Claudia Jennings! Claudia... motherfuckin' Jennings! Your stay on this earth may have been cut tragically short (1949-1979), but your body of work will live on forever. The second film in my self-realized "Jean Short Trilogy," Unholy Rollers finds Claudia Jennings quitting her soul-crushing factory job to join "The Avengers." No, not those Avengers, silly (though, I think Mrs. Jennings would have been great as Dazzler). Anyway, I don't know 'bout you, but I think Claudia's spunky, take no shit attitude was perfectly suited for the early 1970s. Now, I'm not exactly sure what was going on in 1972, but the misplaced anger, civil unrest and the general sense of malaise that was sweeping the U.S.A. during this particular period is represented rather accurately by a "sport" called roller derby. Sort of like wrestling on wheels, it makes sense that roller derby (which is still played today) would thrive during the early 1970s. With bloody battles in Vietnam still raging, the American people needed a mindless escape to distract them from the horrors of war, and what better way to do so than to watch lesbians beat the crap out of one another on roller-skates?
I know, I know, when does Claudia Jennings wear jean shorts. Keep your panties on, I'll get to that in a minute. I just want to examine the climate of the era. And, looking over what I just typed, I think I examined the era's climate to the best of my ability.
Unlike 'Gator Bait, Claudia Jennings' delicious lower-half doesn't spend the entire film encased in cut-off jean shorts. Now, before you start screaming rip off, I should inform you that Claudia Jennings' wardrobe in this movie is off the hook in terms of variety.
On top of her trademark orange and black L.A. Avengers roller derby uniform (black shorts with orange tights), Claudia can be seen in a wide array of outfits. And, yes, one of these outfits includes jean shorts.
Flowery hippie dresses, watermelon adorned shirts, mini-dresses, tank-tops, mini-skirts, and sweaters that employ colour blocking, Claudia Jennings' character's sense of fashion is just as fearless as her temperament.
Unafraid to utilize physical violence to get her point across, Claudia Jenning's Karen Walker has a short temper. And as we're shown on several occasions throughout this film, it doesn't much to set her off.
You know when you're in the grocery store trying to buying your favourite wheat-based cereal and the person minding the check out counter decides to go on their break just as you're about to make your purchase? Well, instead of calmly moving over to an open check out counter like most people, Karen Walker threatens to punch the break taking cashier with her fists.
The fact that Karen Walker is wearing a pink floral hippie dress with white go-go boots when she makes this threat only manages to amplify her awesomeness. Why can't I be more like Karen Walker, I thought to myself, as she stood up for her right to be served.
If you think Karen Walker is tough when she's in the express line at the supermarket, you should see her on the roller derby track.
As I was trying to remember the rules of the game, it dawned me that I used to watch a roller derby TV show called "RollerGames." Even though my memory of the show is mostly Kool Moe Dee-related, he famously performed "I Go To Work" (a.k.a. the second greatest hip hop song of all-time, the greatest being, of course, N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton") during a lull in the roller derby action, I do recall seeing men and women on roller skates pummeling one another.
After quitting her job at the cat food factory she works (she was in charge of "chicken velocity," whatever that means), Karen Walker tries out for L.A. Avengers, a local roller derby team.
Oh, it should be noted that when Karen quits her job, she throws a bunch of cans of cat food at her boss, and later on, while grocery shopping with her stripper pal/roommate, Donna (Candice Roman), she knocks over a large of stack of canned goods... totally on purpose. I'm not noting this in order to point that Karen has a thing against cans, I'm pointing it out because I think she has serious anger issues. Which makes her the perfect candidate for roller derby.
No one will disagree that anger is important, but the main reason Karen makes the squad is because she, according to Mr. Stern (Louis Quinn), the owner of the the Avengers, knows how to play to the crowd. In other words, she's got showmanship. And she looks great in cut-off jean shorts.
While the scenes at the cat food factory and the supermarket do an excellent job of showcasing Karen's problem when it comes to containing her rage, the scene at the strip club Donna works seems to serve no purpose whatsoever. Other than allowing us to see Claudia Jennings in a super-sexy tiger print dress, I can't think of single reason why this scene exists. (Um, then why are you typing words about it?) Um, hello? Claudia Jennings wears a short tiger print dress... with the white go-go boots. (Ah.)
If you're not like me, and you didn't watch RollerGames back in the day, and have no idea how the game is played, we're given a quick roller derby refresher course in the next scene.
After the lesson is over, Karen goes to see the roller derby doctor to... get felt up basically. The best thing about Karen's doctor visit (besides her being felt up) is that her bra and panties don't match.
What's great about Claudia Jennings in 'Gator Bait and Unholy Rollers is that she doesn't seem to shirk from doing her own stunts. While it's clear that Claudia was the one driving the boat in 'Gator Bait, it's even clearer that Claudia is doing her own skating in the Unholy Rollers. And this gave an unexpected layer of authenticity to the proceedings.
Picking the number three, Karen Walker quickly becomes a fan favourite amongst the L.A. Avenger faithful. This, of course, causes some of her teammates to become jealous, particularly their star jammer, Micky (Betty Anne Rees). Some teammates, however, like, Nick (Jay Varela), see Karen for what she really is: a foxy, forthright, force of nature.
Wow, it says here that Martin Scorsese was the film's "supervising editor." No wonder the skating scenes are so well put together.
I can't decide what I liked better, the sight of Claudia Jennings watching an ad her character does for the "Amazing Rocket Chair" in black pantyhose or the sight of her watching an ad she did for a pen company in orange socks, yellow shorts, a top covered in sail boats and wearing pink rollers in her hair. Hmm, as much as I love black pantyhose, I'm going to have to go with the pink rollers scene, as she gives herself the middle finger at the end of the pen TV spot.
On the surface, it's your typical rise and fall story (Karen Walker let's fame go to her head). But the film is trashy in all the right places, boasts a terrific lead actress (unlike the charisma-challenged dullards who appear in Andy Sidaris' movies, Claudia Jennings gives ex-Playboy models turned actresses a good name), and is filled with lots of exciting roller derby action.