So it’s that time again when the dreamboys or The Video Store Action Heroes as we sometimes go by join forces and unleash a choice selection of our movie rental memories. Now where this is of course a very fun excursion, its not without its dangers, yep I said it, dangers. It’s a tightrope that we walk to bring these reviews. Hacking into the hippocampus part of the brain has peril written all over it. Why you just don’t know what unearthly memory you could tap into. With a gentle prod a sweet memory might bring a bittersweet tear to fall down the side of your cheek or maybe release a slight giggle of laughter. Though truth be told it’s normally a spontaneous bout of Wilhelm Screams.
The danger and also fear of these collaborations is a real one. The realisation that the childhood film you’d adored and obsessively watched over and over again is in fact a pile of old steaming turd. This time I was to choose our subject. I’d had my film ready and eager to watch for sometime. I just needed that right time and that day had come. This VSAH theme was to be “some sort of fighting ring”. Why? well I’ve been anxiously wanting to revisit a teenage film I’d watched over and over but hadn’t seen again since at least 1985. What could this film be? Well my movie of choice, with its theme of wrestling, is the 1978 Sylvester Stallone “classic” Paradise Alley. Right I’m going in “Roll the film” fingers crossed. I bow and cross my heart. “Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch”
Tagline – The Carboni Boys. They haul ice, lay out stiffs and dance with monkeys!
Yep that does say monkeys in that tagline! I’ll get back to that later. So here’s the rundown on the film. It’s the slums of 1940s New York City and three Italian American brothers scrimp and scrape around Hell’s Kitchen. Pent up, toe to toe in a cockroach infested one room apartment. The three Carboni boys try to survive the harsh winter months. All with very different personalities. Cosmo (Sylvester Stallone) is the mouth, always looking to hustle. He can talk himself in and out of anything that life chucks at him. Any chance to make a buck and Cosmo is ready to go. A seasoned con-artist. Then there’s Lenny (Armand Assante) a war veteran with a limp. With a spin of his cane, he’s Charlie Chaplin. Lenny is depressed, an alcoholic and brooding for his old flame Annie (Anne Archer). He works as an undertaker but no one has money to bury the dead when you can just leave them outside on the pavement. Last of all is Victor (Lee Canalito) the sweetest giant you could ever know. Imagine in looks, a foot taller version of Marlon Brando. He’s kind hearted but also a simple minded fella. “He’s as nasty as a daisy“. Lenny’s muscles gets him the job of iceman. Supplying the ice for pre-electricity fridges. He’s as tough as an ox. Lenny’s saving to get himself and his love Susan (Aimee Eccles) out of Hell’s Kitchen. Lets hope no one invents a powered fridge?
Right that monkey? Cosmo, being the grifter he is, spies an opportunity. And with a well earnt bet he comes into the possession of an evil looking monkey. I’m sure it’s that same evil looking monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Not my favourite monkeys I will confess. Saying that it does look like they messed the poor little critter up. Made up with eyeliner and lipstick and even tried and gagged. Yeah he might be a freaky little monkey but the real dancing monkey is Cosmo himself. Another money making plan hits skidrow.
What are they to do? Well this is when Paradise Alley comes in. Paradise Alley is a backstreet dodgy dive, come wrestling bar. The main event for boozing crowds is the chance to win a 100 dollar bill. The challenge? To last one round with the heavyweight ex-professional wrestler Big Glory (Frank McRae). As we witness punters getting their arses whipped, crushed and beaten senseless to the deck. Big Glory is formidable. Cosmo’s eyes light up. Lenny can take this guy. He certainly can stand, eye to eye, with him. With the ka-ching sound of a cash register going off, Cosmo knows how the brothers are gonna get rich. Cosmo the trainer, Lenny the manger and poor Victor the punching bag. Cue a series of 40 odd wrestlers beating and smashing poor Lenny in a montage of pain. What could Lenny’s terrifying wrestling name be? Ready for it? Kid Salami with ropes of salami sausages hanging off him!
