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The Lords of Flatbush

Writer-director-producer Stephen Verona's low-budget 1974 The Lords of Flatbush has become a cinematic curiosity over the decades, as well as a reliable rental item for video-store proprietors, as two American pop-culture icons can be seen in this small indie film just a few years before they hit the big-time. By 1977, Sylvester Stallone struck box-office (and Oscar) gold with the first Rocky. At the same time, Henry Winkler was known virtually worldwide as Arthur Fonzerelli, the leather-clad star of ABC-TV's enormously popular Happy Days (produced by Garry Marshall, the show spawned the careers of Ron Howard, Robin Williams, Penny Marshall, et. al.). But, while an appealing tale about a tight-knit group of friends in 1950s Brooklyn, The Lords of Flatbush has several drawbacks — artistic and technical — that keep it from being a cinematic discovery, and instead relegate it as a cinematic footnote. Stallone and Winkler star with Perry King and Paul Mace as the "Lords," four pals who defy the realities and responsibilities of adulthood long after they have graduated high school, preferring to hang out, shoot pool, get into fights, and chase girls. But (as is the stock and trade of "coming of age" films), various conflicts force these emotionally arrested youths to evaluate themselves and what their futures may hold. Intense Chico (King) falls for a middle-class girl who is drawn to him but is unsure of his prospects; simple-minded Stanley (Stallone) has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, but she nags him for a wedding ring while he sees marriage as nothing more than a set of shackles on his freedom; and wiseguy Butchey (Winkler) is squandering away his smarts by remaining in the old neighborhood with old friends rather than exploring his potential. The concept is promising, and the free-form performances never strike a false note, but Verona's script (co-written by Stallone and others) initially doesn't offer any sort of compelling narrative thread, drifting in and out of the various storylines, which, at length, are entirely predictable. Far worse, the DVD exposes the technical limitations of the production, including the grainy, somewhat unfocused print (16 mm?), and the muffled audio, which was captured live on location. Much like a student documentary, the uncontrolled soundtrack and numerous hand-held shots tend to undermine whatever suspension of disbelief Verona and his actors were aiming for. This one's a good rental, if just to see Stallone and Winkler before they made it big, although the film's admirers will want to own it, as it includes a solid widescreen transfer (pan-and-scan on the flip-side) and chapter selection. Original theatrical trailer (which is ass-cheeks-cringingly awful), and trailers for Bugsy and La Bamba. Keep-case.

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