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Cult Movie Essentials: Below The Belt (1980)

Filmed in 1974 but not released until 1980, Below The Belt paints the picture of one woman’s journey through professional wrestling and life.

When waitress Rosa Rubinsky (Regina Baff) tires of serving food, she decides to change her career and become a professional wrestler named “The Mexican Spitfire.” She receives training from wrestling legend Mildred Burke (playing herself) who helps her work her way toward the top as Rosa Carlo “The Mexican Spitfire”.

One night wrestling promoter Bobby Fox (John C. Becher) witnesses Rosa physically handle the unwanted advances of a co-worker. Fox thinks she looks like a natural for the sport despite she being diminutive in size.

Rosa is sent to professional wrestling school, and then on the road with Bobby’s stable of wrestlers to watch and learn. In both situations, what Rosa also learns is that there is much camaraderie amongst the wrestlers out of emotional need as it is a lonely life. While some look for their soul mate within their traveling partners, others just want a body – any body – to keep them warm at night. She also learns the pros and cons of the sport itself.

Danger arises as Rosa’s first professional wrestling first is to be against Terrible Tommy J. (Jane O’Brien), the queen of the sport. Although professional wrestling is acting more than anything, Tommy, who has forty pounds over Rosa, often treats it like real life to exert her power and superiority over her colleagues, who she sees more as competitors wanting to dethrone her.

The film is based on Rosalyn Drexler’s autobiography To Smithereens. Drexler wrote the novel because she hated her time as a wrestler but thought it should not be wasted, and she should “at least get a book out of it.

In the autobiography it was  Billy Wolfe, who was organizing a women’s wrestling team. After having to call her husband for permission, Drexler went down in Florida to train, wrestle, and tour under the character of “Rosa Carlo, the Mexican Spitfire. She did it out of a need to “get away from this family thing for a while…[it] was too much for [her]”. While on tour, she wrestled in odd places such as a graveyard and an airplane-hangar. There is also a photo of her getting ready with an advertisement that she would be fighting Mae Young, a famous professional wrestler. She went on tour around the country, but returned home after becoming upset about racism in the southern states, such as segregated seating and water fountains. Andy Warhol made a series of silkscreen paintings based on a photograph of Drexler as Rosa Carlo

 

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