Below the Belt (1980)


(director/writer: Robert Fowler; screenwriter: from the novel To Smithereens, Below the Belt by Rosalyn Dexter/Sherry Sonnett; cinematographer: Alan Metzger; editor: Steven Zaillian; music: Jerry Fielding; cast: Regina Baff (Rosa Rubinsky), Millie Burke (Herself), John C. Becher (Bobby Fox), James Gammon (Luke), Jane O’Brien(“Terrible” Tommy J Dukes), Frazer Smith (Terry Glance), Dolph Sweet (LeRoi), Shirley Stoler (Trish), Annie McGreevey (Lee Darling/The Beautiful Boomerang), Ray Scott (Himself), K.C. Townsend (Thalia),Titi Paris (Hilda), Gregory Rozakis (Beer vender), Paul Brennan (Stepfather), The Firesign Theatre (Themselves), Billie Mahoney (Jean Burly/The Greatest), Sierra Pecheur (Verne Vavoom); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Fowler; MGM; 1980)

“Enjoyable despite its slightness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Fowler directs a feel-good lady wrestling road pic that’s ahead of its time. It’s enjoyable despite its slightness. The low-budget indie was shot in 1974, but not released until 1980. It’s the semi-autobiographical account of a New York City waitress who becomes a pro lady wrestler. It’s based on the novel To Smithereens, Below the Belt by Rosalyn Dexter. Fowler co-writes the engaging screenplay with Sherry Sonnett.

Promoter Bobby Fox (John C. Becher) witnesses waitress Rosa Rubinsky (Regina Baff, known primarily as a stage actress) dispatch a rowdy male customer outside her restaurant and talks her into making a career move as a pro wrestler. The Polish Rosa is now called Rosa Carlo “The Mexican Spitfire,” and tours the country. Rosa’s trainer is Millie Burke, a real-life pro lady wrestler.

There are lots of wrestling matches and colorful wrestlers, it captures the ups and downs of life on the road, and it re-creates the seedy wrestling atmosphere. It goes out of its way to show how far from glamorous is the lifestyle, and tells us that most of the ladies are in the business for fame and fortune. It builds to Rosa ending her year-long apprenticeship with her first pro fight in Birmingham, Alabama, with an old favorite in the lady pro circuit, Tommy “The Terrible” (Jane O’Brien). After booed when entering the ring, Rosa defeats the hometown favorite and leaves her lying unconscious on the mat. The crowd in appreciation stand and shout out Rosa’s name in adulation, as a new star is born.

For comic relief you can also hear (but not see) the four members of the comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre. There’s also wall-to-wall genial background music, with a wonderful Billy Preston belting out a few tunes.