Below the Belt (1980)

below the belt 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Waitress becomes a wrestler.

Rosa (Regina Baff) works as a waitress at a sports arena who one day catches the eye of wrestling promoter Bobby Fox (John C. Beecher) after she decks a guy who tries to get fresh with her. Fox is in need for a new wrestler to promote and feels she’d make a perfect fit despite her having no experience in the sport. Since she is bored with her job and low on funds she decides to take him up on his offer, but finds that life in the wrestling world can be quite lonely and grueling and the promises of fame and fortune are fleeting.

Unlike Grunt! The Wrestling Movie, which was reviewed last week, this movie does not take a fan’s perspective of the business nor does it get caught up in the colorful caricatures or silly storylines. Instead it reveals a rather bleak look at the hardships faced by those working the circuit and how emotionally and physically taxing it can be living on the road and going paycheck-to-paycheck. In fact there is more footage shown of them behind-the-scenes preparing for a bout than an actual match although the climax does feature Rosa, dubbed the Mexican Spitfire, taking on defending champion Terrible Tommy (played by real-life wrestler Jane O’Brien) who plays dirty, doesn’t have any front teeth and even beats up on the referee.

Comical moments get spread throughout, but they tend to get overplayed and don’t work. What grabbed me was the main character and how relatable her situation was particularly the way her life was unfocused and her inability to stick with any job for too long, which her boyfriend and father nag her about, but then when she tells them about her new found wrestling passion they scoff and show no support. I also liked how the film examines both side of the age spectrum including Thalia (K.C. Townsend) who lies about her age and pretends to be older than she is simply so she can escape her tedious small-town life and get into the wrestling circuit, which she considers her ‘big break’ while on the other end there’s Verne (Sierra Pecheur) who’s in her late 30’s and been in the business for many years and now feels trapped and unable to get out.

Baff, with her plain looks, is a good representation of the average young woman still struggling for direction, but her thin body made me think she wouldn’t be able to handle the rigor of the sport in real-life. Shirley Stoler is on the opposite end as she was quite overweight and humorously carries around a handgun with her to fight off all the would-be rapists that she feels are lurking in the shadows and ready to attack her at any minute. Dolph Sweet is also memorable as an aging wrestler who reluctantly realizes that the business and his passion for it have passed him by.

There’s a heavy dose of blues music that gets played frequently throughout. To some extent the soundtrack, with songs sung by Billy Preston, Jennifer Holliday and the Voices of Deliverance, lends flavor and distinction to the proceedings, but it also ends up becoming overdone and intrusive in a film that is alright, but tries a little too hard to make its point.

below the belt 2

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1980 (Filmed in 1974)

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Fowler

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

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