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May 2, 2016

Movie Review: Wrestling Queen


Reviewed By: John Beutler

Mr. Peabody, if you please, set the wayback machine to a celebratively spectral time in early '70's sports...when gritty, no-holds-barred wrestling, and the equally raw, 'bash & dash' world of roller derby were the respected, underground competition-reveling form of sports entertainment, for the moment...a time when, although a clearly choreographed, performance-driven form of sporting combat, still made quite an impression upon devotedly eager viewers...gasp-induced witnesses to wincingly excruciating blows, tosses & holds...the rampant spray of sweat, spit & blood...and the echoing of repeatedly wet, pounding sounds...slamming home, not unlike that of continuously stricken, well-tenderized meat...the humble, albeit no less grueling and compelling beginnings of a national pastime, which has since evolved into quite literally, an institution...

Oh, yes...as it probably was, with folks in many homes other than mine, when I was a kid, it was a time when me and my late Mom...bless her soul...vehemently (...and growlingly) commandeered the boob tube from my Dad's regularly scheduled western movie broadcast, each and every Saturday afternoon, for two or three hours, tuning into the higher-ranged UHF, for what was essentially and stereotypically monikered as the rousing gladiator sporting events for the middle-to-lower class. And as if mass gathering in front of the TV wasn't satisfying enough, there was always the odd weekend evening, city-bound roadtrip...a mere matter of clambering into the car, and jutting out to the Olympic Auditorium, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, to first-hand gawk and cheer these battered, albeit celebrated 'warriors' in the ring (...or on the track, if the flavor of the moment, was roller derby). It is this very gnashing, almost embracingly regressive spirit, which one, oh-so privy to this time, cannot help but harken back to, when viewing the gritty and candid, 1973 wrestling documentary, and seldom-seen drive-in theater-flavored oddity, called "Wrestling Queen"...
Despite the seemingly exclusive title, as well as the equally deceptive and wholly provocative movie poster, the candid and waywardly spontaneous, behind-the-scenes footage here, bears a goodly measured balance of both male AND female wrestling stars...archival greats, like Dick Murdock, Vicki Williams, 'Blackjack' Mulligan, and even one of the earlier appearances by Jean Ferre (...who would later assume the more majestic-sounding mantle of Andre the Giant), amongst others. However, a greater amount of footage is devoted to the renowned wrestling family, at the time...the Vachon family, comprising of siblings Vivian, 'Mad Dog' Maurice, 'Butcher' Paul, and cousin Luna. The rough and tumble ring footage here...most of which was compiled from ringside sporting events having taken place in Lafayette, Loisiana...is quite varied and grueling, exhuing the sense of deftly executed, though choreographed fighting, which has almost always been the norm, in this ever-changing sporting venue...even up to and including the higher-profiled WWF and UFC events, of today. However, as admitted in the candid, gruntingly prideful and egotistically posturing, smokey backstage locker room interviews featured here...proudly boasting of countless triumphs past...it is also made evident that despite the carefully performed choreography, things DO go unexpectedly wrong, and wrestlers DO get hurt...sometimes, quite badly...

Amidst this spectrum of backstory retoree, the exploitative elements of this film also focuses on the equally ardent and colorful fans themselves, who supportively and embracingly gnash & grunt along with their favorite wrestling superstars...herein, with particular emphasis on the riotous reactions and, well...colorfully spoken reciprocation of older, middle-aged women (...the caustically enthusiastic comments spewed forth by a couple of these delightfully course and verbally abrasive, geriatric ladies, is absolutely priceless)...

"Wrestling Queen" comes markedly recommended, in this reviewer's book...if at the very least, for it's 'time capsule' appeal, and well worth searching for (...unavailable in digital format, at this time...and a tough nut to crack, as far as finding on dust-worn VHS)...

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