Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? Something about Brooklyn thugs, tone to be determined.
What did I get? The Lords of Flatbush artlessly combines the raw ethos of 1970s American filmmaking and the budding interest in 1950s America that had already manifested in Sha Na Na and American Graffiti and would soon spawn Grease and the popular TV show Happy Days. Even as it cribs many of the strategies of American Graffiti — particularly the soundtrack — the under-emotive Lords sorely lacks Lucas’s directorial verve.
The Lord’s [sic] of Flatbush consist of Chico, Stanley, Butchey, and Wimpy; subtract the leather jackets, and they’re simply a bunch of buddies intent on brawling and fucking, pursuits that have failed to equip them for their twenties. The eponymous gang provides the point of reference, but the movie is really about Chico (King), enamored of a hottie named Jane (who’s into him too, but only so much), and Stanley (Stallone), who, having knocked up his girlfriend Franny, spends the movie in hangdog fashion coming to terms with the inescapable prospect of marriage.
The situations the two pals find themselves in are precisely opposite: Jane is ambivalent about committing to Chico, while Franny is understandably determined to engineer a life with Stanley. Ostensibly the B-story, Stanley’s lot is the more poignant. In both cases the women decide where the relationship is going to go. What’s obvious to everyone else is that, exactly as a face tattoo would today, the leather jackets these amiable palookas sport constitute a chasm that separates them from regular society, as is emphasized when Chico meets Jane’s bourgeois parents or when Stanley confusedly haggles with a jeweler over Franny’s ring. (Significantly, in the movie’s closing scene, which represents their passage into adult life, the jackets are nowhere to be seen.) If nothing else, Lords is a candid depiction of the joyless fate that may await Sandy and Danny after the closing credits of Grease.
The era’s governing signifier is the slicked-back pompadour, so much so that the leads may have been hired primarily for their haircuts. The improvised acting, while showcasing the actors’ iffy writing skills, does generate some authentic camaraderie among the foursome, complete with bruising horseplay and good-natured digs. Stallone isn’t very polished, but he is authentic; in his inarticulate way, he registers in a way that Winkler, soon to become The Fonz, does not.
Like American Graffiti taking as its focus four male friends, Lords is a sweeter, sunnier movie than the gang-related title foretells. The overreliance on bland master shots frequently lends the proceedings a porny vibe, while the persistent lack of modulation at times calls to mind that understated je ne sais quoi associated with French cinema. The filmmakers appear to understand the issues facing its quartet perfectly well, but it’s a rare case of the content being miles ahead of the form, the problem, of course, being that the form provides our only access to the content — as well as to filmic pleasure.
In a sense, The Lords of Flatbush represents the down side of the liberating and anarchic spirit of the new American cinema. The hard-won freedom didn’t always lead to better filmmaking, just franker filmmaking. By not having much of it, Lords is the kind of movie that gives slick chops a good name.
What here smacks of 1974? The desire to focus on the 1950s.
IMDB score: 5.8
My score: 4
Directors: Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona
Writers: Stephen Verona, Gayle Gleckler, and Martin Davidson
Starring: Perry King, Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler, Paul Mace, Susan Blakely, Maria Smith, Renee Paris, Paul Jabara, Bruce Reed, Frank Stiefel, Martin Davidson, Joe Stern, Ruth Klinger, Joan Neuman, Dolph Sweet, Antonia Rey
IMDB synopsis: A group of kids in Brooklyn form a gang. From this moment on they do everything together. This makes things easier but at the same time they have to face new problems.