Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"Credit is due to John G Avildsen for directing (he won one of three trophies), but the real victory here belongs to Sly."

Nowadays, the story of Rocky has become the subject of countless parodies and a few increasingly ineffective sequels, but there was a time when the then-unknown Sylvester Stallone struggled to get it made. The producers didn't want him in the lead, the shooting schedule was a mere 28 days and the miniscule budget meant almost every corner had to be cut (for example, they could only afford one turkey for the scene where it gets thrown in the alley so it had to be caught with a towel each time). Still, for all the limitations, it ended up beating out both Taxi Driver and All The President's Men for best picture come Oscar time.

Though working as a loan shark's (Joe Spinell) debt-collector, Philly local Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a good-hearted small-time boxer who dreams of doing something with his life. Spending his time trying to win over his friend Paulie's (Burt Young) painfully shy sister Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky is frustrated that his boxing coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith) thinks he wasted all his talent. However, after an injury to the number one challenger, the World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) handpicks him for an underdog shot at the title

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Credit is due to John G Avildsen for directing (he won one of three trophies), but the real victory here belongs to Sly. A jobbing actor-turned-screenwriter with supposedly only $106 in the bank, he wrote the first draft in three days after being inspired by a near-unknown knocking down Muhammad Ali and then shopped the script around with one stipulation - he play the lead. Sure, the studios wanted a big-name (of course they did...), but looking back now it's just unthinkable that anyone else could play the loveable lug.

As much Stallone's story as it is his pugilistic alter-ego's, this is about human drama, where a man overcomes a frustrating station in life to find self-worth and achieve his potential. Undoubtedly, there are great odds to be overcome as Creed is a worthy champ (and Weathers plays it to a tee), but isn't about our hero beating a seemingly indestructible opponent. With only a brief fight at the start and the Apollo match finale, instead what we get is a character piece which is about a delicate love story and one man going the distance (with boxing that is…).

Those who think the homo-erotic beach runs of Rocky III and endless soft rock-assisted montages of Rocky IV are what Rocky is all about will be bored here, but there's still iconography to spare. There's Bill Conti's instantly recognisable Gonna Fly Now theme. There's the running up stairs and punching the air. There's the downing raw eggs. And while there are countless shiver-inducing moments (Rocky getting visibly faster running along the docks, Meredith’s crabby Mickey yelling that he wasted his talent), the "I luv YEW!" full-stop is up there with Arnie's thumb in T2 for 'top movie moments blokes are allowed to cry at'.

Infinitely superior to all the follow-ups, Rocky doesn't just fly now, it soars.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2009
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Rocky packshot
An underdog boxer gets a shot at the big time.
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Director: John G Avildsen

Writer: Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Thayer David, Joe Spinell, Jimmy Gambina, George Memmoli, Bill Baldwin, Billy Sands, Don Sherman, Shirley O'Hara, Tony Burton, Jodi Letizia, Burgess Meredith

Year: 1976

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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