I’ve mentioned (repeatedly) about movies that were part of my youth, and the reticence with which I sometimes recommend them to my children, and while I didn’t have that with Rocky, I was still a little surprised when I took them to see it. I mean, it’s good, sure. But it’s really, really good. Great, even. And in ways that you might not remember immediately, especially in the wake of the…six?…sequels.
Something I didn’t remember at all, for example, despite having retained near perfect memories of Rocky waking up and training, was exactly how squalid conditions were in Philadelphia ’76. At least, in the movie. Rocky lives in a one room flat with a picture of Rocky Marciano and what looks like a Beatles pic taken from a magazine. Adriane and Paulie have a tiny home, which he resents letting her cook-and-clean in.
It’s a great love story. Talia Shire is brilliant, which is easy to overlook considering until I pointed out we had just seen her in a completely different role in The Godfather, something neither of the kids picked up on. And, their relationship is not at all glamorous, but still deeply romantic in a way you don’t seem much these days (if you ever did).
The script is tremendous. One of the maddening things about the critics’ (entirely political) portrayal of Stallone as a meathead is that he wrote this script. And just as a dumb blonde can’t play a dumb blonde (the smart ones are the best at it), a meathead can’t write a meathead because, you know, meathead. But Stallone is so convincing here (and of course reinforced his image as a monosyllabic action hero) that his range and intellect were completely overshadowed in his films, or played out in lesser known films. (Like Oscar, an underrated comedic gem where Stallone is the smartest guy in every scene.)
There’s another funny aspect of this, which didn’t occur to me at the time, but which seems pointed in today’s hyper-racialized atmosphere. (I would say we’re more racially sensitive than we were back then—and the movies and TV would bear me out on that—but my own experience was pretty limited.) In this story, it’s Apollo and his team who are the shrewd, canny manipulators of a dubious system, with an odd mix of patriotism and cynicism that only 1976 could muster, while Rocky’s the sincere down-on-his-luck guy just hoping—not even hoping—for one lucky break.
Burgess Meredith—kind of a household name around here—is terrific, of course, but he’s written great, too. The scene where he comes to ask Rocky to let him train him, and Rocky waits until he leaves to rant (though loudly enough it can be heard on the street) is really very powerful and touching. The Flower, who learned of Meredith’s existence from “Adventure Time” and has seen him on “The Twilight Zone” has said, “He was always old!” I told her, “Yeah, and he’d go on to be old for another 20 years!” (If the original Of Mice and Men comes around, though, we’ll definitely see it.)
Another thing that surprised me here was that the fight actually seemed rather short, and almost anticlimactic. Almost, but not quite. I didn’t stop watching the series until Rocky III (until Creed) and I think those later films had a lot more fighting in them. So I probably mixed up some of those fights. I remember Rocky II having long fight scenes, and Rocky III has multiple fight scenes. But here, well, it’s not really a movie about boxing, it’s a movie about a guy who happens to be a boxer. You can see both why it spawned so many sequels and why Stallone might have trouble letting go of this character, whom he made, and who made him.