Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Rasslin Rascals cont'd




AMG's films went into production the year I was born. American masculinity of that period, the 1950s and early, pre-Woodstock 1960s, especially the style I associate with the U.S. military, became the prototype of my tastes in men. Rasslin Rascals, AMG's recent DVD release package of wrestling films from the 1960s, is a time capsule of that time, twisted to suit my particular kink. Yesterday I reviewed the first six films (of thirteen) of this collection, which records a particular time and place in the history of American homosexuality and American masculinity, gay, bi, straight, and whatever.



The seventh film in Rasslin Rascals is a 1964 match between John Manning and Jim Selig (on the right, with the curly hair). It takes place at a pool, but not just any pool: With a painted backdrop of a lush, perhaps even primeval forest and the edge of the pool padded and theatrically bedecked with flowers, this pool is an Edenic paradise. John and Jim dive in, just long enough to get glistening wet, and then climb out, ready to strike poses and wrestle. The match is short, quick, not at all bad, but memorable mostly for the tableau effect of the backdrop.



The short film collection is named for the next film, "Rasslin' Rascals" (1964), with dark-haired Bill Maher battling sandy blond Craig Lancourt, again at poolside, but this time bedecked with elegantly draped curtains that add an incongruous 1940s-style panache to the scene. Things seem innocent enough at first. Bill splashes water on Craig. Craig reciprocates, and before you know it, the two splash into the pool for a dunking contest. But everything goes off-the-rails wild once the two climb back out of the pool. The tough, reckless horseplay, the kind your mother warned you against, leads to a long round of hard, stinging chops. Bill may instigate the fight, but Craig is the one who escalates the risk factor. Here he reminds me of Jimmy Dean in his younger years at Can-Am. Along that line, in response to yesterday's post, reader Coach Greg Varney stated, "People do not realize how dangerous Craig Lancourt really was." Indeed, "dangerous" is the right word for Lancourt in this film, one of the top three for wrestling action on this disk. I hadn't realized the roughhouse at AMG ever got this rough. I wrongly thought this level of roughness in underground wrestling emerged only twenty or thirty years later. (And here we have it against a backdrop fit for a Vogue photo shoot!)


"Selfish Youth" (1964) is the ninth film in this collection, with a moralistic title, and Jack Johnson and Mike Stevens, two tall, slim frat boys who are as white-bread as their phony wrestling names. And get this: they wrestle in deliberate slow motion in a Polynesian setting. Whuh? They even fall in slow motion. This one is pretty much exactly as I describe it. There's not much else I can say about it, but it's definitely not one you'd want to miss. A real curiosity. Irresistible kitsch.




The next match, Johnny Roland versus Chris Wood, takes us away from the tiki hut and back to the pool, unadorned this time, simply the pool at the L.A. rooming house as it probably was most of the time. Johnny and Chris dip into the water just long enough to slick up their bodies and then throw themselves into a knock-that-bitch-out brawl that's as rowdy and rough as I like a fight. These guys toss, flip, and snap each other around like they're trying to crack each other open. Chris, the smaller of the two, is my favorite, mainly because he's slightly more aggressive than Johnny. I could be wrong about that, though, because both these guys fight with lots of heart, don't mind picking up a few bruises along the way, and now and then, purely by accident, I suspect, club each other on the side of the head with a wayward foot. Now that's roughhouse!

Match 11 is the least "restored" of the 13 films, with grotesque mold-like spots aggregating along the curves of the three wrestlers' bodies. I couldn't get halfway decent screen shots of the match, not that I'm all that proud of my other caps. For that reason, I'll just say that, for me personally, the best thing about it is Tom Woods, over whom I drooled a little yesterday. The other players are Bill Maher (above) and Terry Caldwell. It's also a boxing match, played for laughs, that degenerates to a wrestling match, played for laughs, a storyline that does little for me.


Buck Walker versus Ron Fischer, the twelfth match, is atypical of the films in this collection. For one thing, Buck and Ron are more mature, which is not to say "old." Buck, with the shorter hair, looks like he might be military, perhaps even an entry-level NCO. (I make this association more out of nostalgia than inside info or keen observation and deduction. You probably have a right to know that.) Ron, with the darker, longer hair, looks like he may be in his thirties, and he bears a slight resemblance to the actor Vince Edwards, who was popular back in the day. The match also distinguishes itself from the surrounding matches by its total lack of decor. Instead, the match is shot against a plain white wall, effectively emphasizing the two wrestlers' bodies and movement. Also, the wrestling is less energetic than most, especially when compared to the savage thrusts of guys like Lancourt, Roland, and Wood. Still good, though. Buck is hot (and I hope there are still mothers in America who name their sons "Buck").






The final episode is a story film, an homage to 1960s spectacles, epics like Spartacus, Cleopatra, and The Fall of the Roman Empire, with casts of thousands and CinemaScope. In this case, we get a cast of three (and a new puppy, in the role of the emperor's dog). The story's called "Young Caesar's Wrestlers." Blackie Preston plays a slave boy who's given the opportunity to win the favor of the Young Caesar (played by Buddy Lake) by wrestling a Roman legionnaire (played by Janos "John" Hadnagy). The overly observant may wonder how the young emperor acquired reproductions of Renaissance art and aluminum siding, not to mention a wrestling mat. You might as well wonder why every young man in the 1960s owned a posing strap.

Blackie bears enough a resemblance to RKO jungle-boy Johnny Sheffield in the 1940s to stir up my juices. He's got a hot bod and great fighting spirit and plays his character with all the bland sincerity that the role requires. Bob Mizer, who recorded pertinent details about his models in private code, had this to say about the guy: "Expensive hustler. Likes girls. Can be sucked. Will penetrate others. Aesthetic; mother oriented." (You can find the decoded message here.) This description makes me laugh, partly because it's exactly what I would have guessed about young Blackie. But I only wish that I had a time machine and a hundred dollars--I could even bring more siding and a dozen roses for Mother Preston.


3 comments:

  1. This isn't something just about wrestling, but seeing photos or video from 50 years ago brought to mind. When I see things like this I find myself wondering about what has happened to these persons since, what do these fit, handsome young men look like now. Last night I watched a PBS program about the Broadway musical, and I wondered about them, especially those in non-featured roles. And again with earnest young faces of soldiers from the Civil War or WW I in photographs (and they had hunks then, too--whodda thunk it?). Heck I even speculate on animals in movies, from the silent era or 10 years ago. All completely useless, of course, since I'll never know. But part of me wants to know that they had lives beyond the celluloid. Not always happy ones or sad ones, just human, canine, feline, equine...well, you get the drift...ones. Very heavy, very silly thoughts. :)

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    1. I have thoughts like that, too, Almatolmen. Very old photographs almost always inspire a pleasant sense of bittersweet melancholy.

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    2. Then there are the cases in more recent instances that you see someone and its either, "OMG, he looks much better even than 20 years ago!" or "WTF happened to him?!". A personal example of the latter is a Jr. HS crush I had. He was good-looking, with beautiful blonde-red hair, a body that was smoking even for someone older and the panache to wear clothes to highlight it, that he got by lifting weights (rather unusual in that era). He was my wet dream in the flesh. Years later, he was bald with a paunch and wore awful clothes. Sometimes you can't go home again!

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