Saluting Sylvester Stallone’s amazing guttural grunts

Who needs dialogue? Sylvester Stallone has a rare skill in conveying meaning via a series of rather unusual noises...

Most actors need a fancy script to help them get their character’s message across – the written word an important tool in their performer’s kit. A lot of run-of-the-mill ‘talky’ actors just stick with that; your Robert De Niros, your Leonardo DiCaprios – not 2016 Best Supporting Actor Oscar (should have won) nominee Sylvester Stallone. He can communicate a character’s inner anguish or joy in a myriad of quick and effective noises: he doesn’t need anything as mundane as words. Don’t believe us?

Rambo III, 81 minutes in – what’s tougher than PTSD?

The stakes were high in the original Rambo film, First Blood. So high that every outing for the bandana’ed Vietnam veteran since has had to up the violence to more and more preposterously cartoonish levels (…and we in the audience get to reap the rewards – yay!). Each that follows has to top the first’s ‘post-Vietnam America finally gets a win: go USA’ overtones plus out-do its arsehole antagonist Sheriff Will Teasle. That’s Brian Dennehy. He played John Wayne Gacy. He messed with Steve Guttenberg in Cocoon. He’s a big deal.

So, by the time we get to Rambo III, we’re at 11 on the violence scale to compensate for all that. In Rambo’s final fight with bad guy Kourov, we’ve got sleeper holds; we’ve got over-head tosses, crushing bear hugs, and saliva drippage. But sometimes that’s just not enough to get across ‘this beats Teasle and post-Vietnam blues, hands-down’ to an audience. You know what is?

John Rambo: “Hoooerghh.”

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Spin-kicking Kourov into a crevasse, hanging him, then blowing him up probably means something too, but it’s still too subtle for modern science to figure out.

Over The Top, 80 minutes in – striking the perfect family/work life balance with arm-wrestling

The protagonist for Over The Top is akin to ‘The Man with No Name’ in mystery… except it’s two names for this fella, because the script writers couldn’t find a coin to toss. Stallone as Lincoln Hawk, ‘Hawks’, or maybe even ‘Hawkes’ (other characters call him all three), is a truck driver who finds himself without a truck, and father to a little snot-nosed privately-educated cadet kid with no appreciation for his sweaty working-class dad.

Luckily, there’s an arm-wrestling competition where Hawk(s?) can win a truck, and the love and respect of his son. First, he’s got to beat the other vaselined and veiny competitors, who aren’t shy in growling “he’s got no shitting business here” and “I’m going to rip [his] shitting arm off”. Cue a finale of gurning faces in excruciating close-up so we’ll understand how important and serious this all is, summed up with…

Lincoln Hawkes: “Muh-hergh!”

“I love my son and I want that truck.”

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Rocky IV, 58 minutes in – the fight has many feels

Even the early death of Apollo Creed in this film can’t be allowed to stop the jingoistic joy of The Continuing Adventures Of Rocky Balboa: no way. But Stallone has to temper that excitement, or what’s Rocky fighting for? In the training sequence before the bout with Drago there’s a lot of exposition to get over without words. We need a summary of the pain Rocky is still in after losing his friend Creed, awareness that his own fight with Drago could be lethal, mixed with some unsubtle echoes of Iron Curtain-era Russia vs. US hostility. Plus great fetishistic thrill in athletic prowess and American 80s excess as Stallone’s chiselled body contorts and grinds to pumping guitar and keyboard rock.

And boy, do we get it all, when we hear….

Rocky Balboa: “Pleurgh! Pleurgh!”

This is about three seconds after ‘Pleurgh! Pleurgh!’, but it’s a great facial expression none the less.

Demolition Man, 67 minutes in – Brave New World ambivalence

1996 cop John Spartan has just been thawed out from a 36-year cryo-sleep to catch also-recently-thawed nemesis Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes). In 2032 San Angeles, violence is out, swearing is banned, Taco Bell has won the franchise wars, and sex happens through VR headsets. The future sucks, but sexy-times with fellow law enforcement officer Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), no matter how virtual, is sort-of okay. The Demolition Man is conflicted about the world he’s woken up into, vocalising it thusly…

John Spartan: “Huh. Hurr. HRURGH. GUH.”

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Rhinestone, 36 minutes in – sexual coercion is serious business, as is singing

You might think a film where Stallone has to learn Country ‘n’ Western singing while romancing Dolly Parton wouldn’t have much of depth to say about power dynamics and harassment in the workplace, but you’d be wrong. Chauvinist sexual harassment fan and music manager Freddie has made a deal with his main star Jake Farris (Parton): she has a month to train up a successful singer from scratch, or she must submit to Freddie’s sleaziness. Taxi driver and Country and Western novice Nick Martinelli (Stallone) is who Jake’s eventually saddled with, and he can’t sing. He really can’t.

Stallone uses his performance of Devil With A Blue Dress/Old MacDonald Had A Farm to get across to the audience just how hopeless the situation is for Jake. Will Nick be able to save her with his singing?

Nick Martinelli: “Yeahhh ey ey ey ey ey hehh yeooow yeah come oww-hawn-hawn, ye-argh argh awww: wow!”

She saves herself, because: Feminism. Also because: Nick still can’t really sing very well at the end of the film, if we’re all honest with ourselves. However – get the soundtrack, it’s very fine.

Looking back at them, every Sylvester Stallone performance features at least one yelp, grunt, or plain ‘hurrgh!’ and they’re all special in their own way. Each unique and pure as a snowflake, and as flawless and shiny as a pearl – we love them all. Just like all Stallone performances in totale, in fact.

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*Satisfied grunt noise*

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