What the Von Erich movie, “The Iron Claw,” now streaming on Max, got right and got wrong in terms of plot choices, character portrayal, and casting

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor


Reviews for “The Iron Claw,” a two-hour-plus movie based on the Von Erich family’s rise and tragic fall in the 1980s, have been largely positive. The Rotten Tomatoes website has tallied 267 reviews and 89 percent of them are positive and a positive audience rating of 94 percent. Add PWTorch to that list, but with some reservation

The Sean Durkin-directed movie isn’t without flaws and omissions, but packing into just over two hours the rise of the Von Erich family, the deaths of several of the brothers, and the fallout from the lone surviving brother was a daunting task.

Fritz Von Erich, David Von Erich, and Mike Von Erich were the best of the cast in terms of capturing their essence. Mike was an especially tragic figure and Stanley Simons, who portrayed him, tapped into the sadness of Mike’s situation. Mike, who loved singing in his band more than pro wrestling, was also much more equipped to sing than wrestle. More than any other brother, he was pushed into a no-win situation with inferior natural athletic ability and the pressure to fill the shoes of David. Fritz, in real life, preposterously pushed Mike as being a suitable replacement for David, even having announcers tout Mike’s athletic ability when it was clear to anyone he was nowhere near the athlete of David, Kerry, or Kevin.

Simmons played two scenes to perfection that stood out to me more than anything else in the movie – his in-ring shoulder injury and his subsequent press conference after he was robbed of his mental faculties by toxic shock sydrome, a complication from his shoulder surgery.

Mike sang “Live That Way Forever” early in the movie while joyfully performing in his band. It was the one time in the movie he seemed comfortable in his own skin and happy. He sang the same song before taking a handful of pills to end his life. The curse of the Von Erich family wasn’t otherworldly or mystical; it was having a domineering, cruel father in Fritz.

Fritz was played with heartless conviction by Holt McCallany. Durkin avoided needlessly giving viewers any sympathy for Fritz, whose fierce focus on profiting off his sons’ fame while turning away from any evidence that they had turned to dangerous recreational drug use was the key impetus for every tragic death of his sons.

Harris Dickinson played David, and he accurately and effectively portrayed him as the leader of the brothers with the most charisma and talking ability. David’s death was portrayed in the movie as a result of David having a mysterious illness before going on tour in Japan. David’s death was portrayed by the family in real life and in the movie as being a result of complications from enteritis, an inflammation of the small intestines. David, though, was also a recreational drug user.

Gary Hart, who booked the Dallas territory during the rise of the Von Erich brothers, said in his book that he believes David accidentally overdosed on pain killers. Bruiser Brody flushed drugs down the toilet before authorities arrived to David’s hotel room, which was done to protect David’s reputation. It has served to muddy the full truth of the cause of David’s death. What the movie gets right is that the brothers were lost without David, and were destroyed by their father’s obsession with having his living brothers fill David’s shoes.

The movie didn’t get into the exploitation of David’s death, with Fritz jacking up prices of David photos and running the “Parade of Champions” annual events built around honoring David’s memory.

The most screen time went to Kevin and Kerry. Kerry was the most successful of the brothers after David’s death. The movie, though, was built around Kevin, the oldest to live to adulthood. Jack, the first born, died as an infant, which was addressed in the movie.

The casting of Kevin and Kerry was the weakest of the key figures. Zac Efron played Kevin and has received mixed reviews. He seemed to me a better fit to play Kerry. He bulked up so much he didn’t resemble Kevin’s more lean physique and never connected with me as capturing the essence of Kevin. The scene early in the movie where he kept screwing up on promos, and then David stepped in and excelled as a communicator, was a key inclusion in the movie.

Jeremy Allen White portrayed Kerry decently, but didn’t have Kerry’s presence and sex appeal that was a driving force of him becoming Fritz’s pick to beat Ric Flair at the “Parade of Champions” over Kevin. Instead, Fritz just noted that Kerry was getting better crowd reactions when telling them of his decision.

Chris Von Erich wasn’t included. He was the least known of the brothers. Durkin excluded him due to time constraints, and saw Mike’s story as similar enough to Chris’s to not change the essence of the story.

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter earlier this year when it was released in theaters. It has been updated with the latest review statitics.

(PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered professional wrestling since 1987. He was inducted in the Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015. Listen to multiple podcasts he hosts each week and his interviews with some of pro wrestling’s biggest names and more influential figures by searching “Wade Keller” on your podcast app.)

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