Film Review: Paradise Alley (1978)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1978
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Conway, Anne Archer, Joe Spinell, Armand Assante, Lee Canalito, Terry Funk, Frank McRae, Joyce Ingalls, Tom Waits

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

This film has been in my Netflix queue forever. I saw that it was getting pulled down in a few days, so I decided I had to watch it now or never. Granted I saw this film before but that was on HBO when I was like six years-old. I think I saw it again once on TBS or TNT in the early 90s at three in the morning. Regardless, I remember holding it in a special place, as it was very similar to the tone and style of the original Rocky.

Set in 1946, in Hell’s Kitchen, the small part of Manhattan made most famous by the Daredevil comics. This film follows three brothers played by Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante – in his debut role and Lee Canalito. Canalito is a giant of a man and is pressured by his brothers to become a wrestler, after he upsets the town legend in an impromptu match to make a quick $100. Stallone’s Cosmo and Assante’s Lenny feud throughout the film over what each thinks is best for their wrestler brother.

The film also features Joe Spinell, who worked with Stallone in Rocky as the infamous character Gazzo. Pro-wrestler Terry Funk plays the head thug of the mobster and the final opponent in the film’s climactic battle. Frank McRae plays an aging yet lovable fighter, Anne Archer plays a love interest that creates a bit of a love triangle with Cosmo and Lenny. Kevin Conway plays Stitch the mobster; he is a favorite of mine and can be easily remembered as the announcer (or barker) that you heard throughout the outside fairground scenes in Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse.

There are cameos from many well-known professional wrestlers: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bob Roop, “Dirty” Dick Murdoch, Dory Funk Jr., Don Leo Jonathan, Don Kernodle, Gene Kiniski, Dennis Stamp, Ray Stevens, and Uliuli Fifita.

This film, like Rocky, features the music of Bill Conti. In fact, this film felt like it was trying pretty hard to recreate the magic of the first Rocky film. Maybe after it fell a bit short, its lack of success inspired Rocky II, which came out a year later.

Paradise Alley was written and directed by Stallone and as a first real directorial effort, it isn’t a bad film at all. He would go on to direct most of the Rocky sequels, as well as many other films after this.

While I enjoy this movie overall, it falls a bit flat in comparison to the Rocky franchise. It also doesn’t really represent professional wrestling accurately at all because even in 1946, it wasn’t a straight up sport. Furthermore, it employed wrestling moves that were more commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s. 1940s professional wrestling was a totally different experience than what was shown in this film. Despite that, the visuals and the way the matches were shot, was pretty damned awesome. Stallone experimented with style, substance and texture and achieved something marvelous to look at.

From a plot standpoint, the film is disjointed and at times, dysfunctional. The characters motivations seem to flip-flop on a whim and there seems to be an underlying rivalry between the two older brothers that is never really explored and never really that important to the overall narrative once you get to the end. Additionally, the end of the film, mainly, the way the wrestling match ends, is confusing. I guess they won and the brothers are now at peace and I’m not sure how the conflict was really resolved.

This is a film worth watching but if you don’t, you’ll probably be okay.

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