Paradise Alley (1978)

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Sylvester Stallone has made a lot of movies—59 in fact. Okay, 57—if we forget about the two movies he’d rather forget: The Party at Kitty and Stud’s (1970) and No Place to Hide (1973). (Well, even less if we cross off his recent forays into animation voice work.)

Sorry Sly. This is your week and B&S Movies champions the underground, the obscure and the trashy. We can’t resist taking a peek in your celluloid closet.

In the wake of Rocky’s success, The Party at Kitty and Stud’s—Sly’s feature film debut—was reimaged using his faux-boxing nom de plume, Italian Stallion, for its grindhouse and Drive-In reissue, and eventually, its VHS “backroom” release.

Budgeted at $5,000 and clocking at a measly 71 minutes, it’s a plotless, soft-core sex romp about a “free-spirited woman,” Kitty, and her rough-edged boyfriend, Stud (Stallone) who throws a “sex party” and . . . that’s it for the plot and character development. According to reviews over the years, the film—just as we now look back on Midnight Cowboy and Shampoo and wonder what all the fuss was about—was rated with an “X” upon release, but would pass as a PG-13 by today’s social standards. You’ve seen worse in a Lifetime channel damsel-in-distress flick.

Stallone, however, fared better with this second film, No Place to Hide. As with Kitty, his post-Rocky stardom triggered a re-release under the title, Rebel. While some critics tagged the film as a soft-core flick, it’s actually one of the many lackluster, counterculture-hippy thrillers concerned with politically-driven students of the ‘60s engaged in propaganda and violence to promote their political beliefs.

Okay. That takes care of the pre-Rocky backstory on Sly.

When you’re dealing with an iconic actor’s career chronicled by a 40-plus year IMBb page, everyone has their favorite films by that actor. When it comes to Stallone, some will tip their hat to Tango & Cash (which tried—and failed—to repeat that Lethal Weapon buddy-cop vibe), others will cite the late Rutger Hauer’s American film debut as a terrorist alongside Stallone in Nighthawks. Others believe, rightfully so, that Sly’s Rocky series of films are the best boxing films ever made. Sam, the proprietor of B&S About Movies, swears by the Sammy Hagar themed-song-fronted arm wrestling flick, Over the Top. We both love The Expendables series. And while I never cared much for either, my cousin loves Demolition Man and Judge Dredd.

As for me: I always come back to Sly’s second post-Rocky film—after F.I.S.T (his “Godfather” if you will)—Paradise Alley, which he wrote; the film also served as his directing debut.

Where Rocky was about a down-and-out pug trying to escape a bleak, early ‘70s Philadelphia, Paradise Alley is a 1940s period piece about the three Carboni brothers: Cosmo (Stallone), a fast-on-his-feet street hustler, and Lenny (the always reliable Armand Assante in his leading man role; he starred in Prophecy, next), a bitter war hero. Out of greed and desperation, they bully their less-street wise, dumb-hulk of a younger brother, Victor (Lee Canalito, who vanished from acting after a bit role in a Magnum P.I episode), into becoming a professional wrestler—dubbed Kid Salami. Those plans to use wrestling as a way out of Hell’s Kitchen begin to unravel as Cosmo and Victor enter into a battle of wills over guilt vs. greed in their manipulating—and possibly permanently injuring—Victor.

Ironically, Stallone didn’t write Paradise Alley in the wake of Rocky—and traded wrestling for boxing as many critically derided. He wrote Paradise Alley, first, as a novel, and then adapted it into a screenplay. During the course of auditioning for Rocky’s producer, Irwin Winkler (some say the audition was for a role in Winkler’s Breakout starring Charles Bronson), Stallone pitched Paradise Alley, but was unable to sell the work due to legal issues with another producer. So with Winkler and his partner, Robert Chartoff, willing to read his work, Stallone banged out Rocky. The rest is history.

Paradise Alley is one of the few instances where you’re better off finding and watching the TV version of the film, which is slightly closer to Stallone’s original vision. He stated his initial theatrical cut of the film was almost two and a half-hours long; Universal Studios forced almost 50 scenes to be cut; 10 of which Stallone added back for the extended television version that offers greater atmosphere and character development.

If you read critical and fan reviews for Paradise Alley, it’s derided as a “self-indulgent mess” and that Stallone was in way over his head and made his move to the director’s chair too soon. I’ve watched the film several times over the years (both the theatrical/VHS and the TV version) and I fail to see any quality issues with the film. Perhaps my youthful nostalgia for Paradise Alley blinds me to Stallone’s critically-implied ineptitude as a first time director. Regardless, it’s obvious Stallone was paying attention on the sets of his pre-Rocky films The Lords of Flatbush (1974), Capone, Death Race 2000 (as Joe “Machine Gun” Viterbo!) and Farewell, My Lovely (all 1975), and picked up tips on the set of F.I.S.T from director Norman Jewish (Rollerball).

Also adding to my love of Paradise Alley was that all of my wrestling heroes from my weekend, late night ‘70s wrestling binges on WIIC-TV Pittsburgh and WOR-TV out of New York appeared in the film: Terry Funk, Ted DiBiase, Dory Funk, Jr. and Dick Murdoch. Yes! Badass Dick Murdoch and Dusty Rhodes “The American Dream” as The Texas Outlaws, and Murdoch’s tag team years with The Junkyard Dog. Awesome times! The only thing missing from Paradise Alley was Adrian Adonis and The Tonga Kid.

Yeah, Paradise Alley is my paradise in the Stallone cannons.

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