The Iron Claw Review: Legacy of the Von Erich Family
In our honest review of “The Iron Claw” movie, scheduled for release on December 22nd, 2023, we offer an in-depth analysis of this anticipated film, presenting you with our take on whether it is worth watching or not. Having had the privilege of being invited for an early viewing, we focus on the film’s portrayal of the Von Erich family’s tragic story, as seen through the eyes of Kevin Von Erich, portrayed by Zac Efron. Additionally, we address the fans’ curiosity about AEW’s MJF’s portrayal of Lance Von Erich in the film.
Content Warning: This article contains spoilers and sensitive topics related to the film The Iron Claw.
The patriarch of the Von Erich family, Jack Barton Adkisson, better known in the ring as Fritz Von Erich, prefaced the wrestling saga that would follow his family for decades to come.
The Von Erichs were a pack of god-fearing, All-American, red-blooded males. In their heyday, this group of brothers exuded babyface morality, more red, white, and blue than Clark Kent or Archie Andrews. With their muscle-bound chests, they were modern-day warriors, dueling in their coliseum, the Dallas Sportatorium, for thousands of eyes to drink in.
Destiny is a force that finds people wherever they are. When it came to the Von Erichs, their destiny was played out in the Lone Star State for the world to see. But there are confines to destiny, and sometimes, it turns on itself and caves in.
Life is unpredictable, fragile, and too often cruel, and there is no rational explanation for why events unfold as they do. Theirs is an almost mythological tale about family and destiny. Professional wrestling is in Von Erich blood, and the film "The Iron Claw" opens a vein, revealing what’s inside.
The Iron Claw Himself: Fritz Von Erich
The whole tragic saga begins in the movie “The Iron Claw” with Fritz Von Erich (played by actor Holt McCallany) as a wrestling star of the 1950s and ’60s. The patriarch mastered the art of villainy by choosing a German WWII character to embody the ultimate evil he sought to portray in the ring. His popularity as a heel rose while working for the National Wrestling Alliance, where he won two belts during his tenure with the promotion.
The movie focuses on Fritz’s finishing move, the titular Iron Claw, when he grasps his opponent’s face with his bear paw of a hand and squeezes until they are incapacitated. The camera lingers on Fritz’s five fingers, displaying the grip wrestling will have on his family for decades to come.
Before his career took off, Fritz met and married his wife, Doris, and the two had six children. The name Von Erich was a mythical creation by Fritz; the family’s given last name is Adkisson. The film’s focus on the family’s curse is steadfast throughout, and takes special interest in the name being the harbinger of the curse itself.
Kevin’s character repeatedly mentions the curse and the film follows him as he witnesses it take over his life.
Kevin, the second eldest among his siblings, is the only surviving member of the brotherhood now. Kevin has shared with us his childhood memories about how he and his brothers used to watch their father wrestle on TV. When their dad was losing, the older brothers would cover the eyes of the younger kids, only to let them resume watching when their father regained the upper hand. Fritz’s sons were his biggest fans.
Tragedy Strikes the Von Erichs Early On
Tragedy was a looming figure in the Von Erichs’ lives and came for them much too often.
Their eldest son, Jack, passed away when he was only five years old in 1959 after being electrocuted by an exposed wire that rendered him unconscious. He fell face-first into a puddle and drowned.
Kevin later recalled that his father changed after that. He saw the shift firsthand, how his dad started wanting to make people around him suffer as he, himself, was suffering on the inside. In our review, the film works to demonstrate this through Fritz’s characters’ anger and apathy, a harmful mix.
The film follows Fritz’s rise and fall as the wrestling don of Texas and the promoter of World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW). It was a family business; his kids were featured in wrestling magazines with their father, and all it took was time for the crew to start wrestling themselves.
“While their mom tried to protect them with God, pop tried to protect them with wrestling.”
Fritz pushed his sons to be the best, and they became the show’s stars and secured the future of their dad’s empire. The pop star status of the three eldest boys, Kevin, David, and Kerry, was cemented early on. And you know what they say? Three is the magic number.
