Cast & Crew
After losing a five-lap challenge with Big Bertha Bogliani, gum-smacking Kansas City Ramblers roller derby player K.C. Carr is traded to the Portland Loggers, managed by the suave and conniving businessman Burt Henry. On her way to Portland, K.C. stops in Fresno, CA to visit her two children, who are staying with Mrs. Carr, K.C.'s bitter mother. Although the children are proud of K.C.'s career, her youngest, Paul, is so fearful of his mother getting hurt in the rink that he refuses to speak to K.C. during her visit. Heartbroken but desperate to make a living from something other than menial labor, K.C. proceeds to Portland, where Burt introduces her to the Loggers team. Forced to play for the rival Portland team, the Renegades, until a contract dispute can be settled, K.C. is eyed suspiciously by most of the Loggers, except for Lovey, who offers her a place to stay at her houseboat. In K.C.'s first match, Jackie Burdette, the Loggers' captain and star player, clobbers K.C., who Jackie fears has been hired to replace her. When a brawl ensues between Jackie and K.C. during the men's game when K.C. tries to defend one of her male teammates, the crowd wildly cheers, prompting Burt to encourage K.C. and Jackie to continue their animosity on the rink even after K.C. joins the Loggers. Once alone with K.C., Burt confides that he has brought her to Portland to make her the star of the team. Although K.C. comfortably settles in with Lovey at the houseboat, the Loggers games are filled with escalating violence between her and Jackie. The animosity toward K.C. continues out of the rink with unwanted sexual advances from her male teammates and insufferable insults from Jackie. Agreeing to meet Burt for dinner one night, K.C. is easily led into a night of lovemaking at his opulent apartment. When Burt drives K.C. back to the houseboat, Lovey catches them kissing in the car, prompting Burt to trade Lovey to a Denver team the next morning. When K.C. offers to talk to Burt on Lovey's behalf, Lovey accuses K.C. of being behind the trade in the first place. Days later on the Loggers team bus, K.C. tries to comfort the childlike Horrible Hank Hopkins, whose animal behavior in the rink prompts the crowd's laughter and humiliating taunts. Hank, who is ostracized by most of his teammates, worries that Burt will soon trade him, if he cannot, as Burt has suggested, add more "color" to his performance by overreacting to the audience's chants and hog calling. After several games on the road, the team arrives in Fresno, where K.C. visits her children and her mother, who reprimands K.C. for failing the children and not returning home. When Mrs. Carr refuses to listen to K.C.'s pleas that she just wants a "piece of the action," K.C. leaves heartbroken. Soon after, K.C. confronts Burt about trading Lovey. Burt claims that he was jealous of her friendship with Lovey and promises to make K.C. the star of his new franchise in Chicago, where she can bring her children to live with her. Days later when the tour bus breaks down, a drunken Jackie stumbles along the road accusing K.C. of using her sexual prowess with Burt to have Lovey traded. Jackie's tirade angers K.C. and in the ensuing fight, the two women tumble down an embankment onto a railroad track, where team manager Vivien and K.C. narrowly pull the barely conscious Jackie off the tracks before a train rushes by. Days later, back on the Portland rink, Hank pummels a few competitors to help K.C., who kisses him on the cheek. Emboldened by the attention, Hank plays even more aggressively, prompting the opposing team to beat him mercilessly and the crowd to throw food. K.C. tries to help the now cowering Hank, but when an opposing player throws a drink in her face, Hank goes mad, nearly killing the man and raging deliriously at the crowd. In the locker room that night, K.C.'s teammates blame her for the team's demise and for Burt's decision to make Hank a "free agent," effectively banishing him from the sport. When K.C. begs Burt to retain Hank, reminding him that he asked Hank for "color," he tells her that everyone is used in the game, implying that Hank is expendable. The next day, Burt speaks with a distant K.C., asking her to throw a one-on-one match with Jackie and promising that the "loser" will be banished to Chicago, where she will become the new franchise's star. Although Burt assures her that he loves her in his own way, K.C. accepts the deal, even though she finally realizes that Burt's real intentions are purely exploitative. After Jackie and K.C. insult each other over the intercom at the next match, a five-lap challenge is set up between the women. In the locker room on the night of the challenge, K.C., tired of manipulating her talents for everyone but herself, asks Jackie to skate in earnest to win and Jackie agrees. After four laps of hitting and swinging each other out of the rink, a fistfight ensues on the rink floor during which K.C. reaches out only inches in front of Jackie to grasp the finish line ribbon. As K.C. holds the ribbon high above her head, proud that she has won the match fairly, the crowd loudly chants her name.
