I Iove Sylvester Stallone. There I’ve said it! Okay, so he has all those rippling muscles, a mother fixation, a lop sided face and a tendency to talk as if his dentures have become detached – but there is more to Stallone than that. I think the way he has propelled himself into the film industry without being an obvious choice for a leading man is incredible.
After years of minor roles and lots of pumping heavy metal and allegedly sucking prohibited substances, he proved he was more than rampant testosterone by actually sitting down and writing a script which went on to become an Oscar winning blockbuster. That ain’t easy. Rocky, the story of an over developed and not particularly intelligent boxer who went on to become world champion was the catalyst which kickstarted his career.
Why it was such a phenomenal success is not easy to skewer. Basically it is the story of an overdeveloped kid who meets naive girl who inspires him to take on the pugilistic world and, against the odds, win through. In one form or another this story has been played out in hundreds of different scenarios. Just getting some dosh upfront to shoot it must have been a problem.
Then, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he came up with Rambo and just about wrapped up the market in machismo. Rocky Balboa and John Rambo rode the crest of the wave of blood splattered movies during the 1980s. Stallone didn’t just jump on his board and go along for the ride. He may have been able to scribble down the draft script for Rocky in the reported three days but success is never that easy. With Rocky he was so sure that he had a potential bonanza on his hands that when he was offered a pick-up of the story if he agreed to either Burt Reynolds or James Caan in the eponymous role, he turned them down and pressed on until someone saw sense and cast him in the lead.
Not bad for a ‘different’ looking actor who started his film career as a borderline porn star, in 1970, in a film lugubriously entitled Party at Kitty and Studs. Later this was changed to Italian Stallion – a nickname that Rocky was stuck with in the Rocky movies. Not only did Rocky get ten nominations for Oscars, a skudload of cash and start a billion dollar franchise, it paved the way for Stallone as a high powered and exciting writer.
First Blood was another instant blockbuster. Somehow, between Rocky in 1976 and his Rambo debut he managed to fit in not only Rocky II (1979) but F.I.S.T, Paradise Alley, Cannonball and numerous TV shows.
Interestingly Rambo was not in the same mode as Rocky. Rocky, basically, is a pussy cat with muscles and still reads comic books. Rambo is a psychopath who uses comic books for more basic needs and books for feeding the fires he creates. What they both have in spades is rabid patriotism and a pathetic need to wrap themselves in Old Glory. It seems that Rocky finally meant to top out with Rocky V (1990). The fans hated it. Stallone couldn’t bear the thought of his fictitious hero being rode out of town on a donkey and took great pains with the script to see that he returned in a Rolls Royce for the 2006 Rocky Balboa. The film took in excess of US $150,000,000 and Rocky was allowed to retire with a satisfied smile on his brutalised face.
The success of Rocky Vl inspired Stallone to have a grand finale for the career of super mercenary and patriot, John Rambo. Especially after the embarrassment of the final attribute at the end of Rambo 3. This film was all about the Mujahideen fighting the Russian invaders – with a little help from Rambo who annihilates most of the Russian army all on his lonesome. At the end of the film the legend comes up, and I paraphrase wildly, ‘The United States applauds the efforts of the wonderful Afghan Freedom Fighters in their efforts to rid their country of the Invaders’. I wish I could have recalled the correct wording because it really does make you smirk.
The film, called simply Rambo, premiered in January 2008 and is said to be great. I can’t wait to see it. I do love a man with brains. Brawn’s okay, but it doesn’t make you laugh. On the Larry King TV show, the Italian Stallion took an IQ test and scored 130. See what I mean?
Ingrid Pitt writes every week at Den Of Geek. You can find her last column here.