October 16, 1981
Falk's Rocky road to fun
By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun

Peter Falk, star of a new Rockyesque movie called ... All The Marbles, remains one of the most unlikely of American screen heroes.

This typically Falkian effort, a dramatic comedy about two women wrestlers with the former Columbo featured as their manager, opens today.

Falk is dumpy, disheveled, and disarmingly appealing. He has only one good eye and less than half of a normal man's English language at his disposal.

But these are qualities that, instead of sabotaging his career, enhance it. As an actor, Falk owns a bag of tricks that turns his idiosyncrasies into assets. He quietly revels in being unique.

Consequently, he inventively turns this second-rate, blatantly derivative, wrestling Rocky into a rousing hit of sheer entertainment.

... All The Marbles makes a half-hearted attempt to be an important, serious movie. But that's nonsense, of course, because screenwriter Mel Frohman's whole story is nonsense.


How it succeeds in spite of itself is found in Falk's total command of the crazily extravagant, sensationally visual climax.

Falk, mumbling, shuffling, shouting, plotting and planning, humanizes what otherwise would have been a contrived and ludicrous happy ending.

Which is exactly what Sylvester Stallone did for the climax of Rocky -- infuse it with a common touch that brought a Hollywood fantasy into our hearts as reality.

Falk plays Harry Sears, a gently sarcastic, crusty old devil who manages the California Dolls, struggling newcomers on the seedy small-town, wrestling arena circuit.

Harry's speech is a litany of misbegotten proverbs and homilies, "like talking to a fortune cookie," says one of his Dolls.

He loves his Dolls -- the mercurial brunette Iris (Vicki Frederick) and the melancholic blond Molly (Canadian Laurene Landon) -- but he has given them little else but misery. Success eludes this hapless trio.

And Harry has a mean streak. On one hand, it brings hilarity as he gives slimy wrestling promoter Eddie Cisco's (Burt Young) swanky car his "Mercedes stress test." Baseball bat in hand, Harry smashes in the windows. We cheer.

On the other hand, his meanness brings anger and sadness as Harry slaps Iris around several times when she defies his condescending paternal attitude.

With this thrashing about between comedy and drama, without any focus or resolution, ... All The Marbles begins to waver.

That is until Harry's enterprise finally brings the Dolls to their championship match and the movie's foot-stomping, hoarse-voiced finale.

That end is grotesquely violent. Wrestling, despite its tacky fixes in most fights, can be as violent as any sport exant.

I will not tell you all the plot twists -- there would be few reasons left to see the movie, except for Falk -- but suffice it to say the biggest cheer comes when the championship match's referee is pinned and his head is repeatedly bashed into the mat. This is not a movie for impressionable children.

The matches themselves, while exceedingly overlong and consequently displacing some much-needed characterization, are dynamic and spectacular. Some of the stunts, performed without doubles, leave your mouth agape.

But these stunts are but another disconnected piece in director Robert Aldrich's uneven film. The sum total is less than the value of individual parts.

Aldrich, once one of Hollywood's most provocative and important directors (Kiss Me Deadly, The Grisson Gang, Attack!), is now merely an idle entertainer.

RELATED LINK

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


  • CANOE.CA SLAM!