…All the Marbles
The last film in Robert Aldrich’s storied career, this women’s wrestling “comedy” has been buried for years, only available in various edited VHS versions (a DVD is now available directly from Warner Brothers’ website). I tracked down an uncut version, obviously a bootleg and looking it. Considering the low-rent feel of the film (you won’t believe that a one-time celebrated director would slum this low for his own production company*), the visibility issues don’t get in the way, since the clichéd story gives way to plentiful nudity by the attractive stars and lots of Peter Falk mired in his role of sleazy patriarchal villain and hero/manager to our California Dolls.
Aldrich’s attempt to give the movie an epic and dramatic feel results in a nearly 2 hour film, the final wrestling sequence is a 30 minute match that actually takes up 30 minutes of screen time, and a very confused development of Falk’s character who is either a violent shyster and terrible businessman who beats up his ladies for no reason and manipulates them sexually, or their honorable [opera loving] hero and savior, only looking out for their best interests, both career-wise and morally. Any attempts at high-mindedness are completely nullified by an extended naked mud-wrestling scene and Burt Young (who had previously embarrassed himself in Aldrich’s The Choirboys) as some sort of promoter/gangster/rapist. The movie also never seems to decide whether it believes wrestling is real or fake which causes plenty of confusion especially as to why we should find most of the matches suspenseful.
While it is easy to jump on …All the Marbles for being very poorly written and directed, it is always fascinating to see a director at the back end of his career, still taking himself seriously despite being involved in complete trash unaware of his massive misogyny and script limitations. Will his reaction be boredom and disinterest (like with J. Lee Thompson) or will he believe in himself entirely and go off the deep end, not willing to listen to any outside influences who might tell him to reign it in?
*Aldrich had done much to establish himself during Hollywood in the 1950’s and 60’s, making enough money after the success of The Dirty Dozen to free himself and start up his own production company. What is odd is the movies that resulted seemed no more independent and original than anything he made for a studio, one could easily argue even less so, including 3 films which would be fair competition for the worst of their decade (The Legend of Lylah Clare, The Choirboys, …All the Marbles), not that they aren’t entertaining, but mostly inadvertently.