With all this going on they also have continuous run ins with a bunch of gangsters. And these gangsters are horrible as much as they are laughable. They are cartoonish and ridiculous but equally nasty. Lead by the tiny, silver toothed Stitch (Kevin Conway) and his comedy of sidekicks. There’s Rat (Paul Mace), Skinny The Hand (Frank Pesce) and the monster man mountain Frankie the Thumper (Terry Funk). Frankie is also a wrestler so it’s not hard to imagine that him and Lenny are destined for a showdown.
So that’s it, they are off and running. Will Lenny be able to win his way through the barrage of tanks, boulders and clubs smashing down on him? Will the bickering older two brothers see what they are doing to their kind hearted brother? Can they get out of this dump and escape Hell’s Kitchen?
Tagline – Three brothers… One had the brains, one had the muscle and one had the suit. Together they had a million dollar dream
Things I’ve learnt along the way
- Directed, starred and written by Sylvester Stallone. He actually wrote this story before Rocky but couldn’t get it made. It would also become a novel. With the overwhelming success of Rocky, he got Paradise Alley greenlit into production.
- Yep that really is Sylvester “singing” the theme tune with music by composer Bill Conti.
- Sylvester Stallone and Armand Assante would go on to play brothers again 1995 ill advised Judge Dredd adaptation.
- Singer, actor Tom Waits pops up as Mumbles playing the piano at the gangsters bar.
- Frankie the Thumper is played by real life wrestling legend Terry Funk. The man is still to this day wrestling on the circuit! Incredible! Check this great little video of him showing you around his office filled with memorabilia here. The Funks were something else. Terry and his brother Dory Jr both followed in the footsteps of their wrestler Dad Dory Funk.
- The final battle between the two big men is every bit a thunderclap of brawn and raw power as these two men smash seven bells of shit outta each other. It’s incredible to see them flip and fly through the air and it’s made even worse by the fact it’s all filmed as it’s raining in doors?
- Now I never knew that Lee Canalito was a professional boxer. Even going under the nickname the Italian stallion, the same as Rocky Balboa. I read that Sly would later actually manage Lee Canalito for a while in his professional career.
- Canalito had 21 fights with 20 knockouts to his name. Here’s his fight record. And here’s a video of his penultimate fight against Dan Ramsey in 1986. Where Ramsey didn’t look like he had much of a chance fighting Canalito he did manage to fire off an out of nowhere wallop. Canalito is obviously shaken but finishes Ramsey off quickly after. Lee Canalito vs Dan Ramsey.
Video Store Action Heroes
- The movie and arcade game wizard Greg at Destroy All Fanboys went for the classic Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris smasher The Way of the Dragon. Oh and it’s got the lovely Nora Miao.
- Movie and baseball all star pitcher Todd at Cinema Monolith has taken on the hard task of viewing slave girls fighting in 1974s The Arena starring my girlfriend Pam Grier and her friends Margaret Markov and Lucretia Love.
- And Mike over at Mike’s Take On The Movies is the man with a movie vault so cool it makes grown men weep. He’s went for 1981s All The Marbles about some boring sounding female wrestling team. Whaaat! Laurene Landon and Vicki Frederick in leotards!
Wrapping it up
How was the revisit to my childhood? Did I come out with any physical or mental scars from the ordeal? Well it was certainly a lot cheesier than I remembered. It’s actually a very offbeat and strangely told tale. Almost slightly surreal at times, with some scenes having a hazy look or even a red colour wash. It’s got a real underlying sadness embedded in the filming style. Not helped at all by the depressing soundtrack and Sylvester Stallone’s really pretty awful singing on the title song. The film felt disjointed at times watching back. Jumping from scenes, feeling like it had been cut and edited with bits missing. Then I read Sly’s notes on production and he said the film was originally longer until the producer cut it up to speed it up. Maybe that was the case. All in all my childhood is still intact. It was extremely nostalgic and it had a much happier ending than I remembered. So I know a shrink out there reading this review will sigh that they lost some business but all’s good. I’m a survivor.
Be sure to check out my movie pals reviews if you liked this one. Till the next time. Keep watching the squares with the pictures and hope you get a few chocolate eggs from the Easter Bunnies!
All the best. Mikey Wolf
Sing us out Sylvester with “Too Close To Paradise”