Tragedy in the Ring: The Von Erich Family’s Struggles
Kevin Von Erich was a barefooted gymnast who bounced off the ropes with gravity-defying agility and strength, and it showed in his body, which was cut like a Greek god.
David Von Erich was imposing like his father, a redheaded grappling technician and a wordsmith on the microphone; he usually talked circles around opponents.
An Adonis brought to life, Kerry Von Erich was the trio’s most popular. With long, dirty blonde hair, he had a face like John Travolta, a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a superior in-ring technique.
For some time, the majority of the fans in the Dallas Sportatorium in Texas were screaming girls, clawing at the brothers’ muscle-bound chests and shoulders until they drew blood, hoping to take a piece of them home.
The film demonstrated the fans’ chaotic energy, showing their roaming hands and screaming voices. The brothers were pop sensations, with comic books about their morality and world-star fame promoting their abilities.
Our Review: How Well Do The Iron Claw Actors Portray the Real-Life Von Erich Brothers?
In our review, the actors in the movie “The Iron Claw” portrayed the real-life Von Erich brothers accurately and well. The film expertly demands the viewer’s attention not only to the screaming fans but also to the intimate and truly good moments the family shared. Further, it does not solely spotlight the pain they’re well known for, although it is the dominating theme.
"The Iron Claw" works hardest to feature the brother’s special relationship with one another. While the film highlights Kevin (Zac Efron), David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen-White), and Mike (Stanley Simons), they make the creative choice to conflate Chris’ story into the other brothers.
The brothers were a team, and the movie exposes their deep love for one another, even in the face of Fritz’s controlling behavior. He wanted them to be the most successful wrestlers, even if some of them were not suited for it.
The brothers were always placed in a ranking system by their father, a Dance Moms’ Abby Lee Miller-type. He showed them who he loved most by placing them on better career trajectories. It seemed the higher that trajectory, though, the harder it was for the brothers to cope.
One can see it in the actors’ faces as their father pits them against each other, comparing their abilities, and it’s clear in their distant expressions. The director ensures we feel as conflicted as the sons may have been.
The Iron Claw Movie: Bringing History to the Screen
The film focuses intimately on the physicality of the wrestlers. The camera zeroes in on the movements and their bodies in general. Wrestlers, like dancers, stuntpersons, or performance artists, tell a story using their bodies.
Director Sean Durkin takes time to review and capture details, such as the appearance of someone’s hands or how skin stretches over the muscles in their arms, backs, and chests. But he takes special care in emphasizing the claw.
While learning how to perform The Iron Claw move, the actor who portrayed David Von Erich, Harris Dickinson, noted that squeezing his hand that tightly and repetitively was painful.
One needs a lot of strength to be able to do something that seems so simple. The small movements of the hands and tendons were crucial to the execution of the move. Hands are instruments of pain, pleasure, art, and architecture. They can build as they can break, they can rear, they can cover the eyes of your little brother, and they can scratch at the backs of the wrestlers you love.
The camera’s focus on movement and precision can be seen in how the actors move together. They have chemistry, and the perspective picks up on it effectively.
The actors were trained in the ring by Chavo Guerrero Jr., a veteran of the wrestling business.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Jeremy Allen-White described how he got to know the other actors during training. Wrestling is a physical and intimate sport; their bodies are constantly in contact with each other, and the filmmakers used this dance to allow the actors to bond and build chemistry. It ties together their personal relationships and the movement itself.
David Von Erich – “The Yellow Rose of Texas”
David Von Erich was known as the "Yellow Rose of Texas," and his star rose quickly, along with his opportunities to travel the world and wrestle.
Fritz labeled David his Achilles, the warrior he chose first to go into battle.
After some highs in the United States, David was set to wrestle overseas with All Japan Pro Wrestling in early 1984. Looking back on this moment, Kevin said the family had a bad feeling about the trip and were concerned about David’s health.
