ALL THE MARBLES (THE CALIFORNIA DOLLS)
(director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriter: Mel Frohman; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editors: Irving C. Rosenblum/Richard Lane; music: Frank De Vol; cast: Peter Falk (Harry Sears), Vicki Frederick (Iris), Laurene Landon (Molly), Burt Young (Eddie Cisco), Tracy Reed (Diane), Ursaline Bryant-King (June), John Hancock (Big John Stanley), Richard Jaeckel (Referee); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producer: William Aldrich; Warner Brothers Archive Collection; 1981)
“It’s not that bad.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Veteran action director Robert Aldrich’s (“The Dirty Dozen”/”The Flight of the Phoenix”/”What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) last film, curiously a blend of sports pic and sexual comedy, is at best an uneven film with a few funny moments to keep it from getting pinned by its tasteless storyline. Mel Frohman writes the surprisingly literate script, as a road movie that could have been made in the 1950’s but for its 1970’s raunchiness.
Peter Falk is the opera-loving, hustling wrestling manager of two female wrestlers, known as the California Dolls. They are endearingly played by the worldly Vicki Frederick and the naive Laurene Landon. Vicki once had an affair with Falk, but their relationship is now only work-related. Laurene has become addicted to pain killers (and you can bet your house that she breaks her habit by the pic’s end, or else this isn’t a mainstream pic). The gals are a tag-team wrestling duo, who Falk brings from touring dumpy venues in small mill towns, in the midwest, in his beat-up car, to the big-time at the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno for a championship bout. How Falk does this trick is a neat trick, as Columbo does his usual wise guy scheming things (like getting the girls a mud wrestling match that turns ugly), while the girls struggle to hold their dignity and fight for success–they’re going for all the marbles.
Wrestling in this pic is oddly enough taken for a serious sport, as I guess Aldrich didn’t get all the memos that say the bouts are all fixed (not just some) and the events are played just for entertainment purposes. Therefore the Rocky-like climax, of going from obscurity to fame, makes things a bit awkward if you’re still believing this is a sports pic drama.
But it’s not bad, in fact it’s entertaining, upbeat and pleasant. Just don’t expect much more than a few body slams and a few wisecracks hitting home, otherwise you’ll probably be disappointed. It’s far from top-line Aldrich, but has enough of his motifs going down to at least keep it watchable. Burt Young as the oily wrestling promoter who resents Falk for his independence, has a nice turn in a supporting role to the three colorful zany stars.John Hancock gets a few laughs as the rival manager, while Richard Jaeckel is a hoot as the dishonest referee.
REVIEWED ON 3/30/2011 GRADE: B-