Sunday, April 27, 2014

#1,350. The Unholy Rollers (1972)

Directed By: Vernon Zimmerman

Starring: Claudia Jennings, Louis Quinn, Betty Anne Rees

Tag line: "A locker room look at the toughest broads in the world!"

Trivia: Several scenes from this film were edited into the 1976 movie, Hollywood Boulevard

My second roller derby-themed film in 3 days, 1972’s The Unholy Rollers is much different than Kansas City Bomber. Where Bomber was the dramatic tale of a single mom trying to make ends meet, Rollers is straight-up exploitation, a Roger Corman-produced action / comedy featuring B-movie beauty Claudia Jennings as a spitfire willing to do whatever it takes to become a star.

After quitting her job at a cannery, Karen Walker (Jennings) decides to try out for the local roller derby team, the Avengers. Cheered on by her best friend Donna (Candice Roman) and Donna’s boyfriend Greg (Alan Vint), Karen not only makes the Avengers, but becomes its newest star. Yet while her often bizarre antics endear her to the fans, they don’t impress her teammates, including Mickey (Betty Anne Rees), who, prior to Karen’s arrival, was the Avengers’ leading scorer.

Though not a rip-roaring comedy, The Unholy Rollers is, at times, pretty damn funny; I laughed during the scene when Karen and a group of others (most of whom were so uncoordinated they could barely stand up straight, let alone skate in a circle) were trying out for the Avengers. But what makes the movie so entertaining is the performance of Claudia Jennings, who’s both strong and sultry as the out-of-control Karen. Far from a sympathetic character, Karen is a hot-head (in one early sequence, she loses her cool in a grocery store, knocking over a display before skipping out without paying), a temperamental bitch whose standoffish nature alienates her teammates (when the opposing team gangs up on her, nobody comes to Karen’s defense). Yet while Karen may not be the most likable gal we’ll ever meet, we definitely admire her, mostly because she’s not afraid of anyone or anything. At one point, she even tells off Stern (Louis Quick), the Avengers’ owner, when he threatens to replace her. And while she does flash a little skin from time to time, Jennings is drop-dead sexy even when fully clothed, oozing charisma (as well as sexual energy) in damn near every scene.

Where The Unholy Rollers falters is in its roller derby sequences, which, shot primarily in close-up with a dash of POV, never convey the inherent excitement of the sport. Because we’re so close to the action, we don’t get a chance to ‘experience’ the game (rarely do we see a hit lined up or a point scored), turning what should have been thrilling moments into lifeless throwaways. Unlike Kansas City Bomber, which handled its skate scenes perfectly, The Unholy Rollers is a much better movie off the rink than it ever is on it.

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