Between Roddy Piper in the ‘80s and The Rock today, a lot of wrestlers have crossed over into Hollywood to become not only household names, but genuine movie stars. Not every wrestler who has tried to make the jump onto the silver screen has succeeded, though.
One superstar, a bleach-blond WWE Hall of Famer who was the most famous wrestler of his day, tried and failed to make a name for himself in the movies.
No, I don’t mean Hulk Hogan. I mean Gorgeous George, who appeared in one and only one film, 1949’s Alias The Champ. And while Hogan didn’t exactly play against type in Rocky III or No Holds Barred, Gorgeous George had even less of a leap to make, playing himself in this film and still not being entirely convincing in the role.
The film opens as George’s manager Lorraine Connors, a woman, meets with Detective Lt. Ron Peterson, a womanizer. My God! It’s like they’re made for each other. Do I hear honeymoon bells?
But amid all the woo being pitched, Lorraine tells the detective that George is being threatened by a gangster named Al Merlo, who has a reputation for fixing fights. Peterson may be a brazen horndog who, like most characters in the this movie, speaks in impenetrable 1940s slang, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about the safety of Lorraine’s client or the legitimacy of professional wrestling. “What’s his angle on the grunt-and-groan game?” he asks.
Apparently, Merlo is buying influence among the local wrestlers, the insinuation being that he’s paying the wrestlers to – get this – lose matches on purpose. Gorgeous George, the consummate sportsman, is having none of it. This could lead to George getting bumped off by the mob, which doesn’t faze the homicide investigator. At least, it doesn’t faze him enough to stop him from hitting on Lorraine at every opportunity. “I like a little catch-as-catch-can myself”, says Lt. Peterson while asking Lorraine out on a date, I mean, investigation, at Gorgeous George’s next match.
There, George defends his heavyweight title against Bomber Kulkovich in an excuse to pad the film’s run time. After six minutes of mostly unedited wrestling footage, George finally gets the pin. If you think it’s kind of ridiculous to spend six minutes on a fight scene with almost no relevance to the plot, the director agrees!
That’s why he includes the entire second fall, as well.
There is just a little plot advancement happening, interspersed among the eleven minutes of grappling; seated in the audience is the gangster Al Merlo, along with an associate who is by his side the entire film to give Merlo an excuse to speak his evil plans out loud for the audience.
The associate, whom no one bothers to address by name, otherwise is there solely for comic relief, as he stutters at least once in every scene. This is exactly as funny after the fifth time as it is after the first time. Interpret that however you’d like. The guy only manages to complete the sentence when Merlo intervenes, D-Von Dudley style, albeit with a nudge on the shoulder rather than a slap to the head.
At the match, Buh Buh Ray recognizes Lt. Peterson, whom he calls a “tough dick”. This is the only time this sidekick is actually funny, and it’s unintentional – “tough dick” is just old-timey talk for an unflappable detective.
After the match, Peterson confronts the gangster at his apartment. “Merlo, we’re satisfied with the wrestling set-up in this town,” he explains. “It’s corny and crude, but the fans like it the way it is.” He also threatens to dig up dirt on the mobster, who assures Peterson he has a spotless rap sheet. If only there were some crime Peterson could nail him for…
Merlo immediately offers the detective a bribe…
…then punches and chokes him.
All of those things seem like crimes to me, but Lt. Peterson lets him off with a warning and an ass-kicking.
Still, Merlo is undeterred from trying to corrupt the clean business of wrestling, being too heavily invested in the scheme not to see it through to completion. “It costs a lotta dough to line up a stable of groaners,” he clarifies.
Peterson takes Lorraine out to dinner but becomes smitten with the faux-French singer Colette and her many charms (such as womanhood and femaleness).
Sam Menacker, a wrestler playing himself, catches Peterson making googley eyes at Colette, who’s his girl. Merlo, who owns the joint, tells Colette to stir up some trouble.
As soon as she takes a seat at the detective’s table, Sam leaves his seat and goes after him. “No canary dumps me for a flatfoot!” he clarifies to his manager before spraying Peterson with seltzer.
To complicate matters, the next day the detective is named commissioner and matchmaker of wrestling and boxing, which is something that could happen in the 1940s.
Over at Colette’s place, the detective drinks ze wine until Sam Menacker pops in and slugs him for making love to his dame. As usual, Lt. Peterson makes short work of Sam…
…only to get caught by his other love interest Lorraine, then airplane-spun to hell by Gorgeous George for hanging around his manager.
The two wrestlers in the room then get into a brawl, with Sam accusing the champion Gorgeous George of ducking him. That’s ducking, with a d.
