Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Lords of Flatbush (1974)

          Were it not for the presence of two actors who later became famous, ’70s TV icon Henry Winkler and perennial action-movie star Sylvester Stallone, The Lords of Flatbush would have long since faded into obscurity, because even though the film is sincere and thoughtful, it’s simply not that memorable or well-made. A nostalgic story about a (mostly) nonviolent street gang in ’50s Brooklyn, the picture presents trite themes related to the transition from adolescence to adulthood, as seen through the interconnected journeys of four friends. The principal characters are David “Chico” Tyrell (Perry King), a smart-ass lothario who juggles multiple girlfriends, and Stanley Rosiello (Stallone), a none-too-smart bruiser whose hulking frame disguises a sensitive soul. As the film progresses, Chico tries to seduce a pretty girl from the suburbs, Jane Bradshaw (Susan Blakely), only to find that she’s a player as well, manipulating various men for her benefit. Meanwhile, Stanley gets his girlfriend pregnant and wrestles with the choice of whether to do right by her. Receiving much less screen time are the other two members of “The Lords,” Chico’s and Stanley’s gang—secretly smart Butchey (Winkler) and self-descriptively named Wimpy (Paul Mace).
          Much of the picture comprises scenes of the quartet getting into trouble while running around town in their matching leather jackets, and although the actors don’t make convincing teenagers (Stallone, for instance, was nearly 30 when he made the movie), co-writers/co-directors Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona obviously drew from personal experience to re-create the rhythms of life in ’50s Brooklyn. The problem, unfortunately, is that the narrative is inconsequential. Nothing makes these characters special or unique—they’re exactly the same as any other teenagers who mess around before growing up—and the storytelling is amateurishly blunt. Sure, a few moments connect, like Stanley’s pathetic attempt to save face while pricing engagement rings, but nothing really soars. That said, Stallone is quite good in the picture, running laps around his less dynamic costars, with King suffering badly by comparison—King’s swagger feels contrived, whereas Stallone’s posturing seems fueled by relatable anguish.

The Lords of Flatbush: FUNKY

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