THE AMERICAN DREAM: THE DUSTY RHODES STORY
Pros: Covers the bases pretty well; DVD package includes a ton of extra footage and is generally outstanding
Cons: Documentary is unimaginative and fairly weak in explaining the whole story of Rhodes’ career
Note: my rating and review applies specifically to the The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story 85-minute documentary, not the three-disc DVD package overall – which is excellent due to a plethora of bonus matches and interviews.
Virgil Runnels, Jr., known to wrestling fans around the world as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, passed away on June 11, 2015 at the age of 69. It’s a sad day when any professional wrestler passes, but I’m kind of shocked that Rhodes made it nearly 70 years – which is almost an eternity in “wrestling years.”
I first became aware of Rhodes during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he spent time in the “big two” promotions of the time – Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation and Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. Being a longtime wrestling fan who is actually more interested in the “glory days” of the sport more than any recent developments, I eventually came to learn quite a bit about Rhodes’ early career as a journeyman wrestler during the era of the territory system – when independent promoters essentially controlled various regions of the country under the jurisdiction of the National Wrestling Alliance. It was largely during this period that Rhodes made a name for himself in the business, becoming a bankable star capable of putting on a solid match with just about anyone – which made him a highly-sought after talent.
Rhodes (left) with Andre the Giant.
Produced by World Wrestling Entertainment and released in 2006, The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story chronicles Rhodes’ career from his upbringing in Austin Texas as the son of a plumber through his early days raising hell and wrestling and up to his acknowledgment as a legend of the sport. In typical wrestling documentary fashion, this program features commentary from Rhodes and fellow wrestling personalities (including Ted DiBiase, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Gerry Brisco, and others) along with archival photographs and footage that show some of Rhodes’ greatest performances in the ring. His feuds with the likes of Terry Funk, Harley Race, Ric Flair, and “Superstar” Billy Graham were the stuff of legend, and it’s neat to hear the story of these frequently bloody battles from the mouths of (some of) the guys who performed in them. Later on in his career, Rhodes made his way to the big-money promotions of the WWF and WCW, in which he had memorable runs – including quite a few that also involved his son Dustin, perhaps better known as “Goldust.” Following a career that lasted more than three decades, Rhodes was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007, just after the release of this documentary package.
Undoubtedly one of the reasons why Rhodes became such a star was his ability on a mic: though he had a thick Texas draw and a noticeable lisp, “The American Dream” delivered some of pro wrestling’s greatest promos and interviews, many of which exhibited a mixture of country and urban influence. One of the interview subjects during the documentary makes a comment about how it was odd to see this stereotypical “country boy” spouting off “jive talk” that one would normally associate with black culture, but this aspect of his character was probably the one thing that set Dusty Rhodes apart from his contemporaries. Known for “shucking and jiving” in the ring, Rhodes would frequently pepper his interviews with colorful exclamations but he was capable of hammering his points home using elements of reality. His famous “Hard Times” speech spoke about the problems faced by everyday Americans, and it was under the persona of the “common man” that he debuted in the (then) World Wrestling Federation in 1989 (wearing a truly awful polka dot covered outfit). It also has to be said that Rhodes looked absolutely nothing like a professional athlete, to the point of being downright chubby. Similar to someone like Adrian Adonis however, pure athleticism ensured that he was not only capable of holding his own in the ring, but actually able to astound audiences with his wrestling ability. If anything, his unconventional physique allowed fans to “buy into” his character more.
Not your typical pro-wrestler look, that’s for sure…
Unsurprisingly, The American Dream documentary devotes substantial amounts of time to Rhodes’ later career – i.e. the time he spent in the WWF and WCW. This is the period, after all, when legions of new fans would be exposed to Rhodes’ unique in-ring abilities and undeniable out-of-ring charisma. The problem with this, of course, is that Rhodes had already built his reputation by this point in time and was actually on the backend of his wrestling career: I might have hoped that more of the film’s running time would be spent covering the period where Rhodes was a genuine superstar in the NWA, not a rotund performer known for dancing around the ring in polka dots. Interview subjects talk about how this unflattering costume may have been Vince McMahon’s attempt to punish Rhodes for being so fiercely independent earlier in his career, but the real humiliation would seem to come from the fact that a full five minutes or so of the documentary focus entirely on this period in Rhodes career – one that stands as a true Wrestlecrap moment even if it was popular with fans.
Though Dusty had fun with it – and got rich in the process – the polka dot era seemed amazingly disrespectful considering what Rhodes had done for and in the sport.
Afterward, The American Dream deals quite extensively with (son) Dustin Rhodes’s wrestling career, both with and away from his father. I could see some of this information and footage being included in the documentary, but to spend so much of the film’s relatively brief running time on these comparatively recent events seems a bit ridiculous. Not one minute is spent discussing Dusty Rhodes’ run in the ECW during the late ‘90s and precious little time is dedicated to examining his career as a talent and booker in WCW.
Punctuated by corny music and interlude segments featuring footage of hay bales and strands of rope, The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story documentary is about as uninspired a production as could be imaginable about a man who was so vibrant and colorful. Sure, it’s cool seeing Championship Wrestling from Florida’s Mike Graham show the camera around a National Guard Armory where Rhodes’ career began, wrestling in front of 5500 people every Tuesday night, and an emotional Dustin Rhodes discussing a dispute with his father that resulted in the two of them not talking for four years provides a bit of a gut punch. Though the selection of archive footage seen here is decent and it’s undeniably great to hear the story right from the horse’s mouth, this documentary portrays an almost condescending attitude towards anything that didn’t occur in a WWE ring and spends too much time “selling” WWE product, which doesn’t necessarily involve telling the story of Dusty Rhodes’s career. To a large extent, this shouldn’t shock anyone, least of all me: it’s part of the reason why I can’t stomach modern WWE programming, but it’s hard to deny that the end result here is a by-the-book “legends” documentary that glosses over many subjects and barely seems to scratch the surface of the man’s life it attempts to chronicle. Those who know nothing about Dusty Rhodes might enjoy The American Dream, but I’d be inclined to tell viewers to get the story from other, more comprehensive sources.
Dusty Rhodes: Consistently one of the best interviews in the game…
Per usual with the WWE biographies, a huge assortment of matches, promos, and vignettes are included with this three-disc DVD package. Full listing can be viewed . It’s a five star home video release, even if the documentary itself is strictly mediocre.
3/10 : Isolated moments of bloody wrestling violence which doesn’t quite seem to accurately represent Rhodes’ early years accurately.
2/10 : Intermittent minor profanity.
1/10 : A few peeks at a scantily clad Terri Runnels a.k.a. Marlena.
2/10 : A fairly straight-forward documentary that provides exactly what one would expect.
“WOOO! That’s funky. That’s the American Dream…”