In a graphic moment of the film, at Kevin’s wedding to his wife Pam, he finds David throwing up crimson red in the bathroom. The scene continues with the two brothers discussing their future before a bloodied toilet, foreshadowing what was to come.
David passed away when he was in Tokyo from acute enteritis, a gastrointestinal blockage. He was only 25 years old.
His brother Kevin later remembered that when he told his parents, his mother took off and ran into the woods crying while his father silently stared at the sky. The film leaves this out, but the image conjures easily in the mind. To this day, Kevin says he is traumatized by any phone call he gets before the sun rises.
In the film, his funeral is shot from a birds-eye view, where the audience sees what appears to be thousands of yellow dots, all of them roses held up high in memory of Texas’s Yellow Rose.
Mike Von Erich: A Continuation of Tragedy
Following David Von Erich’s death, the movie portrays father Fritz barely grieving, just coping with the loss through work.
In a scene on their winding front porch, Fritz is almost frantic to find a replacement for David and pushes his younger son, Mike, into the limelight. Mike must have seemed like a good fit at the time because he was David’s clone; the brothers looked almost identical.
The film highlights Mike’s love for music and his brothers above all else, and the actor Stanley Simon’s performance reveals a man with a pure heart and honest eyes. In our review, the movie gets this across when the brothers sneak out of their family house so Mike can play guitar in a band.
Although Mike had some highlights in the wrestling business, tragedy loomed nearby. The thread was being stretched by the sisters of fate.
During a wrestling event in Israel, a nation that held the Von Erich family in high regard—a sentiment Kevin personally expressed with Pro Wrestling Stories—Mike Von Erich sustained a dislocated shoulder, necessitating urgent surgical intervention.
The surgery did not go well, and Mike developed a staph infection, which turned into toxic shock syndrome and left him in a coma for some time. The hospital got hundreds of well-wishers calls from all over the world.
When Mike came out of his coma, he was not the same person as before. The movie uses a press conference to highlight Mike’s deterioration, zeroing in on his expressionless, pale face. He was still ailing from his accident and not progressing as they had hoped he would.
Mike Von Erich’s behavior underwent a disturbing change post-surgery; he exhibited erratic actions, including damaging a stationary vehicle and a traffic light, indicative of potential brain injury.
Mike eventually got back into wrestling, but his loved ones were immediately worried when he missed an event. When they found him, they discovered that he had overdosed and taken his own life.
In our review, this death contributes to the film’s continued theme of the Von Erich curse being steady, even prompting Kevin to steer away from the name, opting for his birth surname for his children in hopes of protecting his budding family.
While Mike Von Erich was recovering, Fritz started experimenting with adding new members to their clan. WCCW’s audience numbers faltered, and the Von Erich patriarch would not be stymied or watch his territory crumble. His solution was to bring in a fake Von Erich cousin, Lance, hoping to reinvigorate the Von Erich heat.
The family business was failing, and Fritz was desperate to reinvigorate the audience. He wanted someone to fill David and Mike’s place, but the fit was wrong. Their appeal was rooted in their strong family ties and an honest Southern quality.
MJF’s Role as Lance Von Erich: Fan Anticipation Addressed
Maxwell Jacob Friedman, renowned AEW wrestler and champion, makes an appearance in “The Iron Claw” (albeit briefly for a few moments) as the faux Von Erich cousin. Additionally, Friedman contributes to the film’s production as an executive producer.
Lance, as portrayed in the film, failed to resonate with the fans, leading to his inevitable exit. This underscores the pivotal role of the audience in wrestling – fans are the heartbeat of the sport, serving as its critical evaluators and decision-makers. Their collective voice is powerful, often dictating the course of events in the wrestling world.
The rich tapestry of professional wrestling is woven with myths, tales of triumph and tragedy, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. However, when the narrative strikes a discordant note, the fans, ever perceptive, sense the underlying discomfort, reflecting the nuanced relationship between story and audience.
Chris Von Erich: His Untold Story
While Fritz Von Erich was calling upon the "distant cousin" of Lance Von Erich, he had his youngest son at home telling him he wanted to be a star.
