Below the Belt (1980)

Below the Belt (1980)

“She’s stronger than she looks — I’m working on the image!”

A waitress (Regina Baff) tries her luck as a female wrestler, travelling across the United States with a group of diverse and determined women.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Road Trip
  • Strong Females
  • Underdogs
  • Wrestling

A year before Robert Aldrich’s All the Marbles (1981) (a.k.a. The California Dolls) was released, writer-director Robert Fowler made this character study about a down-on-her-luck waitress hoping for a more empowered and exciting life through female wrestling. Fowler and Sherry Sonnet’s screenplay — based on an autobiographical novel by Rosalyn Drexler — contains plenty of authentic insights into the seamy world of low-rent wrestling, showing both the challenges and the bonds that occur along the way. (For the most part, the wrestlers are supportive rather than combative with one another, understanding that it’s primarily a show rather than a contest.) Given its parallels with the underdog film Rocky (1976), Below the Belt naturally ends with “The Big Fight”, which is actually quite gripping given that it stars real-life wrestler Jane O’Brien as “Terrible Tommy” (missing a front tooth, and menacing as all-get-out). Less engaging are Baff’s romantic foibles and a side-story about a middle-aged couple (Sierra Pecheur and Dolph Sweet) debating leaving the wrestling world for different pastures — but it all adds to the amiably paced flow of the film, which is more ethnographic than plot-driven. Watch for Shirley Stoler in a supporting role as one of Baff’s co-wrestlers.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Regina Baff as Rosa
  • Seemingly authentic “behind the scenes” footage of life for wrestlers
  • Good use of real-life wrestlers and matches
  • A catchy and unusual soundtrack (“Some folks are so mean, they gargle gin and gasoline”)

Must See?
No, but it’s worth seeking out for a one-time look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Below the Belt (1980)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see; mostly for fans of the sport, though it’s not without its entertainment value in general and succeeds on its own low-budget terms. It starts out a little shaky but improves as it goes along.

    The film does get points for: its focus on the female version of a traditionally male-dominated sport; the cast members having a solid understanding of their unorthodox roles; capturing the various moods of ‘a life on the road’; generally good pacing (it moves along swiftly enough).

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