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Sunday, May 10, 2015

F.I.S.T. (1978)

At the time, the level of anticipation for Sylvester Stallone’s delayed follow-up to ROCKY/’76 proved impossible to meet. Norman Jewison’s period drama about a Jimmy Hoffa-like union boss was, at best, an unfocused piece, but it was sold & seen as a referendum on Stallone. Was ROCKY a fluke? Could the guy even act? In the event, the pic failed commercially & critically, and Stallone never again tried to move beyond personality acting, stabilizing his image with a retreat into ROCKY II/’79 and never looking back. The first half of the film still holds a primitive, if not particularly powerful appeal, though the entire cast acts rings around Stallone. With few resources to call on, he blusters or plays sotto voce, hoping for dramatic effect. Much of the dull thud stems from Joe Eszterhas’s debut script, okay during the late ‘30s union building scenes, but not up to the growing compromises with the mob. Meanwhile, an offbeat romance with Melinda Dillon feels shoehorned in so Stallone can recharge some Rocky likability. But the film completely stops in its tracks midway thru with a twenty year jump to the late ‘50s anti-corruption Senate Hearings; a fixation on Rod Steiger’s remarkable hair-piece as a Kennedy-esque Senator; and an attempt at endgame uplift that’s something of a disgrace for all concerned. Only the rich vibrant period look of cinematographer László Kovács manages to consistently come across. Fresh off the period naturalism of NICKELODEON/’76 and the period stylization of NEW YORK, NEW YORK/’77, he splits the difference to fabulous effect. He even pulls out a chillier visual tone for the late ‘50s, but the production design doesn’t follow his lead. By then, you get the feeling everybody’s written this one off.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *But not United Artists! Blindsided by critical brickbats & public indifference, a revamped ad campaign tried to sell this as THE GODFATHER meets ROCKY. (Click on our second poster to see.)

DOUBLE-BILL: A darker look at Teamsters & the Mob (HOFFA/’92) from David Mamet, Danny DeVito & Jack Nicholson was no more successful. (It also blew Hoffa’s famous disappearance. Not at home, as seen in F.I.S.T., not in some little roadside dive (as per HOFFA), but in a nice, upscale place you might take Mom to: Machus Red Fox. Not their original location in downtown Birmingham, MI, but the one in a suburban strip mall a few miles west @ 15 Mile & Telegraph. Just think of the ironic/dramatic possibilities of Jimmy R. being ‘escorted’ past a bunch of blue-hair ladies on his way to . . . ?

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