In the days following Rocky, Stallone seemed torn between being a serious actor and making movies where he throws people around. With Paradise Alley he came up with what seemed like the perfect compromise - playing the fast-talking promoter-cum-trainer of someone who throws people around in this tale of three brothers trying to get out of Hell's Kitchen in the '40s when one of them shows a talent for wrestling. With Armand Assante and Lee Canalito rounding out the trio, it clearly sees itself as a throwback to the tenement dramas of the 40s where the likes of Cagney or Raft would fast talk their way up the ladder, but for all the money that's evidently been spent (much of it badly) it has none of their pace or strength. It also has at least three things going spectacularly against it: Stallone's atrocious screenplay, his abysmal directing and his witless and hugely unlikeable performance as the aforementioned motormouth, who is at times even more obnoxious than the script intends, making the film harder to take when he's hogging the screen. It would help if he gave himself some good dialogue, but this is the kind of film where no-one gets good dialogue or good scenes for the first hour and no-one's had the guts to tell the star/writer/director that this really needs a rethink.
You can see where it could have worked on paper, but for his first effort behind the camera Stallone couldn't even get the setpiece scenes right. What could have been an exciting rooftop race becomes a dreary slow-motion and freezeframe title sequence devoid of speed, danger or even the feeling that these guys are even on a roof while an arm-wrestling scene emphasises how long the whole thing drags on over physical strength or suspense. Things do finally start to pick up around the hour mark when the brothers start to get torn apart as Canalito's wrestling career takes off, Assante's crippled war veteran starts exploiting him for every buck and Stallone finally develops a conscience, but it still only works in fits and starts. There are a couple of decent scenes along the way, particularly with Frank McRae's broken down wrestler who wants to die when he's happy for once, and there's some flair to the final wrestling bout in a rain-drenched ring during a thunderstorm, but it's hard to resist the temptation to have bailed out long before then. It's the kind of film you'd like to like more, but boy, does Stallone make it hard to do that.... Still, you'll never forget his rendition of the title song: "Too close tuh paradise/An' too clooohhsssee tuh Hellllllll/And sumtimes thah diffarence/Is tuh hahhd tuh tell..."
No extras on the UK DVD, which only offers a widescreen transfer that doesn't do Laszlo Kovacs' already surprisingly poor cinematography any favors and is cut by 42 seconds to remove animal cruelty (a scene of a bound and gagged dancing monkey locked in a cupboard).