Movie #62: Rocky (1976)

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Director: John G. Avidsen

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and Burgess Meredith

Rocky Balboa could have been a good fighter.  Instead, he became a leg breaker for some two-bit loan shark.

Rocky is the story of a good-hearted man who makes his living collecting money for a loan shark and boxing when he can get a fight. He’s interested in his friend Paulie’s (Young)  sister Adrian (Shire), and has very little direction in life.  He’s recently been lost his locker at a local boxing club because the owner, Mickey (Meredith), has found someone with a more promising fighting career.

He’s given the opportunity to fight Apollo Creed (Weathers), Heavyweight Champion of the World, on January 1, 1976, five weeks after when the film begins. From there he goes from no name nobody to Philadelphia’s favorite son to the man who went the distance with the World Champ.

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The primary story line for Rocky is based on  Chuck Wepner, who nearly went the distance with Muhammad Ali (the fighter Apollo Creed is largely based on) in 1975.  ESPN did a documentary on it called 30 for 30: The Real Rocky, which is available on Netflix. If you’re a fan of the film or series, I’d strongly recommend watching it.  Carl Weathers does a great job bringing that character to life.  A loud-mouthed man who knows he’s great and wants to build his own glory.  He is arrogant, probably one of the reasons Rocky is successful against him, but not just cocky but good at what he does.

While the primary story line of the boxing match with Apollo is for the most part predictable and cliché, there are plenty of other elements that help make this a well-rounded film.

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One of the things that stands out to me in these films is how much time is spent away from the boxing elements.  The evolution of his relationship and eventual marriage to Adrian really gets to the heart of the franchise.  The fighting is great, without question, but adding Rocky’s relationships with Adrian, Paulie, Mickey, and eventually Apollo gives the franchise far more depth and a lot more content to explore.

It’s interesting to see how different Adrian is from the beginning to the end of Rocky.  She’s incredibly shy, mostly just keeping to herself.  She loves her brother, and ends up taking the brunt of his aggression, but it’s good to see her stand up for herself towards the end of the film.  One of my favorite scenes in the entire series is in Rocky III when she confronts Rocky on the beach.  Rocky asks how she got so tough, to which she simply replied, “I married a fighter.”

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I hadn’t realized how little Burgess Meredith was in the original Rocky film.  Yes, he plays a big part, and has phenomenal stage presence.  However, since he is primarily in the fighting story line, he doesn’t have as many scenes as the other minor characters.  He is more central in Rocky II and the first part of Rocky III.

Stallone, Shire, Meredith, and Young were all nominated for acting Oscars, though none of them won.  The film did win Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Editing.  It made the American Film Institutes Top 100 films of all time in both lists, landing in the mid-70s both times.

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Rocky is a nice feel-good film where it’s hard not to root for the little man.  At the same time though, you get the sense that everything will turn out okay.  The additional love story and social status (Rocky has to deal with being a bum by societal standards, especially given his untapped potential) make this a well-rounded story that can appeal to more than just the sports-film fan.  I enjoy watching this movie, and will probably continue to enjoy it for many years to come.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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