Starring: Elsa Martinelli, Luigi Montefiori, Robert Woods, Francesca Righini
Director: Lina Wertmüller
Mood: If you’re just feeling really spiteful and want to ruin someone’s day by putting on a movie that nobody could enjoy in any way.
The Belle Starr Story’s utter crapness makes me mad for three reasons. Well, there are a LOT of things that suck about it – but these are the three things still pissing me off a couple days after watching it:
- It’s the only Western I had time to watch this week, and I hate wasting time on bad movies.
- It’s not even close to being the actual Belle Starr story, and Belle Starr was a f*cking LEGEND so to call your movie ‘The Belle Starr Story’ and then make up a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with her is incredibly lame.
- It’s the ONLY Spaghetti Western directed by a woman, one who earned an Oscar nom later in her career! You pair that with it being about a badass woman of the Wild West and it should have been iconic. But instead it’s 103 minutes of terrible acting and a dumpster fire of a script that no amount of overly artistic cinematography can cover. It lets down women everywhere.
I heard about The Belle Starr Story a couple of years ago, when I was working on my mega-list of the best women in Westerns. It was on someone else’s list. There is clearly something wrong with that person’s brain.
The only place it will live on my website is among other Westerns I hated.
The Belle Starr Story opens with Belle Starr (Elsa Martinelli) wrapping up a successful poker game against a bunch of men who are clearly both infatuated with and intimidated by her. She looks a little on the modern side with her heavy ’60s eyeliner, but you could get into it if everything else worked. TOO BAD IT DOESN’T.
Larry Blackie (Luigi Montefiori, acting under the pseudonym George Eastman) walks in and is immediately rude and full of himself. He demands to play Belle, and she loses everything while he laughs. He suggests that she wager sleeping with him, and for some reason she agrees AND intentionally loses the final hand.
Cut to a bedroom. She intends to keep her word, but she’s not happy about it – again, she drew winning cards but threw the hand, so her motivations are confusing. He’s rough with her as she tries to fight him off, and she’s having flashbacks to someone trying to rape her. The whole thing is SUPER uncomfortable. But suddenly she starts touching his hair and the music goes romantic and informs you that’s it’s actually good – even when afterward he tells her that she’s just a one-night whore to him, and to get off his turf.
I tell you all of this because this is the relationship the movie is built around. We’re supposed to buy that she is drawn to this scumbag.
Anyway, there’s a really long flashback to Belle’s past, which is better than the current story but still not great cinema. And there’s a heist that’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but not technically good or memorable. By this point you’re so over these characters and this ridiculous story that you’re just counting down for it to end.
The Belle Starr Story was originally released as Il Mio Corpo por un Poker and, like many Spaghetti Westerns, dubbed into English, so it’s possible it lost something in translation. But even if I allow for that, it’s still SO F*CKING BAD.
Here’s a list of more reasons not to watch this movie:
- Belle Starr was a crack shot but Elsa Martinelli can’t even convincingly hold a gun, she’s perpetually flailing it all over the place
- She wears head-to-toe skin-tight leather, which is insanely impractical and looks like a ‘sexy cowgirl’ Halloween costume – and also eerily like this ad for a True Religion jean jacket
- Dubbed voice actor Rita Savagnone’s ‘American’ accent is all over the place
- THERE IS A RANDOM MUSICAL NUMBER FOR NO REASON AT ALL
- I just want to punch Larry Blackie in his obnoxious face every time he talks, the character is so poorly written
- All of the stabbing and punching and torture is basically the worst stage fighting ever, and the actors have bizarre ideas of what it’s like to be shot or stabbed or tortured with a spur
- Starr and her gang show up to a robbery wearing what appear to be neckties around their mouths, which look like gags and do nothing to hide their faces
Director Lina Wertmüller was heavily influenced by Frederico Fellini, and it feels like with The Belle Starr Story she was trying to BE him. You get sappy music awkwardly layered atop random scenes in attempt to give them a fantastical quality, ‘creative’ camerawork used at unexpected times, and lead actors frequently posed like they’re in a Baroque painting.
I will say that the long flashback at least gives the viewer perspective on why Belle doesn’t let men close to her. And Martinelli was unquestionably gorgeous. But gorgeous women aren’t enough to make a Western worth watching – just look at Bandidas.
The movie makes a giant misstep in the first five minutes: asking the audience to buy into the relationship between Belle and Larry. Because Larry is repulsive in every possible way, you then subconsciously don’t trust anything else you’re shown. Your brain has already decided you’re being fed lies.
In order to have that kind of love/hate relationship create enjoyable tension and keep the audience rooting for the characters, there has to be at least some chemistry. Individually, they have to be likeable. Look at Maverick, or pretty much any movie with Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate. Larry is no Doc Holliday.
I deeply regret spending my hard-earned money on The Belle Starr Story. Don’t make the same mistake I did! If you want a decent female performance in a Spaghetti Western, go watch Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West.