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Falk's got ... All The Marbles
By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun
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HOLLYWOOD -- In his new movie ... All The Marbles, Peter Falk portrays the petty hustler manager of the California Dolls, two bosomy ladies on the distaff wrestling circuit.

I'm talking about legit wrestling here -- the kind that pitches woman against woman in spectacular, stunt-filled, hair-pulling, crotch-kicking matches in the ring. They get slickered -- with sweat.

But Falk, as Harry Sears, has a little larceny in his heart, feels the desperation in the air, and manipulates his two charges into a topless mud wrestling debacle. Their bodies are slick again -- but slimy.

Iris and Molly hate him for it in the movie. Likewise, actresses Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon (she is a Canadian whose father, Doug Coughlin, sells real estate in Toronto -- "Hi Dad," she says, "tell him I miss him a lot"). Of course, the two don't resent Falk personally. They just loathed doing the scene.

"I was furious," remembers Landon. "I didn't want to do it." Mud stuck in her eyes, ears and mouth. The experience was degrading. "Afterward, they hosed us down like cattle."

"I hated every minute of it," says Frederick with a snarl in her voice.

But director Robert Aldrich's (The Dirty Dozen, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Kiss Me Deadly) defends the controversial scene as good drama.

Iris and Molly were still struggling as wrestlers at that point in the story. They were paying their dues. "If dues are not ugly, if dues are not degrading, then what kind of dues are they?"

But, if you get down to the crunch, you find out the scene was even more crucial. "My hunch is the picture would not have been financed if that was not in it." Aldrich defends it again. "It is there for the drama, not for licentious eroticism."

Let's give the floor to Falk now. The way he diffuses the controversy is so typical of this engaging man.

Falk, like his famed Columbo creature from television, always plays it straight. He talks New York talk. He's blunt. And funny.

"I don't think the bosoms and bottoms are gonna keep 'em away in droves," he deadpans. "But, if it's just bosoms and bottoms, it's not enough. Ya need something emotionally to identify with and root for.

"Ya genuinely are cheering for our girls. Ya like 'em. There are lots of other films out there -- girls with tops, girls with bottoms, covered and uncovered. And people don't go to see 'em."

Falk is just as forceful on the violence issue, again strip mining an area of his own personality.

The critical moment in ... All The Marbles encourages us to cheer when a referee's head is pounded into the mat and he is subsequently pummeled around the ring like a plastic toy.

"Blood lust?" intones Falk. "The human race does more than just grow flowers and drink tea ...

"But lots of comedies have a lot more violence than this does. What I resent is the indiscriminate kind of violence ya see ... But these girls are athletes. It's not just senseless violence. People are frustrated, but if it comes out in sports then we're way ahead."

In case it's not obvious, Falk rather likes his new movie.

Then again, he also likes his old movies, such as Murder, Inc. and A Pocketful of Miracles, which brought him his two Oscar nominations, and other fare such as Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence, impressive dramas made by his al John Cassavetes, and comedies such as Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective.

"I guess I'm pretty fond of all my movies," he adds with a laugh. "I just like to watch myself." There is a self deprecating tone evident. Falk does what he does seriously, but he knows it's a kids' game.

He quit his job as efficiency expert for the Connecticut state government (first day on the job in 1952 he was so efficient he couldn't find the office) in 1955 to take up acting, on the casual advice of acting coach Eva Le Gallienne. His mom was delighted. He dad was horrified.

Dad, a dry goods storekeeper in Ossining, New York, where Falk grew up, queried harshly: "What are you gonna do, paint your face and make a fool out of yourself?"

Falk thinks now, "He wasn't far wrong." Still, you find in Falk a rumpled little man who one good eye, one glass eye (he lots his right one to a tumor at the age of three) who never tires of working hard. And who never just plods through a role for a paycheck.

"I don't think I ever approach an acting job casually. I stick with it. I try to wring everything out of it. I squeeze every drop out of it. I never would quit."

You find it in Falk's physical presence. Talking to you standing up, he leans right into your face as if in a conspiratorial whisper, the hoarse voice (sounding more like George Burns every day) gritty and singularly disarming.

No wonder he once applied, in vain, to join the CIA as a foreign spy. Little wonder he has made a career out of eccentric but highly accessible characters.

All his acting life, Falk has been attracted to hustlers. Men like himself. He has rarely been out of work and never for very long. "Hustlers -- that's one of the things that appeals to me."

Columbo, one of TV's most popular characters ever, was such a man, "Like an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes," Falk says affectionately.

The last original Columbo aired in 1978. Now, thanks to discussions between Falk and new NBC-TV chairman Grant Tinker, there may be more.

"I told him, anytime you wanna make two or three Columbos, I wanna make 'em." Falk has offered to appear in regular Columbo specials. But he does not want to try to churn out a weekly series. That would sabotage his movie career.

And Falk does not want a Columbo movie. "We toyed with it. But nobody REALLY feels right about it."

In the meantime, there is the delight of ... All The Marbles. Despite his happy second marriage, to actress Shera Danese, 28 years his junior, Falk loves playing up the girl watching.

It is mentioned his Harry Sears seems to like guarding over the California Dolls. "You think it's hard to care about those girls?"

And he is generous in praise. "Those are two terrific girls. What they went through, what they accomplished in this picture is a miracle."

Falk says he marvelled that Frederick and Landon, plus their on-screen rivals Ursaline Bryant-King and Tracy Reed, were actresses who learned to perform all of the incredible stunts seen in the movies. There were no doubles.

All four women went through physical hell. "It was above and beyond the call of duty. They worked like dogs. They suffered bloody mouths, sprains, bruises, cut tongues and scratches on their faces!"

Meanwhile, old Harry just paced at the side of the ring. Falk didn't feel any great urge to model his character after his Dolls in the physical exercise department.

So what are your favorite participatory sports, Peter Falk? "I like to get a good night's rest."

And do you try to watch your diet to stay trim and healthy in your early 50s? "Diet? My wife is a little nutsy about diets. She must have 40 diets. She has a potato diet -- only lives on potatoes. And a pineapple diet -- only eats pineapples. Every day, it's a different diet.

"Unbelievable. Must be something wrong with people. You meet these young girls. Everybody wants to be 86 pounds. They all want to look like asparagus. They are beautiful the way their are."

Peter Falk? Well he is beautiful just the way he is -- crumpled and crazy -- like a fox.

RELATED LINK

  • More on ... All The Marbles
  • The SLAM! Wrestling Movie Database