Sylvester Stallone’s directorial debut is a hit and miss affair that almost buries itself with self indulgence. Paradise Alley was green lit after the success of Rocky and emulates the same formula but this time using wrestling. Paradise Alley is somewhat muddled being a sentimental underdog story and then switching at points to a comedy. A strong cast (including Tom Waits and Joe Spinell) playing likable characters manages to save this flick and make it an entertaining watch.
The plot centres around the Caboni brothers Cosmo (Stallone), Lenny (Armand Assante) and Victor (Lee Canalito) who live in Hell’s Kitchen, New York and long to escape its poverty ridden clutches. Cosmo is a con-artist constantly pulling scams in order to make a quick buck. He becomes involved with the local kingpin Stich Mohan (Kevin Conway) sees professional wrestling as an opportunity to make himself rich. He convinces his simple, kindhearted giant of a brother Victor to step into the ring in order to get some easy money. Lenny is against the idea because he sees it as one of Cosmos scams and is worried Victor will get hurt as a result. After Victor beats the local champion Lenny has a change of heart and becomes Victor’s manager giving him the name “Kid Salami”.
Cosmo and Lenny have a falling out over rivalry for Annie (Ann Archer), Lenny’s ex-girlfriend who Cosmo started dating after Lenny broke up with her. Victor broke up with Annie because he didn’t want her to feel sorry for him being a cripple. With his new found confidence of making decent money from Victor wrestling Lenny starts his relationship with Annie again leaving Cosmo out in the cold. Lenny’s character changes to a more selfish tone as he drives Victor into more and more fights to make money despite the toll it is taking on him physically. Cosmo goes out drinking with Big Glory, (Frank McRea) the wrestler Victor defeated in his first fight, one Christmas Eve and in a very poignant and sad scene discuss Big Glory’s life as a wrestler and how it’s ultimately destroyed him as a person physically and mentally. This was my favourite scene in the film because it brought the elements of comedy and sentimentality together in a more focused way than the rest of the film. A truly great scene rivaling the similar moments in Rocky. Frank McRea would later go onto to star alongside Stallone in John Flynn’s 1989 prison flick Lock-Up. After these events unfold Cosmo realizes the path he and Lenny have chosen for Victor will eventually lead him down the same path as Big Glory. Cosmo and Lenny set aside their differences and decide to put an end to Victor’s wrestling career after one more big fight with Stich’s head henchman Franky The Thumper (70s wrestling legend Terry Funk).
Stallone’s performance could’ve done with more subtlety that would’ve eventuated from not directing his own performance. His performance is a bit self indulgent (along with singing the films opening song) and could’ve done with more restraint. At times his character is too overblown taking away from the other actors’ performances.
More than just a flick for the Stallone completists, Paradise Alley is an enjoyable watch despite its imperfections. A flick with a lot of warmth, sentimentality, heart and a strong likable cast. Do yourself a favour and check it out instead of watching Rocky for the hundredth time.
Available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.