Film Review: Racket Girls (1951)

Also known as: Blonde Pickup, Pin Down Girls, Wrestling Racket Girls
Release Date: 1951
Directed by: Robert C. Dertano
Written by: Robert C. Dertano
Cast: Peaches Page, Timothy Farrell, Clara Mortenson, Rita Martinez

Arena Productions, Screen Classics, 70 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And don’t forget about me. I’m Joe.” – Joe the Jockey, “Hi, Joe. You’re cute.” – Peaches, “I get it – anything that is small is cute. Well, that’s me.” – Joe the Jockey, “Don’t you know? Good things come in small packages” – Peaches, “[openly staring at Peaches’ breasts] Not to my way of thinking.” – Joe the Jockey

This was put out by Screen Classics and producer George Weiss, the man that distributed the earliest Ed Wood films. Therefore, you know this is of a similar quality. Well, it is missing the charm of Wood, so without that, it’s just a really awful motion picture that was destined to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Like many of Weiss’ productions, this was released multiple times, in multiple small markets with multiple titles. This wasn’t uncommon for crappy indie pictures back in the ’50s, especially those that feel like they are some sort of proto-grindhouse feature albeit lacking the sort of skin and violence those movies would shovel into run-down theaters during their peak in the ’70s.

The plot revolves around some lady wrestlers in the ’50s. There are some unconvincing mobster types that try to use the women’s wrestling federation as a cover for their illegal schemes. The crime boss is in over his head and has to evade meddling police and bigger mobsters that he owes money to. I guess this is technically film-noir but it’s as low as a noir can get and then, even lower.

And if you must watch a noir picture with some wrestling in it, might I suggest Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, which is actually a damn fine film and has real wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko in a key role.

This film could be the worst wrestling themed film ever made and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever seen Grunt!Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. I actually love No Holds Barred in spite of its awfulness. But really, this makes Grunt! look like Citizen Kane.

Even if this had El Santo in it, it couldn’t have been salvaged. It’s an exceptionally shitty film to the point that I feel great distress over the poor film stock that had to have this movie burnt into its very soul. If Argentina can’t cry for Evita, they should shed those tears for the poor film stock that was permanently disfigured by Racket Girls.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this turd covered turkey is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Superargo and the Faceless Giants (1968)

Also known as: L’invincibile Superman (original), Superargo the Giant, The King of Criminals, Superargo (UK)
Release Date: January 26th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Paolo Bianchini
Written by: Julio Buchs
Music by: Berto Pisano
Cast: Giovanni Cianfriglia, Guy Madison, Luisa Baratto

G. V. Cinematografica, Societa Europea Cinematografica, Izaro Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

This film is actually a sequel to an earlier Superargo film. I’ve been trying to track that one down to no avail. But since this one is readily available on a few streaming services, I figured that I’d check it out, as it’s a film that has been mentioned a lot in some of my circles over the years.

It is an Italian film that features a superhero detective similar to Batman. In fact, Superargo looks like a mixture of Batman and The Phantom. He is actually an ex-professional wrestler and he wears his wrestling costume because it gave him good luck in the ring. I guess it didn’t give him good luck though when the girl in the film was kidnapped while under his care.

The film is cheesy and over the top. It is colorful but not quite as colorful as an Italian giallo film. The action is pretty decent for what you can expect from an old school Italian action bonanza. But the film is so hokey that you kind of dismiss some of its faults. Really, it is exciting and has a lot of energy.

The movie is fairly nonsensical and strange but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an entertaining ride. It has a coolness about it and almost feels like the Italian version of the ’60s Batman show, as well as having strong similarities to those Mexican movies featuring the lucha libre legend El Santo.

Superargo and the Faceless Giants makes me wish I had access to the first film. However, when and if it does pop up somewhere I can check it out, I am much more motivated after having experienced this chapter in the two film series.

Documentary Review: Lipstick and Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling (2004)

Release Date: May 4th, 2004 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Ruth Leitman
Music by: The Corn Sisters

Ruthless Films, Nightingale Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It covered the history of women’s wrestling in America. It went into its origins, how it was perceived and the hardships that these women had to go through throughout the years.

