All the Marbles (1981)

All the Marbles (1981)

“Like it or not, the three of us are a team — and we’re going to make it, or die trying.”

The manager (Peter Falk) of two beautiful “tag team” wrestlers (Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon) tries to find work for his “California Dolls”, who aspire towards a match in Reno with their ultimate rivals: the Toledo Tigers (Tracy Reed and Ursaline Bryant).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Peter Falk Films
  • Richard Jaeckel Films
  • Rivalry
  • Robert Aldrich Films
  • Strong Females
  • Wrestling

This semi-comedic female wrestling flick was director Robert Aldrich’s final film, and shows ample evidence of his willingness to tackle even the most unusual topics. Although it’s no longer widely available, it’s easy to understand why Peary lists All the Marbles (a.k.a. The California Dolls) as an erstwhile cult favorite, given that it stars two strong, sexy females who spend most of the film wearing form-fitting leotards and cat fighting in an arena — indeed, fans of female wrestling won’t be disappointed, as there’s plenty of girl on girl action scattered throughout. Fortunately, those of us not so interested in either t&a or wrestling can still appreciate the humorous rapport between Falk (excellent as always) and his two appealing “dolls” — one of whom (Frederick) is his sometime-lover, and the other of whom (Landon) suffers from a “mild” addiction to prescription drugs. Indeed, Landon’s professed but unseen “problem” with drugs is indicative of the film’s overall attitude of glowing unreality: Frederick and Landon should by any account be black-and-blue given the thrashings they encounter in the ring, but the most they ever seem to suffer from is a hurt back or a mildly split lip. Ultimately, then, All the Marbles is more of a fairy tale fable than an expose, with the Dolls conveniently triumphing by the end.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Falk as Harry
  • Believable, humorous rapport between Falk, Frederick, and Landon
  • The exciting final MGM match between the California Dolls and the Toledo Tigers

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look. Listed as a Personal Recommendation and Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “All the Marbles (1981)

  1. First viewing. Ultimately not a must – tho fans of director Aldrich and his maverick spirit won’t want to miss it.

    ‘…ATM’ falls somewhere between Aldrich’s best and worst. Not bad as a film to end a directorial career with, it’s certainly watchable. It seems, at least in part, to be the flip (female) side of ‘Rocky’ (1976; note: also with Burt Young, who squeezed this film between ‘Rocky II’ and ‘Rocky III’) – although ffs will recall that something of a ‘sister’ film, ‘Kansas City Bomber’, preceded ‘Rocky’ by four years.

    Compared to its wrestling set pieces, the rest of the film may seem somewhat mundane and oddly soap opera-ish. Yet it’s the non-fight scenes that believably reveal how tedious a competitive climb can be (i.e., Falk’s endlessly frustrating attempts to get bookings for his clients, etc.).

    Bottom line, tho, the fights are the things here: the midway, main event fight in Chicago; the mud wrestling sequence; and the extended, brutal (!) championship match that closes the movie (and also includes an unexpected, laugh-out-loud ‘dealing’ with the referee).

    The numerous actresses here (including the leads) are much better fighters than thespians – a plus for verisimilitude. Falk is rough and tough – and Falk.

    Throughout most of his directing career, Aldrich seemed to bounce back and forth between films about macho men and films about crazed women – to an extent, ‘ATM’ finally reads as fusion of the two.

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