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A film that somehow defied the odds & become a cult favorite
on August 22, 2004
"The Lord's Of Flatbush" was made on a budget of less than $100,000 prior to any of its stars becoming household names. Derivative of other similar and better movies it has still managed to garner a strong cult following in the years since its release. Technically crude, the film has a grainy quality and some scenes are very badly lit; most of the movie seems fuzzy and unfocused. Speech suffers the worst as it is very soft and distant in different spots throughout the film. That's too bad because the filmmakers display a good use of color and the period detail and flavor are among the best of its kind. But that's not what keeps this movie from achieving all it could have - the main culprit here is the story, what little there is.
Circa 1957, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York where four high school seniors are the self-styled members of a group calling themselves The Lord's Of Flatbush. Stanley, their self-proclaimed leader, Butchey, Chico and Wimpy hassle girls on their way into school, disrupt classrooms, steal cars, stay out all night...in general they behave recklessly and typically disrespectful. Stanley gets a wakeup call when his girlfriend announces to him she's pregnant. He tries to avoid 'doing the right thing', preferring to continue to display the image he's long played out. Chico spends all his time trying to have his way with the new blond girl in class, Jane. She's too smart and well-bred for him to con though and this irritates and eats away at him. Butchey gets called a schmuck by Eddie the proprietor of the Lord's local hangout - not because he's a fool Eddie says but because he's got brains and he could be something if he wanted to be. Wimpy continues to feel the need to prove himself 'a man' because he's so much shorter than everyone around him. The characters come full circle by the end of the movie at Stanley's & Frannie's wedding having each had to face up to their own immaturity and are now ready to move on with life after high school.
That's it in a nutshell. There really isn't much happening onscreen as far as a story goes. Another weakness is that the transitions between scenes aren't very smooth; the episodic and choppy storyline is the reason why. Still, you can clearly see the movie building up to the point where the four main characters each realize that the 'wiseguy' persona they display aren't going to get them very far in life. Stanley (played by Sylvester Stallone) finally agrees to marry Frannie; even after he discovers she's not really pregnant he still determines to marry her because he thinks his life will be a dead end if he doesn't. After Chico (Perry King) gets over the shock and anger of being rejected by Jane (Susan Blakely) he moves on as well, wanting to forget the whole episode even happened. Butchey (Henry Winkler) silently dreams of going to college but still isn't comfortable sharing that thought with anyone yet; or it could be that his pals have known all along - the film leaves that up to you to decide. Wimpy doesn't really progress much but without the presence of his three Lord's members playing out their roles around him he'll have to make it on his own and in his own way.
There are a few other problems I had with this film besides the main one I mentioned. How is it that King's character Chico can afford a top of the line Harley Davidson motorcycle? It isn't established at all but I got the sense his mother bought it for him - there is the ever so slightest hint she may be 'comfortably well-off'. Also too much time is spent spotlighting Chico, a tired stereotypical teen whose sole aim in life is to make out. Speaking of 'teens' all of the actors here are clearly too old for their roles; most of them are ten years older than the characters they play (kind of like TV's "Happy Days" in that respect!). Stallone too obviously patterned much of his characterization on roles played by Marlon Brando early in his career. His character's name is Stanley (Brando's character name in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is Stanley Kowalski), he raises pigeons on the rooftop of his tenement dwelling (Brando's character Terry Malloy does so too in 'On The Waterfront'), etc. Stallone's no Brando but he is likable here nonetheless. Winkler's character Butchey appears with the rest of the gang in the scenes at the opening credits but then disappears for nearly the next thirty minutes and gets precious little time after that. He's quite good here as a 'Fonzie' wannabe - no one needs an introduction to television and "Happy Days" legendary character 'Fonzie'. He made this movie in the year preceding initial production for that TV series; his work here probably helped him win the part. Also the film lacks any genuine humor; most of the scenes meant to make us laugh have been played out before in other movies, it just isn't fresh. The film's best joke: Frannie confides to Annie her embarrassment of having to tell the priest about her impending pregnancy. Annie responds to her "So what. Why do you think they call the church 'Our Lady Of A Thousand Sorrows'?"
Still, the positives of "The Lord's Of Flatbush" are what continue to make it's fans come to it's defense in numbers. The directors have captured the look and feel of late 50's Brooklyn fantastically - especially considering the minimal budget they worked with. And without a doubt what has kept this movie in circulation is the presence of a handful of future stars. Stallone would go on to world-wide fame with both the series of 'Rocky' films and later on the series of 'Rambo' films. Likewise, Winkler went on to fame and fortune as 'Fonzie' as was already mentioned; he's quite busy as a producer of both television and movies as well these days. King has gained a respectable reputation appearing as a star or supporting player in such cult hits as "Andy Warhol's Bad", "Slaughterhouse Five", "The Possession Of Joel Delaney" and "Class Of '84". Blakely gained a huge public following after her appearance in the smash hit, trendsetting TV mini-series 'Rich Man, Poor Man'. I think what also helps this movie is that it came out on the heels of the success of 'American Graffiti' and at the tail end of the first season broadcast of "Happy Days". It already had a market to tap into and the film has remained in the thoughts of those who saw it then - most of its defenders seem to be from this general time frame.
The DVD is a limited package containing only the usual theatrical trailer, talent files and a couple of teasers for the movies 'Bugsy' and 'La Bamba'. An introduction to the film by the directors or a remembrance of the time spent making the picture by some of the actors involved would have helped. It would give the film an extra punch that is sorely lacking. I'm sure Columbia did the best job they could with the transfer; the original source couldn't have been better than what we're given here.