The highlight of the film for me was that it gave an intimate look into the lives of several legends but most notably the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young, two women who wrestled well into their final years; both passed away recently.

In it’s short running time, this documentary covered a lot. It allowed many of the women featured to tell stories that no one would have heard otherwise and it also allowed them to vent some frustrations with the wrestling business and some of the people within it.

Many women in the film were very critical of the fact that Moolah and Mae Young were still wrestling in their old age, as they felt it was disrespectful. I’m not exactly sure how and as a fan, I enjoyed seeing them still hang in the ring and put on a good show. I think between many of the female stars, there was a lot of professional jealousy that they never really got over or let go of.

The movie was well-structured and the director did a great job of bringing it all together and giving the audience a lot to digest and reflect on. Watching this made me realize how much I miss seeing the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young pop up on television every now and again.

Rest in peace, ladies.

Documentary Review: Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story (2006)

Release Date: March 3rd, 2006
Directed by: Vince McMahon

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), 88 Minutes

Review:

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time. In the ’80s, he probably was my favorite but I also loved that dastardly “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The thing that really made Piper eclipse the others though, was the fact that he was the star of They Live, which is still the greatest motion picture to ever feature a professional wrestler in the lead role. Sorry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

This is one of dozens of WWE documentaries put out in the heyday of their DVD releases, most of which were met with great fanfare and always sold really well. Like most of the others, this was initially released with several extra discs featuring pivotal matches from the wrestler’s career. I happen to own the special exclusive addition that had an extra bonus disc featuring classic episodes of Piper’s Pit, Roddy’s popular talk show segment.

The documentary is chock-full of interviews with many of the people who knew Piper over the course of his career. There are interviews with his friends, rivals and other colleagues within the wrestling business. We also get to hear from John Carpenter on why he cast Piper in They Live and what it was like to work with him on the film.

The best part of this whole film is hearing Piper himself talk about his time in wrestling and about his life beforehand.

Born to Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story is one of the brightest spots in WWE’s long history of wrestler biography pieces. It features one of the most entertaining men in sports entertainment history and it flows nicely and covers all of the relevant stuff in Piper’s long and storied career.

Film Review: Night and the City (1950)

Release Date: June 9th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Austin Dempster, William E. Watts
Based on: Night and the City by Gerald Kersh
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Herbert Lom, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Mike Mazurki

20th Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Harry. Harry. You could have been anything. Anything. You had brains… ambition. You worked harder than any 10 men. But the wrong things. Always the wrong things… ” – Mary Bristol

I was glad that I got to catch this on a recent episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. I wasn’t really familiar with Jules Dassin’s work until recently, while delving deep into the vast ocean that is film-noir.

This film, among the seemingly endless noir-scape, stands out, stands strong and hell, it’s got professional wrestling in it: giving Mike Mazurki a character close to who he actually was and providing a great role for wrestling legend (and former world champion) Stanislaus Zbyszko of the famous Zbyszko wrestling family.

The film primarily stars Richard Widmark and man is he a friggin’ entertaining weasel in this. He is also accompanied by one of the queens of film-noir, Gene Tierney. Unfortunately, she isn’t in this film as much as I would have liked because she is truly an enchantress of the silver screen.

Night and the City follows Widmark’s Harry Fabian, a hustling con man type that is always looking for a way to get to the top, regardless of who he has to screw over in the process. Obviously, he’s a man in over his head, barking up all the wrong trees while digging his own eventual grave. When he starts a scheme involving professional wrestlers, he is in deeper water than he can even fathom.

The film takes place in London and was filmed there due to director Jules Dassin moving to the UK after being blacklisted over communist fears. His career still flourished, even if he had to escape Hollywood and Night and the City is a great example of how the director didn’t miss a beat, despite his misfortune during the McCarthy era witch hunts.

Widmark’s performance is tremendous as he traverses through all the twists and turns in the film’s plot. He has a charm and an insane enthusiasm that almost feels like the gangster version of the comic book Joker before he fell into that vat of acid. Hell, he could have been a great Jack Napier and Joker had they made a Batman film in the 1950s with a serious tone.

The highlight of this film for me was seeing the two wrestling legends square off: Mazurki and Zbyszko. Their physical fight in the film was pretty damn realistic and grueling as hell to witness. It was well shot, well executed and certainly effective.

