Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Derby" is mind-Boggling

Cleveland Press May 20, 1971

It is uneven and unusual and takes off in a direction that the makers probably didn't intend it to, but its very flaws make 'Derby' an intriguing movie.

The picture started out as a documentary about the Roller Derby, a film commissioned by the man who runs it.

THIS MIGHT have resulted in a whitewash of a pseudo-sport, but what actually is presented is a brutally honest appraisal of a form of savage entertainment.

But it is not the Roller Derby itself that dominates t he movie. During the filming in the derby dressing room at Dayton Mike Snell, a 23-year-old factory worker (Dayton Tire and Rubber), barges in to ask about getting into the Roller Derby. Derby star Charlie O'Connell informs him of the school set up on the West Coast for potential team members and Snell goes back to the stands to tell his wife about it.

Mike Snell makes $147 a week at his job and is described as a good worker when he is there. With his wife, two youngsters and his brother, he occupies a small home for $80 a month. He has other debts as well. His wife works as a waitress.

He wants to quit his job and attempt to be a derby skater. His wife, gives him an "OK, if that's what you want, honey," answer that may be based as much on a desire to hold him as to please him.

AS THE MOVIE delves more deeply into the life of the Snells we get a look at a slice of much-discussed middle America.

Mike and his buddy talk freely of their extra-curricular sex lives. Mike is seen at a loan company negotiating for money for a motorcycle on which he will head West, giving no indication that he is leaving town and leaving his job. As for the job itself, he will simply call in sick.

One of the oddest bits of all finds his wife and a friend of hers carrying on a discussion with a third woman -- the third party standing defiantly in her doorway.

Mrs. Snell knows Mike has been having an affair with her. Now her complaint is in two parts -- (a) leave her husband alone, (b) stop driving by and blowing the horn at 4 a.m. because it awakens the kids.

The complaints are of equal value. The horn blowing may even have the edge.

IT'S MIND-BOGGLING. There is a whole set of suddenly alien values here. The scene is sad, it is funny and it is also revealing. Never mind that it was probably set up. Often there is more truth revealed in such moments than in others that are purely documentary.

Odd and eccentric and curiously funny is another bit in which the wife confronts her stout, pimply-faced, Playboy-reading brother-in-law and demands to know who ate the raisins she was saving for the spaghetti. Whether is it the notion of raisins in spaghetti or the length of the scene the whole thing has about it the strangest sensation.

"Derby" does deal with the Roller Derby itself. There are the body-contact encounters on the track and the crowd yelling for blood ("Murder him, kill him!").

Away from the crowd, there are the locker room moments. In the men's locker room they discuss strategy; in the women's locker room they exchange dirty jokes.

In a motel room one member of the team displays, the gun he carries so he won't be " . . . hassled in bars by hillbillies."

"DERBY" IS also the success story of Charlie O'Connell who, a f t e r 20 years in the business, is wealthy and has a fine home and swimming pool high above San Francisco.

"Derby" is about the American Dream, not one many of us know about but one apparently known to a multitude of others.