For this edition of the Video Store Action Heroes that sees yours truly costarring right alongside The Cinema Monolith, The Wolfman’s Cult Film Club and Destroy All Fanboys the topic of choice began with fights in the ring though I believe we’ve stretched that as far as you can stretch the ropes that run between a set of turnbuckles. I’ve settled on the most eye catching release of the group with what proved to be the final film directed by the great Robert Aldrich, … All The Marbles, aka The California Dolls for it’s network television premiere.
Yes it’s the California Dolls that will easily steal the thunder away from my fellow battle weary Action Heroes of the Video Store era. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s why.
I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t that Peter Falk?”
Yes indeed it is Mr. Falk on hiatus from his duties as TV’s most famous Lieutenant. This time out Falk is playing a street smart manager/small time hustler working to get his tag team fighters, Vicki Frederick (brunette) and Laurene Landon (blonde) a fight for the women’s tag team championship of the world. It’s going to take some doing and the gals are going to have to pay their dues on the low budget circuit of small town arenas and notably tangle on a couple of occasions with the world champs known as The Toledo Tigers.
Both Falk and Miss Frederick will have to contend with a shady promoter and all around jerk played by the one and only Burt Young who by this time was well versed in movies that had to do with the square circle. Falk has a great scene early on in the movie when Young holds out on him concerning the girls cut of the purse and unfortunately for Vicki she’ll get caught up in the game of “what can you do for me?” wink-wink before Young is willing to give the gals a title shot.
Now’s a good a time as any to point out that the film is a mixture of both comedy and drama and while the majority of the dramatic scenes belong to Miss Vicki, I would have preferred that the film leaned more toward the comical aspects of the script. Scenes like Falk getting them a gig for a guaranteed $500 nightly. Great if you can get it but when it turns out to be mud wrestling the girls aren’t overly impressed. And while they might not be, the mostly male audience sure is when the inevitable happens and the ladies tops end up shredded in the fight.
As to the fights within the actual ring themselves, they’re quite violent at times and kudos to the ladies who do many if not all of the stunts themselves. No doubt in my mind that Miss Landon did her own as the camera confirms that. Miss Vicki I’m not always sure but that’s in part due to her long black hair covering her face quite often during the falls and tumbles. According the IMDB trivia section the girls did all their own wrestling stunts and that’s a credit to the film.
With the big fight to take place at the MGM in Reno, the girls are about to become famous thanks to the staging that Falk sets up for them. Now they’ll just have to defeat their number 1 nemesis the Toledo Tiger played by Tracy Reed and Ursaline Bryant. If not them then there’s the paid off referee in Burt’s pocket played by Richard Jaeckel who’s going to be sorry he took this assignment though he does get more than just a front row seat to see four lovely ladies up close and personal. It’s a bloody, hair pulling, no holds barred grudge match that Aldrich captures on camera for the fadeout.
Sadly this proved to be Aldrich’s final film and truthfully I wish he had gone out with a better film overall. I find the film a bit too uneven and what comedy there is seems forced. While Aldrich had plenty of success directing Crawford and Davis in Baby Jane, his greatest gift to cinema goers was the tough guy pictures he excelled at. Films like The Dirty Dozen, Kiss Me Deadly, Apache, Attack, Vera Cruz and Emperor of the North to name just a few. I recall back at this time he was slated to be reunited with Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson for a film titled Arctic Rampage. While I do think the end result is a great action effort under the title Death Hunt, Aldrich didn’t direct it (Peter Hunt did) and I’ve always wondered how different it might have been if he had.
Richard Jaeckel’s appearance here is a nice touch considering he had also appeared in Aldrich’s very first film, The Big Leaguer, back in 1953 playing a young pitcher looking to make the St. Louis Cardinals. Jaeckel was a regular in Aldrich’s films. He also appeared in Attack, The Dirty Dozen, Ulzana’s Raid, 4 For Texas and Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Burt Young? Just had to sneak in this picture. He gets cornered in a scene I laughed aloud at when Big Mama wants to know if he can imagine her in a sexy outfit. “I’m working on it” he states matter of factly. Burt had also worked with Aldrich prior to this role in The Choirboys and alongside Jaeckel in the must see Twilight’s Last Gleaming.
Supposedly there was a sequel to be set in Japan that was never made. It’s set up early on in this film when an overseas promoter gives Falk a business card hoping to bring the gals and their crusty manager to the land of the rising sun. A shortfall at the box office and Aldrich’s death brought that idea to an end.
With all due respect to Miss Vicki, her career never really took off in the movies but cult fans are sure to know who Laurene Landon is. She’d turn up in I, The Jury as Velma, star in Yellow Hair and the Pecos Kid, Hundra, It’s Alive III and a couple of Maniac Cop films.
Peter Falk? Well he had plenty more murder cases to solve and movies to make before moving on to the netherworld in 2011.
Now back to those Video Store Action Hero pals of mine and their selected offerings for head to head match ups where only one or in my case two can be left standing. Follow those links above and give them all a look though I’m not so sure they’ll come with anything more interesting than Laurene and Vicki.
I rest my case … oh, and before I go, raise your hand if you spotted 1940’s heavy Mike Mazurki as a referee in one of the fights early on in our selected fight film. You can spot him here in this foreign lobby card … sort of.