Chris’s story was not told in "The Iron Claw." The writers conflated his story into Mike’s and Kerry’s, but his life and death followed the same trajectory as his brothers.
With art imitating life, Chris being kept out of the spotlight in the family business and the movie is sadly ironic. He was not only sidelined as a wrestler, but also his story was sidelined. We review some of the things that they left out:
Chris wanted to be a wrestler more than anything, to continue the dynasty, but he was not built like a wrestler in the ways his brothers were. On the smaller side, Chris only stood around 5 foot 6 inches and suffered from asthma and brittle bones.
His chance in the ring was short-lived when Chris broke his arm and was forced to stop wrestling. This injury and setback were heartbreaking, and depression took hold of him.
Chris had a spot on a hill near their family home that he liked to go to, and one day, Kevin went to meet him there. When Kevin tells this story from his perspective, he relayed how he spoke with his little brother for a bit and he left him sitting there in his spot. He said he had a bad feeling and never should have left.
When he rushed back, he saw Chris lying on his back; Kevin thought he had taken some pills because he was delirious. Only when he hooked his arm underneath his head did he realize Chris had shot himself.
Kerry Von Erich: Tragedy of A Modern-Day Warrior
Kerry was a modern-day warrior with a muscle-clad chest and Herculean athletic ability and was nearly unstoppable in the ring.
In “The Iron Claw,” the film concentrates on Kerry when he was training for the 1980 Olympics that were to take place in Moscow. The camera lingers on his force while he throws a shot-put, using his grappling-grown strength in a track and field setting. This opportunity put Kerry in Fritz’s spot as his favorite kid at the time, but his golden boy never made it to the Olympic stage.
The US boycotted the games that year because of a recent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The intersection of global politics and personal life is often unexpectedly profound and can change someone’s life so intimately. It led Kerry to return to his wrestling roots and join the family business.
Kerry followed in David’s footsteps and beat Ric Flair for that sought-after NWA Heavyweight Title in 1984 in front of over 40,000 fans who erupted when he won.
In our review, we felt the film could have better highlighted the crowd’s energy – more extras, more uproarious behavior, and increased rowdiness. However, like the rest of the movie, the focus remains predominantly on the tragic aspects of the story.
Around two years later, Kerry was in a motorcycle accident when he crashed into the back of a police car, resulting in the amputation of his foot.
"The Iron Claw" highlights the severe pain he experienced and its consequences, which Jeremy Allen-White portrayed viscerally.
After healing, Kerry hid his injury from fans, was fitted for a prosthetic, and stepped back into the ring like nothing had happened. Only a wrestler, with his sheer talent, could pull this off.
However, the injury still took its toll physically and mentally, and Kerry started using pain medication and other substances.
The film takes its time to show Kerry slowly unraveling from the effects of pain and drug use. Hiding his injury, in retrospect, does not seem wise. The fact he could do what he did after such a severe injury was something to be celebrated, not hidden.
Kerry’s run at the World Wrestling Federation could have been star-making, but it only lasted for two years, until 1992. The film quickly shuffles through this time, again focusing on the tragedy rather than the celebratory moments.
In our review, the film openly addresses how Kerry Von Erich had a tough time dealing with sadness and needed help managing his pain. It also reflects on his feelings about missing his brothers.
Jeremy Allen-White’s performance is portrayed vocally and kinetically, revealing Kerry’s pain in an uncomfortable way. The character arch culminates at a Christmas celebration with his family when Kerry gifts his father a sidearm.
It was only two months later that he told Kevin over the phone about his plans to take his own life. He was found on his father’s property in a blackberry bush. He had shot himself in the heart with the piece he gave his father for Christmas.
The movie handles this tragic scene by emphasizing the trauma Kevin must have experienced. A gifted weapon, a self-inflicted shot to the heart, and a blackberry bush all sound like pieces of a tragic Shakespearean tale or a myth from Roman lore.
Is The Iron Claw Worth Watching? Our Verdict.
