Paradise Alley [DVD]
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Sylvester Stallone writes, directs and stars in this drama about life in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1940s. The film follows Cosmo (Stallone), the smartest of the three Carboni brothers, who comes up with the idea of trying to make a fortune in the seedy world of wrestling. Cosmo's brother Victor (Lee Canalito) agrees to enter the ring, while elder brother Lenny (Armand Assante) comes aboard as manager, and together the three of them begin to make some real money. But as Victor becomes more and more successful, the brothers come into conflict with gangster Stitch Mahon (Kevin Conway).
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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).
Good performances all round and a theme tune sung by Stallone himself. Call me crazy but I think he signs it well.
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I'm not usually one for old style movies but this was OK.