Feature: Steve Anderson On The Wrestler Movie…No, Not That One…


Now I know many wrestling and movie fans are looking forward to the release of The Wrestler into movie theaters. Hard to believe that a movie about a pro wrestler in the industry of pro wrestling can be an Oscar contender in various award categories. Some are even claiming that its Mickey Rourke’s comeback vehicle. (Hello? Have we forgotten Marv in Sin City?).

According to Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes has tracked 100% of critics giving positive reviews (out of 50), averaging 8.2 out of 10.

Not bad at all. It’s particularly astonishing when you consider its 1974 predecessor and namesake starring Ed Asner, Billy Robinson, and Verne Gagne, who also served as producer.

If you want to see it, you can probably catch it online or at your local dollar store. It’s public domain, which means the copyright has long since expired. If you have a copy, you could release it yourself. But seriously, if you are considering that entrepreneurial option, set your sights higher.

“Superstar” Billy Graham, Ric (spelled Rick) Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, The Bruiser, Dory Funk, Jr., Ray Stevens, Pedro Morales, Ken Patera, Nick Bockwinkel, Dan Gable, Eddie Graham, Jim Brunzell are the wrestlers that appear. A very young Vinnie Mac Jr. himself even has an acting role. I think he shouted, “You’re fired,” as his voice cracked like Peter Brady in puberty.

I am a fan of “so-bad-they’re-good” B movies. A Christmas tradition at my place is Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Robot Monster rocks, among others. The Wrestler of 1974 has got moments of horrid acting by Gagne, Robinson and many of “the boys,” along with a weird unrequited love angle between Ed Asner and his secretary.

If you treat the movie as a cinematic effort, you will be disappointed. The plot is thin and the movie has an abrupt ending. The love story is forgotten as soon as it starts, not that I want to see Lou Grant and his hairy back get it on with anyone.

If you treat it as a look back on wrestling how it used to be and as a slice of history, its fun to watch. Seeing the Crusher and the Bruiser whip ass in the locker room and Dusty Rhodes and Dick Murdoch start a bar brawl is classic stuff. It’s when they try dialogue that they run into problems.

Darren Aronofsky’s version of The Wrestler does not have a bunch of wrestling stars woodenly reciting lines of dialogue. He does it right. He does it oh so much better. When I first heard about the movie and its title, I thought it might be doomed to people mistaking it for its predecessor. Not the case.

Yet, no matter how good it is. No matter how many Oscars it wins, it will not make us forget that horrid, yet watchable film.

The Wrestler (1974) is no The Wrestler (2008). It’s not even a Robot Monster (seriously, check that movie out).

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