Sony // 1974 // 84 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 27th, 2000
When was the last time someone gave you a hickey?
A review snippet inside the flyer for this disc calls The Lords of Flatbush "an engaging, unpretentious film." This 1974 movie was following a wave of 1950s nostalgia that resulted in the popular sitcom Happy Days. Originally an independent low budget vehicle, Columbia bought the rights and made a then astonishing $16 million with it. Ultimately though, this picture is known more for being the film debut of two icons of Hollywood (Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler) than for the merits on its own. Columbia is now releasing this film on DVD before those stars become forgotten.
I admire independent filmmakers who take a low budget movie and make good. Director Stephen Verona (Boardwalk) took less than $100,000 and a 16 mm camera and made his movie. When he needed to reshoot scenes and didn't have the money he raised more money from everyone he could; including his own mother and dentist. Compared to a couple indie directors now it seems like he had a lot of money, but then he had a cast that actually had to get paid. Ironically the "name" actor they had at the time, and who actually got the most screen time was Perry King, known then for Slaughterhouse Five and later for The Killing Hour and TV's Melrose Place. He was surrounded by then unknowns Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Rambo,ad nauseum), Henry Winkler (The Waterboy, Heroes, Happy Days), Paul Mace (Paradise Alley), and Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno, and a hundred TV jobs). Paul Mace died young in 1983 so he never got the level of fame the others received in varying degrees.
Chico (King), Stanley (Stallone), Butchey (Winkler), and Wimpy (Mace) are a group of Brooklyn misfits in a gang (a "social athletic club," how quaint) called the Lords. Leather jackets and ducktails make up for any sense of direction or motivation among these characters as they meander through high school, girls, and the soda shop. The fact that Winkler got his pivotal role as the Fonz on Happy Days that year has to be attributed to seeing him first in this film.
There are a few endearing moments in the film. Stallone becomes more than Rocky without the charm later in the film as he lives up to his responsibilities and shows how he lets his imagination take him places his lot in life won't allow him to go to. I wish there had been more of them.
Columbia gives typical treatment to this catalog title with a choice between 1.85:1 anamorphic or pan-and-scan versions of the film. Bonus trailers and Talent Files comprise the rest of the extras. Unfortunately in some respects Columbia's ability to make this a good disc falls short of their usual excellence.
I don't really blame Columbia here. Poor source elements prevent them from doing a very good job with the transfer and sound, and the film itself is the rest of the problem. The anamorphic transfer I mentioned above is adequate in the color area, but the image is overly soft and very grainy thanks to the age and 16mm film used in the shooting. Shadow detail is lacking resulting in an often murky appearance.
The sound doesn't fare much better. Purists will be happy to know the original mono track was remastered into two-channel Dolby Digital mono. I'm betting there was only so much they could do though because the sound is muddy and indistinct, sometimes requiring subtitles to understand the dialogue. The score fares no better than the dialogue and sounds thin and muddled as well.
The extra content is fine for such a catalog title but isn't anything inspiring. Talent Files for Stallone, Winkler, King, and director Verona, a leaflet of production notes, and trailers for The Lords of Flatbush, Bugsy, and La Bamba completes the extra content. Perhaps a commentary track with Stallone and Henry Winkler could have made the disc, as they talked about how the film began their career.
I don't blame them for not trying to corral the talent for that track or I wouldn't blame the stars for wanting to forget this film. I counted myself fortunate that the film only ran 84 minutes, since only about ten of them were interesting. The four Lords who are the stars of the show are crude, unredeeming characters for most of the movie. Even in 1974 it was far more than a stretch to cast these actors in a high school role as well; since they were all in their mid to late twenties. A film about teenagers shouldn't have as the first thought in your mind "yeah, and I could still pass for a teenager too." The pace of the film was positively glacial and it took special effort not to fall asleep throughout; in the mid afternoon after a good night's sleep. Basically four guys steal textbooks, argue, and try to get laid in an era where good girls don't do that sort of thing. The girls who do let them get past third base get pregnant, resulting in no option but marriage. Nostalgic perhaps, but not for me. I needed something more than the film could provide to work up interest.
I'm a bit saddened to have to knock this film so hard. I wanted to like it, gave it extra chances for the sake of seeing the film debut of actors I now like. But the film simply can't deliver, and the picture and sound quality also do not recommend purchase. It is with a heavy heart that I say don't buy it, and unless you already know you like the film don't rent it. Columbia does a better job with over 99% of their other discs, and I believe this was the best the film and source elements could provide.
All involved are released, thanks mainly to the fact that much better work was done by the cast members later. Columbia is released to go back to doing the great discs they routinely do and hopefully don't have any more titles sitting in this bad of shape.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Production Notes
* Talent Files