Jess Hahn) whose plane is shot down over the Italian countryside by Nazis. (The first bullets hit his sandwich, upsetting him more than the loss of his aircraft.) Finding his way to a local monastery, he is disguised by the brothers as a monk and welcomed to stay, but his appetite leads him to a nearby trattoria, where he meets its young hostess Rita (Pavone) and her upstairs neighbor, an absent-minded professor (Mario Girotti, the future "Terence Hill") so occupied with developing his experimental weather-altering rocket that he has failed to notice Rita is blossoming into a grown woman. (This is one of a few ways in which the film acknowledges Pavone's curiously gender-neutral image.) Their swastika'd adversaries are Francis Blanche as a plump and hectoring Captain who is gradually revealed as a conscripted Viennese musician who privately loathes uniformed conformity, Michel Modo as his google-eyed idiot assistant Fritz, and Aroldo Tieri as their scar-faced, somewhat more serious commanding officer, whose Achilles' heel is his love for his Mercedes, a gift from reichsf├╝hrer Heinrich Himmler himself. Teddy Reno, Pavone's manager and future husband (they married in early 1968), plays the incidental role of Father Sevatino.

By the time this film was made, Pavone had moved past her earlier flirtations with becoming a rock-and-roller and was establishing herself as a more theatrical, mainstream entertainer, releasing covers of songs from MARY POPPINS, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and DOCTOR DOOLITTLE. Most of the songs she performs here are in this brassy show-tune vein, but her feisty, outgoing spirit and choreography are hard to resist. Much of the movie's zany pleasure comes from her personality and the light comic timing of the handsome Girotti, who also starred opposite her in the earlier, deliriously wonderful Spaghetti Western spoof LITTLE RITA OF THE WEST. The film aspires to good-natured humor rather than being laugh-out-loud funny (one exception: a squealing pig is put in uniform and successfully passed off as the Commandant of the SS), much of it earthy and allied to making high-spirited rebellious gestures behind the back of an oppressor. It was likely Steno's concern to remain fundamentally truthful to Italian relations with Germans, as they were both under the duress of wartime and in the post-war era; this is not a HOGAN'S HEROES that lampoons the Nazis to the point of emasculating their historical threat, yet it accepts that some of the men who wore Nazi uniforms did so under duress and were as frightened of their commanding officers as those whom they oppressed. The final scene is set in contemporary times and reveals Pavone and Girotti in prosperous middle age as the parents of pop star Rita Pavone, with their former Nazi captor chauffering them around.

I doubt this film had an English theatrical release anywhere, yet an English track was recovered from a worn and aged Swedish tape for this Cinemageddon fan-dub, then married to a rip from the Italian DVD on the Fida label. (God bless the subterranean fan community!) The film was also released as a French DVD called La Grosse Pagaille, on the One-Plus-One label -- which had the audacity to neither picture nor mention Rita Pavone on its packaging. Neither of the official releases are English-friendly, though the story itself is immensely so.

Viewed on DVD-R.


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