The cinematography was handled by Max Greene, who had a lot of experience with his work on dozens of films before this. His visuals were accompanied by the great music of Franz Waxman. With Dassin’s direction, we had a Holy Trinity of cinematic masters combining their best efforts on a film that should probably be better remembered than it is, at least outside of film-noir fan circles.

TV Review: WWE Breaking Ground (2015- )

Original Run: October 25th, 2015 – current
Created by: WWE
Directed by: Christopher Bavelles, Ronn Head
Narrated by: William Shatner
Cast: Matt Bloom, William Regal, Sara Amato, Triple H, Bayley, Mojo Rawley, Carmella, Robbie Brookside, Dana Brooke, Tyler Breeze, Nia Jax, Baron Corbin, Tino Sabbatelli, Apollo Crews, Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Big Cass, Sami Zayn

3 Ball Entertainment, WWE, 30-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Breaking Ground is a documentary reality show produced by WWE for their exclusive streaming service, the WWE Network. It showcases a lot of their talent in NXT, which is the WWE’s training ground and minor leagues, where wrestlers hone their skills in an effort to eventually make it up to the main roster.

The feel of this show is much more real and serious than their other attempts at reality television. It is also more fine tuned and comes off as completely authentic other than the manufactured drama of shows like Total DivasTotal BellasLegends’ House and even Tough Enough.

Narrated by William Shatner, the show has a sense of legitimacy and plays out much more professionally. He adds a certain level of gravitas and credence to the production that is missing in WWE’s other shows.

The story follows several NXT Superstars, as they work out daily in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, FL. It also follows them as they perform for WWE’s NXT brand on television and on the road. It shows the trials and tribulations of each person featured and really covers all areas and aspects of the WWE training process, by incorporating talent at varying levels of development.

While this isn’t an amazing show and is pretty dry, most of the time, it should be interesting to those who are fans of the sports entertainment business at a deeper level than just watching Monday Night Raw or Smackdown on a weekly basis.

TV Review: WWE Total Divas (2013- )

Original Run: July 28th, 2013 – current
Created by: WWE, E!, Bunim-Murray Productions
Directed by: various
Cast: Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Natalya, Naomi, Cameron, Eva Marie, JoJo, Summer Rae, Rosa Mendes, Alicia Fox, Paige, Mandy Rose, Renee Young, Lana, Maryse, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, Carmella, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Tyson Kidd, Jimmy Uso, Dean Ambrose, Rusev, The Miz, Big Cass

Bunim-Murray Productions, WWE, NBC Universal, E!, 88 Episodes so far, 39-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

I didn’t watch the first season of Total Divas when it started on E!. I just recently picked it up, as episodes have now been streaming on the WWE Network. And since I pay for the WWE Network, I should most certainly use it.

The show at first glance looked like just your typical drama filled reality show more geared for the female populace. Well, it is – no surprise there. However, it is still pretty entertaining but that also may only be because I am a fan of wrestling. I really don’t know how interesting this would be to someone who has no knowledge or understanding of that unique business.

I like the show for the fact that it shows the hidden side of the business and you get to see how these people interact with one another when the cameras aren’t on (well the WWE cameras not the E! cameras, obviously). Seeing these girls for who they are is pretty cool and they are much more entertaining than their thinly-written characters, which for most of them, really don’t see enough screen time in the male dominated business.

The thing I like the most, is that Daniel Bryan and John Cena are a big part of the show, as both are dating two of the stars of Total Divas. I like the parts where we get to see some of the males and also how they are in real life, how they act and who they hang out with. The show does give you that vibe that the WWE, for the most part, is a close knit family.

This isn’t a great show by any means. However, it is still entertaining enough to watch in spurts. I don’t know how much longevity it will have as the novelty will probably run its course fairly quickly, especially with the non-wrestling audience.

Lastly, I really would’ve liked AJ Lee, Paige and Emma on this show. Missed opportunity by E! and WWE.

Update:

Paige at least showed up for awhile, until she sort of committed career suicide with the company.

Also, the regular shakeups of cast members is pretty well done. The upcoming seventh season is supposed to feature several new additions, as the talent pool at WWE is vastly different from when this show started.