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Viceland's 'Montreal Screwjob' a familiar spin on a tired story

The Montreal Screwjob is as famous (or infamous) a story as there has ever been in pro wrestling. It has also turned into one of the more exhausting stories in pro wrestling to keep talking about.

In the nearly 22 years since it happened, we has seen nearly every rock uncovered, nearly every question asked, rehashed, and asked again, and every participant/non-participant interviewed about what happened that cold Canadian November night. If you know the story, you have a take on it.

That meant the Viceland ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ filmmakers had a hell of a task on their hands with “The Montreal Screwjob” which debuted Wednesday night. While the documentary talks to many of the key players and has its moments in its near-50 minute runtime, it still struggles to overcome a fatal flaw: this story has been talked to death.

What’s In This Thing?

If you enjoy hearing from lots of wrestling luminaries, you get them here and then some. Several players from the Randy Savage/Elizabeth doc (Eric Bischoff, Scott Hall, Bruce Prichard) are back for “Screwjob” although Prichard and Bischoff come off as less charming and less trustworthy as in the Savage doc. Yes, I realize the ridiculousness of that statement as I type it.

But they are offset by the appearances of Bret Hart himself and Jim Cornette, a creative team member at the time. And then, there’s two surprise appearances but we’ll get to them in a few paragraphs.

After a breeze through Hart's background and how he got to the WWF, we focus on the time after Hart defeated Ric Flair for his first WWF world title. Cornette and Prichard are strong here in explaining about what becoming a world champion means and help get over the significance of that honor historically. Prichard adds a foreboding quote about Hart: “You’ve got to remember that someone made you champion. You didn’t really beat anybody.” The look on his face and the manner in which he says this beg for a follow-up, but that is best saved for a deeper dive on a podcast.

We eventually get into the meat of “Screwjob”: the real-life feud between Hart and Shawn Michaels. Hart, Cornette, and Prichard recall their backstage brawl in Hartford that saw Hart rip out clumps of Michaels’ hair (“We were like two prostitutes fighting downtown or something,” Hart jokes), the backstory of Michaels’ “sunny days” comment, and the eventual financial decision McMahon has to make to let Hart out of his contract.

Likely the most talked about portion of the doc will be the discussion on how Hart was going to lose the title before leaving. We hear Hart explain how he didn’t want to drop the belt to Michaels, but we don’t get to hear his explanation of an alternate plan on how he wanted to go out.

Hart tells a story of how Michaels brushed him off when Hart said he would be professional in their Survivor Series match and to not worry about anything. I really wanted to hear Michaels’ side of the story as it makes him look terrible, But, it’s understandable why he didn’t participate in talking about all of this again.

Hart grows suspicious of how McMahon is going to screw him over at SS despite his creative control in the last 60 days of his contract. We then get our first interview with Earl Hebner, a sympathetic figure who calls the last 15 years post-Montreal “the sh*ts”. His inclusion is welcome and a key part of rounding out the tale sans Michaels.

Then, the screwjob happens with plenty of supporting footage from "Wrestling With Shadows" and WWE (listen to my interview with series co-creator Evan Husney for an interesting/serendipitous story on the sound man they used for the project).

But we need to move on because there’s some Vince Russo to get to.

Yep, the former WWF creative lead and lightning rod for controversy gives his side of the story, especially important and to where the idea to doublecross Hart came from. Cornette takes credit (if you can call it that), citing creative frustration and a challenge from McMahon to come up with an idea after they had exhausted all options. He used the original Montreal screwjob as an example, “The Battle of The Bite” that involved Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis. Russo said he suggested the doublecross and didn’t hear it come from Cornette “unless I was in the bathroom when he said it.”

The final act focuses on what happened after the bell rang. Again, this is pretty much everything any wrestling fan knows about from Hart punching Vince to Michaels denying he had any involvement (no one believes it) to the controversy eventually creating the Mr. McMahon character which, strangely, might have been the biggest positive out of any of this, especially financially. 

Perhaps the most head-scratching theory is from Hall who thinks the whole thing was a work, pointing to how the directors didn’t pull away from either Hart spitting on McMahon to Hart spelling out WCW with his hands. Like Michaels’ non-involvement, it’s an opinion not shared by anyone else with Cornette questioning how Hall claims he never talked to Michaels about what happened.

What’s Missing and What Should Be Missing?

Sit-downs with Michaels and McMahon would have been tremendous icing on the Montreal cake, but given they are beholden to the WWE Universe, I'm not surprised at their omission. Although, Michaels did talk to ESPN for a 20th anniversary story about Montreal. This is where it would have been great to see a pull quote or something from that interview given they have a narrator in Dutch Mantell that could have read it.

While the Cornette-Russo discussion is interesting, the doc focuses on their mutual hatred a little too much, especially considering they close the documentary with it. It does provide a memorable Cornette quote vowing he would “live to piss on (Russo’s) grave. Hate is a hell of a motivator.” But to close with that in a documentary focused on Hart vs. Michaels was a misfire.

There’s also several minutes committed to the infamous curtain call jammed in that doesn’t really fit in the context of the story and trends toward being a little too insider for a general audience.

Is It Worth Watching?

Even though I don’t need to hear about the Montreal screwjob ever again which includes the afterlife, I can live with this being the last longform content I watch, read, or listen to on the subject. Having Hart, Cornette, Russo, and Prichard walk us through the various stages of Montreal is a plus while Bischoff’s inclusion felt unnecessary. 

Compared to the Savage and Bruiser Brody documentaries in the series, “The Montreal Screwjob” is a bit dense in spots without a lot of space to take in the ridiculousness of the situation being laid out. I would be interested to hear what non-wrestling fans think of it, especially with some of the perceived insider focus I mentioned above.

At the end of the day, though, even the most burned out wrestling fans will enjoy "The Montreal Screwjob" but plenty of those fans can and will find ways to pick some of the lack of details and specifics apart.