Rocky, while not necessarily a believable story is still a really good one. A down on his luck boxer is given the chance of a lifetime an exhibition fight against the world champion Apollo Creed (I love that name). To train for his fight he joins forces with the Penguin Burgess Meredith who teaches him to waddle, love and fight. And love he shall when he comes across mousey Adrian (yes that Adrian) (do I talk in parenthesis too much?) and her weasel of a brother Paulie.
When it comes to our perception of this film there is no doubt that it has been clouded by the 5 sequels and the lesser quality of Stallone’s subsequent work. While I still do not feel that Rocky deserves best picture over Network, Taxi Driver or All the President’s Men (I have never seen Bound for Glory, the other nominee for 1976’s Best Picture) I do have a renewed appreciation for the original Rocky after viewing what came after. I especially appreciate Collin Jacobson’s article over at DVDMG.com one particular statement matched my own sentiments “Was Rocky an aberration, a one-shot deal that spent whatever creative abilities Stallone ever possessed and forever doomed him to be a hack, or did success simply corrupt Stallone and spoil what could have been a nice run of good work? I guess we’ll never know, but at least we have the original Rocky to look at as a fine film.”
In this first go I actually enjoy the various characters. Stallone plays a believable and enjoyable loveable brute with humble and often soft spoken words. Talia Shire has a good turn as an overly shy ugly duckling. The Penguin and Burt Ward (wait that is Robin from Batman, I meant Burt Young) both play very good roles and their characters are likeable. In subsequent films all four of them become caricatures of themselves and it gets tiresome. But let’s not worry about that for now, in this film they work and work well together. The end result is certainly an excellent film but perhaps not Best Picture or even #57 on the all-time greats list.
Was Rocky an aberration, a one-shot deal that spent whatever creative abilities Stallone ever possessed and forever doomed him to be a hack, or did success simply corrupt Stallone and spoil what could have been a nice run of good work? I guess we’ll never know, but at least we have the original Rocky to look at as a fine film. I’m not quite sure it deserved to win Best Picture against some tough competition in 1976. It topped All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network and Taxi Driver. When you combine the continued resonance of both Watergate and Vietnam with the jingoistic glory that surrounded the Bicentennial, it’s not surprising that Rocky, the only “feel-good” picture in the bunch, would take home the prize. The fact that the film’s success – Rocky also was the biggest moneymaker for 1976 – paralleled the story’s “underdog” theme certainly helped as well.
Did Rocky deserve to beat some of the classics against which it competed? Probably not, but that shouldn’t diminish the fact it’s still a fine and entertaining film. Unfortunately, the combination of some dreadful sequels and Stallone’s generally-poor reputation have diminished this movie’s legacy, but if it’s inspected on its own, Rocky offers a strong experience.
Stallone himself offers a gently sweet and affecting performance as Rocky, a not-too-successful fighter who gets an improbable shot at the big-time. While I wasn’t sure I completely bought Sly during Rocky’s moments of rage, he made the character endearingly modest and simple without creating a moronic joke. Rocky retained his dignity and seemed surprisingly real.
Also effective was Talia Shire’s turn as Rocky’s sweetheart Adrian. Oddly, I found her more believable as an intensely shy wallflower than when she grows as a person due to Rocky’s affection. One unusual aspect of Rocky is that it actually makes some attractive people seem unappealing. Most movies take good-looking folks and try to make them look ugly, but it rarely works; it almost always appears obvious that underneath some bad style choices exists a hottie. That’s not the case here. Both Stallone and Shire look pretty grotty at times in their roles, and this sense of realism helps the film.
Though the plot seems improbable, the film presents it believably and I easily buy into Rocky’s story. The movie progresses at a nice pace which keeps the viewer involved and interested, though I think it moves a little too rapidly at times. For example, Adrian’s transformation from skank to babe happens too quickly and effortlessly. One minute she’s hiding in a corner, and the next she’s all dolled up and ready to go!
I also thought the climactic fight flew by too fast. We don’t get enough of a feel for what an epic battle this thing was supposed to be, as the montage treatment loses the sense of desperation and weariness it should portray. It’s still a fairly rousing climax for the film, but I thought it could have been paced better.
Speaking of the fight, I could never figure out one thing in regard to it: the match is billed as occurring on a big day for the US, and it seems likely this should be July 4. In fact, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) once refers to the bout as taking place on the nation’s biggest birthday. However, the fight actually happens on January 1, 1976. My guess is that they wanted to have it take place on July 4 but production issues caused them to change it to New Year’s Day. In any case, it seemed very confusing since every aspect of discussion about the bout clearly leads one to believe it’ll take place on Independence Day.
That oddity excepted, Rocky remains a very good film. The story of the underdog who makes good is as old as time itself, but it continues to maintain appeal and this movie shows how that can happen. I won’t argue that Rocky deserved its Best Picture victory over some strong competitors, but I think it’s a nice piece of work nonetheless.