Before Rocky was a knock-out, before “the Fonz” was TV’s “Leader of the Pack”, two unknown actors named Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and Henry Winkler (TV’s “Happy Days”) starred in their first major screen roles. Soon they’d rule the box office and the airwaves, but before they were kings, they were THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH! Clad in blue jeans, black leather jackets and bad attitudes, Stanley (Stallone), Butchey (Winkler), Chico (Perry King, TV’s “Riptide”) and Wimpy (Paul Mace, Paradise Alley) are a 1950s Brooklyn gang of four cool, sexy rebels. Despite their tough appearance, these boys just want to have fun, but reality - a.k.a. adulthood - rears its ugly head when Stanley’s steady informs him they have to get married, and blue-collar Chico falls for a beautiful blonde (Susan Blakely, Over the Top) from the right side of the tracks. A high-octane cruise down memory lane, THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH is “immensely appealing, often hilarious, surprisingly touching and superbly acted” (The Hollyw
When The Lords of Flatbush
was released in 1974, Sylvester Stallone was still an unknown actor polishing his screenplay for Rocky
, and Henry Winkler was approaching TV superstardom as "Fonzie" in the first season of Happy Days
. In this modest, low-budget feature, they play second and third fiddle (respectively) to Perry King, whose respectable career, ironically, would never reach such stratospheric heights. As for their costar and diminutive fourth "Lord of Flatbush," Paul Mace appeared in only one more movie after this (Stallone's Paradise Alley
), and was killed in a 1983 traffic accident at the age of 33. Such is the random nature of fame and fate.
The movie itself is noteworthy mostly for the pre-stardom appearances of Stallone and Winkler, and a strong costarring role for that most ubiquitous of '70s actresses, Susan Blakely. Despite its amateurish style, muddy sound quality, and rambling scenes that have casual appeal but minimal narrative momentum, the movie is blessed with laid-back authenticity, recognizing the value of awkward pauses and jumpy rhythms of conversation. The ensemble of self-named Lords--four leather-clad rebels in 1957 Brooklyn, moving reluctantly toward adulthood--is solidly cast, and even the most familiar scenes (like making out at a drive-in showing From Here to Eternity) ring with engaging truth. Codirector Martin Davidson later covered similar territory in Eddie and the Cruisers, and Barry Levinson transcended this shoestring affair with his 1980 classic Diner, but The Lords of Flatbush stands on its own as an earnest and lightly entertaining drama that boosted its costars to bigger and better things. --Jeff Shannon