Picture the scenario - a wrestling promoter, preparing for the biggest event of his career, has a problem. The other promoters he is working with don’t want to use his current, ageing champion, and he himself is having doubts about the man, which is why he’s using all of his promotional muscle to push a new up-and-comer, who he views as the future of the wrestling business. He’s also having problems with some real shady types, who want in on some of the action.
This is the main story of the film “The Wrestler”, originally released in 1974 and starring Ed Asner as Frank Bass, the wrestling promoter in question. Bass is preparing for a “superbowl” of wrestling, where the champions of various wrestling leagues will face off in a tournament to see who the true champion is.
But the problem is that the other promoters aren’t happy with Bass’s champion, Mike Bullard, played by Verne Gagne, who was also the executive producer of this film.
Having read these first few paragraphs, some of you reading this will probably say that Bass should have just made Bullard lie down and put the new guy over. But that’s not the case in this film. Remember, this is 1974 we’re talking about here. Kayfabe is still alive and well, and everything in this film is treated as legitimate, as real.
Asner is perfect in the role of Bass, the wrestling promoter who puts his trust in Bullard, who he describes as the perfect wrestler, seemingly unbeatable, a man who’s defeated each and every contender on the list. He wonders if anyone can beat Bullard, and is pressurised by the other promoters to find someone who can beat him.
That man virtually lands in his lap when Lord James Blears comes into his office and tells him of a young English wrestler called Billy Taylor, played by British wrestling legend Billy Robinson. Bass is impressed when he sees a film of Taylor, and immediately plans to pit Taylor against Bullard.
If you were to compare this film to today’s standards, it probably wouldn’t stand up too well. But if you take it for what it is, then it’s actually a very good film, and a very good portrayal of the wrestling business. The fact that numerous wrestling stars of the day, such as Nick Bockwinkel, Wahoo McDaniel, the Crusher, the Bruiser, and young stars such as Ric Flair and Jim Brunzell, play themselves only adds to it’s charm. Indeed, one of the funniest moments comes after Bass has asked one of his tag-teams, Dusty Rhodes and Dick Murdoch, to behave themselves. As they sit in a bar, owned by Hard Boiled Haggerty, they’re approached by noted James Bond villain and professional wrestler Harold “Odd Job” Sakata, who claims that wrestlers are weak and martial artists are tough. Needless to say that a fight breaks out, with Rhodes and Murdoch cleaning house before enjoying a couple of beers.
There’s also another notable appearance here. When Bass travels to St. Louis for a meeting with the other promoters to discuss the upcoming tournament, one of the men he meets with is none other than Vincent McMahon Sr, father of the biggest wrestling promoter in the world today.
As for the wrestling scenes, they’re top notch, perfectly executed, and a great part of the film.
In conclusion - The Wrestler is a very good film, and a perfect history lesson for those wanting to look into the past of professional wrestling. Some of the acting may not be Oscar or Golden Globe class, but it’s an enjoyable romp nonetheless, and comes highly recommended.