Mary Kay Pass
William Gray Espy
Patti "moo Moo" Cavin
Paul Casella Jr.
Bill Griffiths Jr.
Joseph R. Jennings
Lola Skip Mcnallay
Harry W. Tetrick
Kansas City Bomber
Prior to this, Welch was usually cast for her considerable physical attributes but rarely got a chance to test herself dramatically, even in genre films where she was the star such as the suspense thriller Flareup (1969), and Hannie Caulder (1971), a Western revenge drama. Kansas City Bomber was different; it was a personal project for the actress (she was one of the co-producers) and was made with the cooperation and assistance of the National Skating Derby. Welch even performed her own skating and selected stunts. Working with professional skater Paul Rupert, Raquel practiced five hours a day for three months, learning how to maneuver the banked oval tracks and how to take falls. Despite all of this, she broke her wrist in a fall during one scene, halting production for six weeks.
Adding authenticity to the production was the casting of real life roller derby stars (John Hall and Danny "Carrot Top" Reilly from the L. A. Thunderbirds) as extras and verbal references to other infamous players such as "Little" Richard Brown and Ronnie "Psycho" Rains. Real roller derby venues in Kansas City, Fresno, and Portland were also used for key scenes. In this regard, director Jerrold Freedman deserves kudos for his down and dirty approach which perfectly captures the economically depressed backwater towns, the cavernous, dimly lit sports arenas, and the rabid, blue collar fans who yell for blood on the sidelines. Equally effective is Helena Kallianiotes's intense performance as a bitter alcoholic teammate and rival. She won a Golden Globe nomination for her work here and inspired critic Roger Greenspun (of The New York Times) to say she gave "the film's one incredible performance...She goes to the dogs with an inappropriate passion rich enough to suggest an over-the-hill Sarah Bernhardt being traded to the minors by the Comedie Francaise."
What's most interesting about Kansas City Bomber, however, is its schizophrenic nature. It constantly veers back and forth between a warts-and-all documentary realism and a contrived Hollywood soap opera. Is it an exploitation picture or a serious drama? It tries to be both and the fault may lie in the screenplay (based on a master's thesis by UCLA film student Barry Sandler). Scenes with K.C. (Welch) at home with her disapproving mother and two children (one of whom is played by a very young Jodie Foster) or being manipulated by the team manager (Kevin McCarthy) fail to reveal why this single mom is driven to succeed at roller derby. It's never really resolved in the film but Welch's sincere performance helps to suspend disbelief.
Most critics noted this too when Kansas City Bomber opened theatrically. Kevin Thomas of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that "Kansas City Bomber, a well-observed slice of contemporary Americana, marks Raquel Welch's coming of age as an actress and is a personal triumph for her after surviving more rotten movies than anyone would care to remember." And The Village Voice deemed the film "worth seeing if only because its central character marks a return to the kind of independent, self-aware professional woman that has practically disappeared from contemporary movies." Unfortunately, Kansas City Bomber didn't lead to better dramatic roles for Ms. Welch. Instead, she went in a different direction, displaying a rarely seen knack for self-satire (in 1973's The Last of Sheila, playing a Hollywood sex symbol) and comedy (Richard Lester's version of The Three Musketeers (1973) and its 1974 sequel). She temporarily abandoned her film career in 1982 after being replaced on the set of Cannery Row with Debra Winger. Since then, she has appeared occasionally in made-for-TV movies, and infomercials endorsing her own fitness products. In 1998, she resumed her movie career with the French film, Folle d'elle, and has since appeared in Tortilla Soup (2001) and Legally Blonde (2001) among others.
