A Classic Boxing Story

Main Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith

Director: John G. Avildsen

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie’s plot.

Sylvester Stallone was much like his Rocky character who he will be forever synonymous with. Much like Rocky’s shot at Apollo Creed for the heavyweight championship of the world, this was Stallone’s shot at being a Hollywood heavyweight. As the story is told, Stallone wouldn’t agree to let anyone star in his film but him, one he wrote after watching Muhammed Ali fight Chuck Wepner. Wepner was the underdog and through grit and heart, he went the distance with Ali. Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky was genuine probably because he saw a lot of Rocky in himself, sort of like a biography picture, except instead of a down and out actor, Rocky is a down and out boxer.

Rocky Balboa is portrayed by Stallone as someone who is good hearted, though embarrassed to be him. He collects money for a loan shark for a living and boxes on the side. He is a good hearted person who has lived life, but because he’s not smart or successful, he sees that he’s not respected. Around his city of Philadelphia, he’s the neighborhood underdog boxer who everyone knows, but even they don’t take him seriously. All he wants is respect not only from his peers, but also from himself. He wants to be able to proudly walk in his own skin.

It takes an invitation to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, in order for Rocky to really be able to gain his self respect. Creed, being the marketer that he is, tries to book himself a fight on New Year’s Day to showcase himself against someone who he shouldn’t have much trouble defeating. When the fight falls through, he goes through a book of boxers and finds “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa and immediately on name alone, decides that’s the man he wants to fight. His trainer, Tony notices that he’s a southpaw (left-handed) and doesn’t want anything to do with him, but Creed says he’ll drop him in three, thinking more so about the show, than the fight.

Rocky is nothing more than a club fighter, but according to Mickey, the owner of the gym he trains at, he actually had a future but didn’t give it his all. At this point, you start wondering how soon Mickey can turn Rocky from a bum, into a contender.

In my opinion, there are many keys to what made this movie successful. It’s a drama, though there is funny subtle dialogue that sometimes hits you several seconds after the fact. I had to watch the movie more than once to get the full feeling of the dialogue. Stallone plays Rocky perfectly. As I said earlier, Rocky isn’t comfortable in his own skin. He wishes he was someone else. Stallone portrays Rocky as stubborn to this. He doesn’t want anyone else to know how uncomfortable he really is. He says, “It don’t bother me none” several times, when you could tell just by his walk, that every mention of him being a bum, every joke being played on him, no matter how hard he tries to brush it off, affects him. The only one he can tell this to is Adrian, played perfectly by Talia Shire, who seems to understand him like no one else. Stallone didn’t win the Best Actor award for the movie, and as you can now tell based off later works, he’s not a fantastic actor. But in this role, he performed so well, it made his career for a lifetime. The supporting actors in this film are fantastic. I already mentioned Shire who plays Adrian’s shy character like it was her with glasses, big jackets, and bad hair. Burt Young’s Paulie is Rocky, except without the dedication and responsibility. He’s also not comfortable in his own skin, but he doesn’t have the guts to try to change. He’s pretty much the exact opposite. And Burgess Meredith’s Mickey is the inspiration. He’s the person who in his own way inspires Rocky to be better than he can be. Rocky as a boxer is untapped potential, even though he’s 30, and is like an untrained tiger. Where as Adrian understands Rocky like no other, Mickey understands how to get just under his skin to where he wants to be better, where as others get under his skin just enough to where he feels uncomfortable. Being a son of a baseball coach, I understand that Mick’s love is tough love, but it’s still love.

There are many pauses for dramatic effect in the movie that I didn’t understand when I was young. They were boring parts of the movie when all I wanted to see was the training and fighting. Director John G. Avilden utilizes them to help build the Rocky character, using silence and simple camera work to make Rocky transparent. And that’s why the build up to the ending is so important. Those pauses for drama where Rocky just stands there, and the music by Bill Conti subtly playing in the background, sets you up to root for him to become something. It’s like unravelling a ball of yarn. The story unravels until it can’t unravel any more.

The training piece in the original Rocky isn’t as long as I remembered it. Actually, it felt longer because it seemed that Rocky III and IV were all training and nothing else. But in the original, the training montage gives you the first chance to see that Rocky actually does have something to prove and actually has heart and integrity as a person. Even though his first attempt at running the steps fails, all it does is set you up for when he does finish the run, and it gives him that taste of success. At this point, you actually feel like he has a chance to beat the champ.

Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, who was actually a football player for the Oakland Raiders before becoming Apollo, is basically Muhammed Ali. He’s glitz and glamour, he’s the “King of Sting”, and he’s not taking Rocky seriously. And why should he? What he knows about Rocky is that he’s a Philadelphia boy who is Italian and if he can’t fight, he can probably cook. He’s the 21st century athlete, but this is 1977. The character is definitely before it’s time. While people enjoyed Ali for his theatrics, they didn’t know the businessman behind him. Or people would say, the businessmen behind him. But Apollo Creed fits in today’s world of athletes signing 20 million dollar contracts and gaining more riches in endorsement deals. Apollo does say, “be a thinker, not a stinker”.

By the time of the fight, Rocky tells Adrian that he only wants to “go the distance”. Because by doing that with a man like Apollo Creed, he will be able to prove to himself that he’s not just a bum. And this is where I think Stallone becomes his character. He was a young actor who made sure that if he was going to take his chance with his film, why not take the chance with the person who felt Rocky’s pain? How could Burt Reynolds feel Rocky’s pain?

The fight is a fantastic destruction and is something that would never happen in today’s boxing because the fight would’ve been stopped about 5 different times. But it’s a perfect ending based on the logic of the story that leaves you with a tremendous feeling. The movie is timeless, and would eventually spawn off many sequels that would try to re-tell the story that Stallone tells here. But by that time, when you have a million in the bank, are you still a million to one shot?

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