1938, Warner Bros. Films
Last night, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908. While we at Wrestlecrap have yet to induct anything quite that old, the musical wrestling comedy featured in this week’s induction is older than WWE, WWF, and WWII.
Until we dig up footage of Abraham Lincoln’s infamous Proclamation-on-a-pole match, 1938’s Swing Your Lady starring Humphrey freaking Bogart is about as ancient as it gets.
As extraordinary as a kayfabe-breaking Depression-era Hollywood film about wrestling is, what’s even more extraordinary is that its lead actor went on to become one of the all-time most famous American actors, while one of its supporting cast members went on to become one of the all-time most famous Americans, period.
And what is still more extraordinary is how much this movie sucks.
Bogart plays an unscrupulous wrestling promoter traveling through the Ozark mountains with his meal ticket, Joe “Hercules” Skopapoulos (played by Olympic silver medalist Nat Pendleton) in search of opponents. Despite the prospect of earning the winner’s share of the purse money, there aren’t any takers in such hotbeds as Mussel City and Plunkett City.
Looking to get out of there in a hurry, Bogart ends up in the wrong part of town, where his car gets stuck in the road. That’ll give you a real negative attitude!
Okay, fine. No more Monsoonisms. Except maybe one more.
After Sadie the blacksmith lifts the car out of the ditch, Bogart offers her the chance to rassle for a hundred dollars, which she accepts in one of the forgotten scenes in cinematic history.
Think you know all the classic Humphrey Bogart lines? “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”? “Play it again, Sam”?
Well, Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam,” but he did say, “Hooty-owl! Hooty-owl!”
And remember when the Rock told his Home Ec teacher to pancake her ass on out of there (or did he tell his ex-girlfriend to poontang her ass on out of there)? I think he stole that one from Bogey.
The prospect of an intergender match would prove difficult for Joe Skopapoulos, who, in addition to being, well, a moron…
…and the original Festus,…
…gets all flustered around the gals.
Joe’s entourage has to talk in grown-up code, spelling out all the important words while discussing the upcoming match with a W-O-M-A-N and how Joe is H-O-R-N-Y.
Bogart and his girlfriend Cookie then have to explain to dumb ol’ Joe what a woman is, using a series of convoluted metaphors.
But Joe knows all about the birds and the bees and the quilts (?), having already met his opponent Sadie while on his daily run. Joe is smitten with Sadie, who it seems is quite the milf.
The sexual tension only builds from there. “Chisel my tombstone!” says Sadie. “Is that what you’re aimin’ to do to me?” Yes, Sadie. He wants to chisel your tombstone, if you catch my drift.
But when she tells him she’s his next opponent, he can’t believe he’s going to wrestle a dame. “A dame?” says Joe. “But… you’re a dame!”
Humphrey brings in Joe’s lady opponent in for some sparring. Joe applies a hammerlock that turns into a kiss, as they are known to do on occasion.
Chaos ensues. I’d like to imagine the great Humphrey Bogart staring at the camera for his close-up while the director tells him to imagine a giant moron sexually assaulting a hillbilly BBW right in front of him.
With Joe unable to control his throbbing biological urges, and Sadie being sweet on the big lug, Humphrey Bogart nixes the upcoming intergender bout for fear of a live sex celebration breaking out.
Contrary to the film’s title, there will be no lady-swinging, as Bogart decides to sub in another man to be Joe’s opponent.
In fact, the name “Swing Your Lady” comes not from the plot of the movie, but from the theme song, which is about dancing.
The “Swing Your Lady” theme is certainly no “White Christmas,” but no one knew that at the time, as the latter hadn’t been written yet.
The rest of the music isn’t any better. If anything deserves to be called, “Broadway with bodyslams,” it’s this movie, yet the musical numbers are completely superfluous to the rest of the film.
Cookie may be a mountain girl at heart, but she grew up in New York City, and now she was in Plunkett City to give this hillbilly jamboree a shot of rock ’n’ roll… or, since this was 1938, some “swing.”
As the song said, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got whatever the hell this is.
The rest of the film’s irritating musical scenes just involve the unnamed townfolk, giving the city-slickers in the audience a chance to look at some genuine in-bred hicks.
Anyway, with Sadie scrapped from the main event, Bogart quickly recruits one of Sadie’s jealous suitors, who of course has no professional experience in the squared circle. Back in the thirties, all it took for a big hillbilly to get booked was to try to kill everybody.
To spice up the bout, Bogart adds a “Winner Marries Sadie” stipulation, which draws in a big city journalist who has only a few scenes in the film.
Why do I mention a bit role for a mediocre actor?
Well, that mediocre movie actor would go on to become President of the United States! Imagine if a mediocre movie actor won a wrestling world title…
You thought I was going to post a picture of David Arquette, didn’t you?
Hoping to keep his workhorse from getting tied down to a mare like Sadie, Bogart tells her that Joe is already married, offering her a photo of his “family” as proof.
Sadie is outraged that Joe would make love to her while he has a wife and children at home. Lest you think the movie’s getting too risqué, remember that back then, “making love” simply meant pitching woo.
With Sadie unwilling to marry Joe, Bogart and company decide that Joe will have to lose the match, so they gather Joe, the hillbilly, and the referee together to go over the spots.
Those spots included this spear…
…and this arm scissors-tickle-spanking combination.
Sadie is none too impressed, thinking Joe is a wanna-be bigamist, but Joe doesn’t understand.
But when Bogart gets a wire from New York promising a title match at Madison Square Garden for the winner of the match, he tells Joe to shoot on his opponent and win the match.
A dozen piledrivers later, and Joe “Hercules” Skopapoulos (and, given that he’s Greek, that should say, “Herakles”) captures the pinfall, a spot at MSG, and Sadie’s hand in marriage.
Sadie balks at first, of course, until Joe tells her that the woman in the picture is his aunt, and he wouldn’t be married to his aunt, would he? There’s an in-breeding joke to be made there, but I don’t want to sound hillbilliphobic.
Flash forward, and Joe and Sadie are married, with Joe settling into domestic life with his new wife and her young’ins.
Meanwhile, Bogart and his crew are now backing Joe’s old opponent, who now wears a suit and rides around in a horseless carriage.
But trouble looms on the horizon, as Humphrey’s new charge appears to be catching the love bug, himself!
Expect a sequel any day now.