Producer: Martin Elfand, Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy
Director: Jerrold Freedman
Screenplay: Calvin Clements, Sr., Thomas Rickman, Barry Sandler
Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp
Film Editing: David Berlatsky
Art Direction: Joseph R. Jennings
Music: Don Ellis
Cast: Raquel Welch (Diane K.C. Carr), Kevin McCarthy (Burt Henry), Helena Kallianiotes (Jackie Burdette), Norman Alden (Horrible Hank Hopkins), Jeanne Cooper (Trainer Vivien), Jodie Foster (Rita).
by Jeff Stafford
Kansas City Bomber
Phil Ochs, the folk singer-songwriter, was originally approached to write a theme song for the film. His song was rejected, though. Ochs had A&M Records issue it as a single anyway.
Writer Barry Sandler got Raquel Welch interested in this project by showing up on her doorstep and leaving a script with her personal assistant. He was attending UCLA film school at the time.
Judy Arnold did the stunts for Raquel Welch. Judy was a famous roller derby/games star in the 1960s and '70s; she played with the Philadelphia Warriors.
In the credits, the filmmakers acknowledge the assistance of the National Skating Derby Inc. and its president, William J. Griffiths. According to a March 31, 1971 Daily Variety article, Curtwel Productions, a company owned by actress Raquel Welch and her then husband, Patrick Curtis, purchased the script for Kansas City Bomber from Barry Sandler, a college graduate student at the time, who had written it as his master's thesis, with Welch in mind as the star. A May 25, 1971 Daily Variety article stated that Warner Bros. had concluded negotiations to release the film, and Roger H. Lewis had been selected to be the producer. However, according to Daily Variety news items in December 1971 and January 1972, M-G-M recently had taken over the production from Warner Bros. Lewis was not listed onscreen, and no additional information about his involvement in the released film has been found. Although the company name Curtwell Productions was used for Welch's film Hannie Calder, which was shot in England in early 1971 but not released in the U.S. until June 1972, screen credits and other post-production sources for Kansas City Bomber list her company's name as Raquel Welch Productions, Inc. It is possible that the name Curtwell was dropped following Welch's and Curtis' divorce in 1972. According to Filmfacts, Vilmos Zsigmond was at one time set to be the film's cinematographer.
The March 31, 1971 Daily Variety article reported that San Francisco roller derby promoter Jerry Seltzer attempted to get a court order to block production on the film and sought fifteen million dollars in damages, alleging that the film violated the Roller Derby trademark and made unauthorized use of the "Bomber" name used in Seltzer's Roller Derby League. An March 8, 1972 Variety article stated that Seltzer was still involved in the fifteen million dollar suit against the producers of Kansas City Bomber, but the outcome of this suit remains undetermined. For more information about Seltzer and the Roller Derby League, see the entry above for the 1971 documentary Derby, a film that Seltzer commissioned.
According to a February 19, 1972 Los Angeles Times article, the production was postponed until April 1972 due to Welch breaking her wrist while skate training for the film. According to the Variety review, Welch did most the skating for her character. M-G-M publicity material noted that many of the other roller derby players in the film were portrayed by top skaters from the Los Angeles Thunderbirds, Philadelphia Warriors, Baltimore-Washington Cats, Cleveland Bucks, New York Bombers and Northern Hawks. In addition, Japanese and Australian skating stars also skated in the film. Character actor Dick Lane, who appeared as "Len," was also a well-known Los Angeles television personality who announced wrestling and roller derby in the 1950s and 1960s. His signature "Whooooaaaah Nellie," often used during Los Angeles Thunderbirds games, became a popular refrain in sports broadcasting. A modern source adds Joan Darling to the cast.
Kansas City Bomber was shot on location in Portland, OR and marked the feature film directorial debut for Jerrold Freedman. The film also marked the first feature of then child actress Jodie Foster, although her first released feature was another 1972 film, Napoleon and Samantha (see below). Several reviewers compared Kansas City Bomber to They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (see below), a 1969 film about a Depression-era dance competition that also revealed the fraudulent nature of an amateur spectator sport and the desperate personal circumstances of its participants.
Released in United States August 1972
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Released in United States August 1972