Yes, in our review, the Iron Claw Movie is absolutely worth watching. This film, steeped in a sea of tragedy, portrays a story so grand in scale that it almost defies belief. It unfolds like a biblical saga, a narrative of six brothers, five tragically lost, reminiscent of ancient lore.
The tale is akin to a morality play, a lesson to ordinary people about the perils of straying from the path of righteousness. It’s a cautionary reminder to avoid life’s metaphorical lakes and deep forests. Yet, attributing the Von Erichs’ misfortunes to a so-called curse is perhaps a way people distance themselves from the raw reality of their tragedy.
Kevin is like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the hill, and the only person not letting it crush him is himself. A detail left out of the movie, perhaps a creative choice because it is so unbelievable, was when Fritz once held a firearm to Kevin’s head and told him if he had any right mind, he would take his life, too. Kevin said he told him, "It takes guts to live, not guts to die."
Keep pushing the boulder up the hill.
In one of the film’s last moments, Kevin stares at his sons playing in the Texas sun, like he and his brothers once did. Zac Efron’s performance swells in this touching scene. When he begins to cry, his sons come to him and ask why he has tears in his eyes. He says, "I used to be a brother, and I am not one anymore." They tell him, "We’ll be your brothers, dad."
This profoundly intimate scene cuts to the core of their tale.
The Von Erich Legacy Remains
“The Iron Claw” not only brings to life the tumultuous journey of the Von Erich family but also intertwines it poignantly with their enduring legacy.
As we conclude our review of “The Iron Claw,” we reflect on how the film masterfully captures the essence of a family both uplifted and tormented by the world of wrestling. The Von Erichs, bound by blood and passion, are portrayed as a united force, their strength magnified when together yet heartbreakingly diminished as they gradually drifted apart.
The film’s narrative is a testament to the undying spirit of the Von Erichs, transcending generations. The recent debut of Kevin’s sons, Ross and Marshall, in AEW, with their father by their side, serves as a living tribute to this legacy. Their presence in the wrestling ring is a powerful reminder that the spirit of the Von Erichs continues to thrive, echoing through their descendants.
In its closing scenes, “The Iron Claw” presents poignant imagery of Kerry’s journey into the afterlife, reuniting at a serene lakeside dock with those gone too soon. This symbolic reunion, bathed in the warmth of familial bonds unbroken by time or tragedy, is a moving culmination.
The film leaves us with a profound realization: the legacy of the Von Erichs, fueled by their love for wrestling and their unyielding bond, remains unshaken. It is their destiny, intertwined with the sport they loved, that keeps their memory alive in the hearts of fans and family alike.
Lance Von Erich: The Secret Tale of the Non-Von Erich
David Von Erich passed away in February 1984, at the peak of WCCW’s popularity. At the time, the Von Erichs were involved in an impassioned feud against the Fabulous Freebirds, and father Fritz needed to find a replacement. This is the exclusive tale of the Von Erich Fritz created!
Kerry Von Erich: Devastating Final Days of ‘The Texas Tornado’
BRET HART: “Kerry confided that he’d made up his mind to join his brothers in heaven. He was only waiting for God to tell him when.”
It should have been a happy time in the life of Kerry Von Erich. His wife was due to have their second child later that summer. Instead, tragedy struck.
Terry Taylor on Working With The ‘Stiff’ Von Erichs Brothers
“My nose was broken; my eye was cut. I had lumps all over my head…”
Before Terry Taylor set off to WWE, he experienced several stiff beatings courtesy of The Von Erichs in WCCW. It got so bad that he took matters into his own hands backstage!
Rick Rude: A Ravishing Man with a Tragic End
“He refused to budge.”
Rick Rude was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of wrestler. He went by the nickname “Ravishing” — and rightfully so. He had a solid moveset, great looks, and unbridled arrogance with the in-ring skill to back it up. He played hard in the ring but even harder out of it.
Wrestling Injuries That Ended Careers Too Soon
“When I hit the mat, I knew my neck was broken and that I was paralyzed.”
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