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  Below the Belt Beyond The Mat
Year: 1980
Director: Robert Fowler
Stars: Regina Baff, John C. Becher, Mildred Burke, James Gammon, Annie MacGreevey, Billie Mahoney, Ric Mancini, Jane O'Brien, Titi Paris, Sierra Pecheur, Gregory Rozakis, Frazer Smith, Shirley Stoler, Dolph Sweet, K.C. Townsend, Ray Scott
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rosa Rubinsky (Regina Baff) worked at a wrestling arena, serving the drinks and fast food, but she kept getting sexually harassed by certain people, like a member of staff who was sure she was interested in him when she really wasn't and already had a boyfriend anyway. Finally, while waiting to use the telephone, she snapped as the creep tried to feel her up in the corridor and she smashed up the drinks tray he was carrying and thumped him in the stomach, winding him and ensuring he wouldn't try anything from then on. As she did this, the man on the phone was very impressed: he was Bobby Fox (John C. Becher), and he was a women's wrestling agent who sensed he'd just seen a new star.

The history of Below the Belt was somewhat lost in the mists of time, as it appeared to be the only film written and directed by Robert Fowler and had been held up for release for some years, with most sources saying it had been made in 1974 and not put out for six years. That said, some observed that there appeared to have been scenes inserted some time in the interim, and watching was a scrappy experience as it possessed a casual quality that spoke to the mid-nineteen-seventies but fed into a sardonic tone low budget movies of this sort often enjoyed back then. It wasn't an out and out comedy, though it did find humour in the situations Rosa becomes involved with, but then it wasn't quite exploitation either.

It more slotted into that subset of indie drama and genre flicks of which the world of women's wrestling could highlight well, not as much a showcase as Robert Aldrich's last film ...All the Marbles, but not exactly a Claudia Jennings roller derby flick either, which effectively left it fallen between two stools. Nevertheless, it was that which offered a distinctive mood, delivering a view of the sport and the days between bouts at night that felt undeniably accurate since there was obviously nobody here hired for their movie star looks, leaving the ladies of action pretty convincing when you could believe they would be able to make a living at the sport, as indeed some of the cast did. Not Baff, she was a professional actress.

Which you could see when she was noticeably less brawny than the other women, though we're supposed to believe she had a wiry strength that worked in her favour when in the ring. Considering Fowler appeared to be reluctant to let us see Rosa in action, leaving the sole bout of hers in the film to the very end, maybe he wasn't too convinced either or did not have as much faith in his leading lady as he would have hoped, but for all those misgivings it did produce a neat underdog yarn, leaving the heroine as somebody to cheer for, even if for most of the time we're watching Rosa ride the highways and byways of the American South in the back of a station wagon that she shares with Fox's other employees.

Though if you wanted local colour with plenty of decidedly non-touristy sights of the places in between the big cities, then you would be very pleased with Below the Belt (isn't that a boxing term, anyway?). There were not many recognisable faces among the cast, Baff didn't make many movies and most of those she did were of this budget and distribution, though old reliable character actors James Gammon and the formidable Shirley Stoler (as wrestlers) had decent roles that might make you go, ah, their faces ring a bell. For some reason there was a scene early on where Rosa goes to meet her late night talk show host boyfriend (Frazer Smith) and the callers he is hearing are played by members of comedy troupe The Firesign Theater; they weren't very funny here, but they did contribute to the sense of a film paying attention to the margins of society, or at least those aspects not often dwelt upon by the mainstream, lasting right up to the end credits. Baff was well cast, offering a focal point for this rough, downbeat world, and if you were at all interested in the roads less travelled cinematically, it was worth watching. Billy Preston performed the numerous songs.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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