MGM Pictures, 1981
Swing Your Lady may be the earliest wrestling movie chronologically, but …All the Marbles is and always will be the earliest alphabetically, thanks to that ellipsis.
The film stars Columbo’s Peter Falk as the very Peter Falk-ish wrestling manager, Harry Sears. His tag team, the California Dolls, are trying to move up in the world of ladies’ wrestling, which, in this film, is a shoot athletic competition like any other sport.
This is what shoot wrestling looks like in the world of …All the Marbles:
A good deal of the movie takes place in the ring, but in between matches, Harry, Molly, and Iris have to travel all over, from Akron, Ohio…
…to entirely different cities in Ohio, like Cincinnati and Toledo.
We the audience get to experience these long drives in what feels like real time, with extensive shots of drab scenery and driving that allow most of the dialogue to be dubbed in without having any of the characters on screen…
…although, when they are on screen, their lips are clearly not moving.
That means it’s not just a wrestling movie — it’s also a road trip adventure movie, only boring.
The film’s first bit of intrigue comes when, during a match with a Japanese team, a suspicious figure leers at the women from afar through a pair of binoculars. It turns out it’s Mr. Shimata, who, prior to taking that principal gig at the Family Matters high school, is a wrestling promoter hoping to bring the Dolls to Japan.
He leaves his business card with Harry but is completely forgotten for the rest of the film (probably because Harry can’t read Japanese).
One thing that does stick with Harry is the opponents’ use of sunset flips, which he insists his own team learn.
After the match, Harry meets the promoter (and Rocky’s brother in law), Eddie Cisco, who pays the team twenty dollars less than was agreed upon.
After an argument, Harry goes into the parking lot and smashes up the guy’s car, essentially telling him that he’s poopy.
Harry later takes the girls to Toledo, where they face the tag team champions, the Toledo Tigers (It’s their hometown!).
Though the titles are not on the line, the Dolls take it to the Tigers and win the match, which creates tension backstage. See, back in the day, it was customary for wrestlers not to be humiliated in their hometowns.
The Tigers’ very scrupulous manager tells his team that in wrestling, no one gets handed a victory.
Nonetheless, the girls get into a catfight backstage that leads to Peter Falk getting hit in his glass eye with a stool.
“Ah, s***, not again!” he says. That’s pretty funny, but not nearly as funny as naked women, apparently.
See, at an American Legion benefit gig, the Dolls have to wrestle in a mud pit, which they absolutely refuse to do…
…until they do.
Once in the mud pit, the Dolls and their opponents put on some great family entertainment by ripping each others’ tops off…
…which the audience, from the young men to the old ladies, finds uproariously funny.
Just look at this guy!
If that’s what qualifies as a hearty chuckle-fest, it makes you wonder why Comedy Central isn’t just a 24/7 porn marathon.
The mud wrestling isn’t even the film’s only nudity, as in an earlier scene, some local woman shows up out of the blue (and out of her clothes) in Harry’s motel room. Unfortunately for her, Iris is in the room as well, leading to the woman covering up… eventually.
The scene is shot like a suspense film would be if breasts were scary.
Anyway, back at the motel after the mud match, Iris with her busted lip verbally tears into her manager and slaps him with her towel until he, in a slight breach of decorum, slaps her across the face with his hand.
Fortunately, they kiss and make up immediately.
The group’s spirits are lifted when they discover that the Dolls are ranked #3 in that week’s issue of Wrestling World (that’s the same Wrestling World magazine that would advertise sex chats and porno tapes in the 90s – if it wasn’t doing so already).
The Dolls wrestle a rematch with the Tigers in a city that’s not in Ohio (namely, Chicago). If you don’t believe me, here’s a long driving scene with lots of shots of Chicago:
Chicago has a lot of things they don’t have in Ohio, such as drive-thru supermarkets, which impress Molly so much that, while in the drive-thru supermarket, she remarks, “Wow, a drive-thru supermarket”. Iris is no doubt grateful to Molly for pointing that out. Wow, the end of the paragraph.
