Three Italian-American brothers, living in the slums of 1940's New York City, try to help each other with one's wrestling career using one brother's promotional skills and another brother's con-artist tactics to thwart a sleazy manager.
It's 1946 in Hell's Kitchen in New York City. Cosmo Carboni, the eldest of the three Carboni brothers, is lamenting what he sees as them not living up to their potential. Big talking Cosmo hustles and panhandles for money. Brooding Lenny Carboni, an injured veteran whose sullen attitude stems from his time in the war, is an undertaker. And youngest Victor Carboni, the simple muscle-man who wouldn't hurt a fly unless he's annoyed, is an iceman. Victor looks to Lenny and his Chinese-American girlfriend Susan Chow as his voices of reason. After Victor holds his own against wrestler Frankie the Thumper in an arm wrestling match, Frankie who is seen as the strongest man in the neighborhood, and after seeing the lucrative wrestling matches - which are more like street fights without rules - at the underground nightclub called Paradise Alley, Cosmo gets it into his head that wrestling may be Victor's calling and a way for them all to get out of Hell's Kitchen for good. The brothers would act...Written by
Paradise Alley is set in 1946 in the dingy and dirty streets of Hell's Kitchen- or the Bowery, take your pick, maybe more like the Bowery- and is centered on a group of characters, specifically three brothers, and how they try to maintain in their squalor or, as it turns out, try and make a way for themselves to get out. It's a sentimental picture as it tries to act super tough and muscular, and it's kind of like a Saturday afternoon movie for the guys who have already seen Rocky and Rambo flicks too many times and want to see something sort of "different". It certainly is. And not always in a good way.
What I liked was seeing how the actors playing the brothers interacted. Cosmo, Victor and Lenny are impressionable and work very well as this trio dynamic. One had high aspirations and has a big mouth but a fairly good heart, another is a crippled war hero who's life has not worked out at all like he might have wanted for himself or his girl, and the other is a fairly content and BIG-sized ice delivery man who finds himself needing money to want that boat house. I liked also how Stallone put these characters against the lumbering idiot gangsters who were too bumbling to really make it as big-shots but could be threatening enough to other bums and the like in the neighborhood. Not to mention the character and performance of Frank McRae as the 40-something wrestler who lives in total degradation even as he's very good at what he does. Oh, and Tom Waits of course, for a role that is merely a blip but one that brings a smile all the same.
The problems seem to come for Stallone that he isn't confident enough to take the material where it needs to go as a down-and-dirty grungy street flick. He gussies it up with over-blown camera moves and editing tricks (I hated the freeze-screen effects used), and seem to not always be as strong with dealing with melodrama and the natural way people talk as he did in the first Rocky. If there was a time to make this story maybe it was right after he has his first big success, and then move on to more conventional stuff. But it is at times fairly schmaltzy, and not all of the acting is very good (the female actresses are all pretty weak, and for a couple of good scenes Lee Canalito feel really flat as the "happy" wreslter brother dubbed "The Salami"). Stallone and Asante fare better with the material, and even Stallone himself goes hammy with his own words in some scenes; Stallone is Stallone, not a Pacino or De Niro, so heavy-duty dramatic scenes don't seem to cut it out as well.
And yet, the film does have its moments. I especially dug that final wrestling match, the two contenders (the other being, I think, Terry Funk) duking it out as a rain storm is coming down in the arena and the power keeps cutting in and out with lightning effects thrown in. Stallone does make this an epic and nasty and brutal final bout, and it does bring a pretty satisfying completion to a film that is enjoyable but too clichéd by half.
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