The Lords of Flatbush – Blu-Ray Review

The Lords of Flatbush is probably a more interesting film on paper than it is for the viewer. To set the stage: the year is 1974, and the US is in the height of the ’50s revival of the ‘1970s, with American Graffiti becoming a surprising smash hit (the film, however, is actually set in 1962). Grease is on Broadway, and those K-Tel double-album oldies complications are all the craze. Films like Phantom of the Paradise and even The Rocky Horror Picture Show are basking in ’50s nostalgia, but through the guise of glam rock, which for the most part was just rockabilly riffs with lipstick and glitter. There is also a television show about to premiere starring one of the stars of American Graffiti, Ron Howard, and one of the stars of The Lords of Flatbush, Henry Winkler, called Happy Days

Martin Davidson, along with his co-director Stephen Verona and some uncredited help from one of the film’s then-unknown stars Sylvester Stallone, hatched the script for The Lords of Flatbush.  It’s a very episodic, down-and-dirty film about a group of greasers in the mid ’50s who just drive around smoking and chasing skirts for 85 minutes. Stallone, who has the meatiest role, has to deal with his girlfriend who may or may not be pregnant, and the looming expectation of marrying her. The best scenes involve Stallone in a jewellery shop and him up in his rooftop pigeon coop, and you can tell Sly wrote the dialogue.

Winkler, who would go on to play perhaps the most significant iconic greaser since the ’50s as Fonzie in Happy Days, has a smaller role. He still makes an impression, and Winkler has stated he based the Fonz not on his character, but on Stallone’s character, who was certainly the coolest of the three main guys. Richard Gere was cast in the role, but Stallone and he couldn’t get on—allegedly Gere was totally in character and was trying to be the coolest cat around. Gere would go on to play one of the greatest rockabilly characters in cinema in the 1983 Breathless remake as Jesse Lujack (originally the Belmondo role.)

The soundtrack isn’t quite up to snuff, with a lot of bad ’70s knockoffs of ’50s rock n’ roll. Real hits mustn’t have cost that much back then, but this was obviously a film done fast and quick so any budget for the soundtrack was done away with. Tarantino is a fan of the film, however, and has actually written about for The New Beverly Cinema (the cinema he owns) site that it was the first independent film with a gritty New York aesthetic. Indeed, it has some charms, but lacks any of the poignancy of either American Graffiti or, later, The Wanderers. But if you’re interested in seeing Stallone in an early dramatic role and a pre-Fonz Winkler, seek it out.

Director Martin Davidson would go on to have an odd career of films and TV work, both episodic and film. His most notable film goes back to a love of ’50s rock n’ roll, but with an influence from Arthur Rimbaud: Eddie and the Cruisers. His co-director Stephen Verona would go on to make a few more films, but nothing of note except the Gladys Knight vehicle Pipe Dreams, which was a massive flop.

The disc includes no extras of any kind.

 

★★★

Ian Schultz

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