'Dark Side of the Ring' Season 1, Episode 2 "The Montreal Screwjob": A Classic Russo Swerve [SPOILER REVIEW]

The second episode of Viceland's Dark Side of the Ring documentary series aired Wednesday night, focusing this time on the Montreal Screwjob. When I reviewed last week's debut episode, which told the tragic story of Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, I thought that was a good choice to open with because everyone is more or less familiar with that story. Going next with the Montreal Screwjob follows, I suppose, the same logic, but I do wonder if front-loading both of these well-known stories at the top of the season, rather than saving one for the season finale, will lead to viewers tuning out once we hit the less familiar territory of Bruiser Brody, the Von Erichs, Gorgeous Gino, and Fabulous Moolah. We'll find out, I suppose.

dark side of the ring

This episode followed the same format as the last: Dutch Mantell narrating, talking heads including Jim Cornette, Bruce Prichard, Eric Bischoff, Scott Hall, Earl Hebner, and Bret Hart himself, intercut with classic wrestling footage, footage from the 1997 Wrestling with Shadows documentary, and of course blurry, shadowy scenes featuring people dressed to look like Hart and others posing. There's another talking head who shows up as a sort of surprise halfway through, but we'll get to that in a minute. In general, the blurry, shadowy dramatization footage felt less sleazy since it wasn't about Macho Man and Elizabeth's slowly disintegrating, abusive relationship.

The first part of the documentary follows a standard format, establish a little history about Hart, his pedigree, and his career leading up to the screwjob. It then gets into a fairly basic recounting of the events leading up to the most famous match ending in modern pro wrestling history. Bret was offered a big money deal by WWF's growing rival, WCW, but took a smaller money (but longer-term) deal with WWF out of loyalty. But when WWF's financial troubles worsened, Vince McMahon told Hart he should take the WCW deal, so Hart did. The only problem was that Hart was the WWF Champion, and he didn't want to drop the belt in Canada to Shawn Michaels, with whom he had a real-life rivalry ("As far as I know, if anyone was sleeping with Sunny, it was Shawn." – Hart).

But here's where the documentary became far more interesting. Just as Cornette, who has taken credit for the screwjob in shoot interviews in the past, is explaining how he came up with the idea for Michaels to put Hart in the Sharpshooter and then ring the bell, attributing the idea to the 1931 supposed screwjob of Ed "Strangler" Lewis by Henri DeGlane via faked bite mark, which also occurred in Montreal, via somewhat spurious logic. Some would argue both screwjobs were works, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, it's at this point when Vince Russo, who has also taken credit for the screwjob in the past, makes his entry as a surprise talking head and begins disputing Cornette's version of the events, claiming that it was, in fact, Russo who came up with the idea for the screwjob ("Bro, just have Shawn put Bret in the Sharpshooter bro." – you know who)

The next ten minutes of the episode consists of these two talking heads insulting each other and calling each other liars and makes for fantastic and truly unexpected entertainment in what would otherwise have been an ordinary retelling of a well-known story which wrestling fans are well-familiar with. If you're looking for a definitive account of the Montreal Screwjob, this isn't it, but the slightly different cast of talking heads than other screwjob docs does make it worth a watch. For the mythical "casual fans" who haven't heard this stuff a thousand times before, it would serve as a decent introduction to the events. The doc makes the argument that the Montreal Screwjob (and to a lesser extent the Curtain Call) broke kayfabe and exposed the wrestling business to fans for the first time, and while that's an exaggeration and an underestimation of how smart wrestling fans have really always been, it is true that it represented a major turning point for pro wrestling, leading to the creation of the Mr. McMahon character which arguably drove WWF's Attitude Era as much as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, or DX.

dark side of the ring

Though the doc skipped other well-known accounts of who came up with the screwjob and who was in on it (no mention of Triple H, for instance), and touched only briefly on Hart's fizzled WCW career, it did end with Cornette repeating his oft-sworn promise to outlive Russo so he can piss on his grave. A+ content there, would watch again just for that.

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A prophecy once said that in the comic book industry's darkest days, a hero would come to lead the people through a plague of overpriced floppies, incentive variant covers, #1 issue reboots, and super-mega-crossover events.

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