What we don’t get to see in the ladies’ brief supermarket scene is whether they buy Aquafresh toothpaste for Harry as he requests. This film is chock full of product placement, except that most of the time, the characters hate the real products being featured, whether it be M&Ms, Snickers…
…or Wendy’s hamburgers, which prove no better than the “junk-garbage” they usually eat on the road. That’s like John Cena spitting out a drink and implying it’s Mountain Dew, a sponsor of WWE. Even the Aquafresh is only worth buying if it’s on sale.
In Chicago, the California Dolls wrestle another non-title match against the Toledo Tigers, albeit outside of the Toledo Tigers’ hometown (which is not Chicago).
The Tigers fight dirty, using tactics such as choking and ignoring rope breaks, and the refs allow it, leading to a defeat for the Dolls.
After the match, Iris is frustrated with the cheating and bad officiating, but backstage, it’s Molly who is complaining about the cheating and bad officiating, while Iris refuses to make excuses…
…or read the script carefully, because I’m pretty sure their lines should be switched.
Harry’s advice, as always, is to learn some new moves, like the sunset flip.
Harry and the team want to wrestle at the big event in Reno, Nevada, but in order to get booked, Iris has to sleep with Eddie Cisco, which she does.
Harry is furious about Molly associating with such an unscrupulous scoundrel, so of course he slaps her.
You wouldn’t expect that kind of physical abuse from such a strong feminist like Harry (earlier in the film, he encourages the women to grow their armpit hair and dye it colors, scooping Jezebel by three-and-a-half decades).
The manager later bets a good deal of money on craps so he can pay for the girls’ trip to Reno. With the help of loaded dice, he wins a handsome sum, then jumps two security guards with a baseball bat when they try to get the house’s money back.
Oh, that Harry Sears!
In case you weren’t sure where the main characters are in the next scene, Molly spells it out.
The glamorous side of Reno (such as the beautiful MGM Hotel & Casino, owned by the very film company that produced this movie) can’t hide the dark and gritty reality of the business, however. Cisco cops a feel on Iris, leading to a very concise exchange of profanities. With Iris not cooperating, Cisco makes a $900 with Harry bet against the Dolls, who are wrestling the Toledo Tigers once again, this time for the titles.
Harry makes preparations to get the Dolls over with the live and television audience, which doesn’t sit well with Big Mama…
…the show’s supposed headliner.
Harry gives away posters and pays kids to chant for the Dolls, while Big Mama stays in her locker room and complains.
Lo and behold, the Dolls make a grand entrance, sporting new, elaborate costumes and being carried to the ring by a legion of Orlando Jordans. Their skimpy costumes include thongs.
I’m talking about their masked male escorts, of course.
The whole spectacle serves to upstage the champions, who wear this:
Commentator Chick Hearn explains that this match is for all the marbles…
…while the referee gives some rather unusual instructions to the wrestlers.
Unfortunately, he has obviously been paid off by Cisco to make sure the Dolls lose.
Everyone really gets behind the Dolls, even Big Mama, who watches backstage while drinking cans of what is clearly Budweiser, which she tells her manager she hates.
After the official’s shady calls become too much to bear, Harry tells his girls to beat up the referee. They do, and they somehow aren’t disqualified by the referee who is being paid to cost them the match.
With time almost expired (and boy, did this match feel like a legit 30 minutes), the Dolls pull off a miracle comeback by simultaneously pinning both opponents with sunset flips. So effective are the holds that the champions are pinned for about twenty seconds before the fans’ indignation gives the crooked referee no choice but to make the three count and give the Dolls the titles.
In the end, the team and their manager stand triumphant in the ring after one of the greatest semi-main events in women’s wrestling history.
And Big Mama? Well, the movie ends before she gets to wrestle or do anything, really.