The final film by Robert Aldrich, the hard-edged American director of such tough-guy classics as Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and The Dirty Dozen (1967), drops the underdog sports drama into the barnstorming world of women’s tag team wrestling on the rural circuit for a meandering, comic look at the intersection of sports, show business, and big dreams.
Iris and Molly (Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon), who fight professionally as the California Dolls, and manager / promoter Harry Sears (Peter Falk) hustle their way through small-time matches, hostile crowds, crummy motel rooms and lousy burger joints in the American Midwest with an eye on the big time: the championship match in Reno. While they struggle to maintain their dignity (which comes under assault when they’re booked into a county fair mud wrestling match), Harry plays the crusty but paternal veteran manager keeping them going with a mix of tough love and inspirational speeches, all delivered with Falk’s gravelly voice, street-smart attitude, and wry humor.
Think Kansas City Bomber (1972) meets Rocky (1976) by way of a buddy road movie.This culture is as much show business fakery and ballyhoo as it is working class sports spectacle, a mix of big, broad wrestling theater (right down to scripted turnarounds and manufactured rivalries) and cheesecake fashion show with tough, sexy women in wrestling tights that could pass for bathing suits. In between, Harry and the girls banter while driving along the highways of America’s rust belt in a broken-down car. Robert Aldrich was no stranger to sports stories in unusual cultures — his The Longest Yard (1974) turns on a football game between semi-pro prison guards and a team of convicts put together for an exhibition match and is as much about dignity and self-respect as it is about victory — but for all the drama of rigged matches and corrupt bookers, he applies a lighter touch to this story.
Plays on Friday, December 7 on Turner Classic Movies