The trouble-making Merlo runs with this angle, bringing Sam Menacker down to George’s gym to confront the heavyweight champion face to face. It turns out, George won’t give Sam a title shot because he’s been saying bad things about his robes and hair. Boy, wrestling really was clean back then! If he ever wrestled Sam, explains the champ, he’d kill him.
This sparks a locker room-clearing brawl to the strains of the William Tell Overture, as heard on the popular contemporary radio series The Lone Ranger. Detective Lieutenant Commissioner Peterson arrives and makes a match between the two men. Because it would draw money? No, it’s because the two men’s feud needs to be ended as promptly and civilly as possible. Wrestling is a clean sport around these parts, remember?
In the ensuing match, Sam takes the first fall with an airplane spin in four minutes, eighteen seconds. That might sound like a short fall, but when it’s stuck largely uncut into a movie that’s supposed to have plot and dialogue, it drags juuust a bit.
Sam stops to sign an autograph for Colette before heading into the second and final fall of this three-fall contest. Now, I don’t call it the final fall because he wins.
I call it the final fall because he dies, never getting up from George’s closed-fist punch. Hey, how many actors get to portray their own death on screen?
Peterson arrests Gorgeous George…
…but gets ousted as wrestling czar. The commish’s crime? Forcing “a couple of wrestlers with a grudge to commit mayhem in public”. At a movie theater in Toronto, a teenaged Jack Tunney took this lesson to heart. Now you know why we never saw Hogan-Warrior II in the WWF.
Peterson thinks the wrestler’s death was suspicious and suspects that there were some bad actors involved. Well, besides Gorgeous George. But Peterson has got to prove that Al Merlo and his crime syndicate framed the champion, and prove it fast.
That’s because George is facing a charge of murder (because his opponent died) in the first degree (because he said he’d kill him in the ring) and may be executed if convicted.
Just when Peterson thinks he’s hit a dead end in his investigation, he remembers that new invention called television. The Detective persuades the local TV station to re-air the match so he can watch it again and look for clues. It would also offer the city’s residents an opportunity to see a man die on camera all over again, which is always welcome.
The re-broadcast of the match on Channel 1 (which doesn’t exist) proves inconclusive. With Gorgeous George locked away for murder, and Lt. Peterson ousted from the wrestling commission for booking a match out of a feud, no one is left to stop the gangsters from taking over the upstanding sport of wrestling. Colette, Merlo, and Buh Buh Ray celebrate the occasion, but the detective crashes the party.
While the gangsters hide, Peterson asks Colette to sign an affidavit and, to Colette’s horror…
…hands her a pen! Naturally, Colette freaks out and won’t sign. With her, it’s pencil or nothing!
Well, not really. Her seemingly irrational fear of ink actually implicates her in Menacker’s murder. Detective Peterson explains to her (and the viewing audience) that some time between scenes, he blew up the film of Colette asking the late Sam Menacker for an autograph. That’s right – decades before CSI or NCIS, Peterson uses the magic Zoom Enhance trick to detect a tiny poison needle in Colette’s pen.
He then used the film (which was black and white, mind you) to create a replica of the poison pen so accurate that it fooled Colette into thinking it was the real deal.
Just as he has Colette dead to rights, Merlo emerges with a gun. He fires at Detective Peterson, who uses the stuttering mobster sidekick as a shield, killing him before we even learn his name. For the record, IMDb says it’s “Chuck Lyons”.
Peterson shoots Merlo dead, leaving Colette as the only surviving conspirator. It’s just as well; no jury would have convicted the mobsters on such flimsy evidence, anyway.
With Gorgeous George a free man, Detective Peterson and manager Lorraine have a little “play time” – and I don’t mean marbles!
On second thought, yes, marbles. See, Lorraine mentioned once that she used to play marbles as a girl, so that’s how they end the movie.
That, and they kiss, and Gorgeous George tries to watch, so the detective throws a marble at his eye.
And that’s how they end the movie.
Except the movie has only gone on for about an hour, and they need to fill the run time, so they air a short about wrestling novelties –
- A four-man battle royal among brothers!
- A child vs. a child, with an adult referee!
- A wrestler vs. a boxer!
- A man vs. a woman!
- A package piledriver!
Gorgeous George’s acting career never took off. While even Hulk Hogan would get plenty of movie roles in the 80s and 90s following the success of Rocky III, this was a one-and-done for George.
Alias the Champ was more like No Holds Barred:
A bad movie where the wrestler can’t act and also kills a guy.