ROCKY

40 years later, he’s still a lov­able un­der­dog

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Er­rin Haines Whack

On Nov. 21, 1976, au­di­ences met Rocky Bal­boa, the south­paw boxer from south Philadel­phia. Four decades later, Sylvester Stal­lone’s lov­able char­ac­ter res­onates with fans drawn to his un­der­dog tale of de­ter­mi­na­tion, grit and sleepy-eyed charm.

The reach of “Rocky” is in­ter­na­tional, and the film serves as a slice of Amer­i­cana. It is short­hand for Philadel­phia as much as the Lib­erty Bell or Ben­jamin Franklin.

“Any­time we are speak­ing to over­seas vis­i­tors ... the con­ver­sa­tion al­ways turns, at some point, to ‘Rocky,’” said Julie Coker Gra­ham, president of the Philadel­phia Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Bureau. “They ask, ‘Have you met Rocky?” A lot of them think it’s an ac­tual, real-life per­son.”

On the film’s 40th an­niver­sary, a few rea­sons for its en­dur­ing legacy:

Writ­ten by Stal­lone in three days, fans fell hard for the bal­lad of Rocky Bal­boa. For the unini­ti­ated (SPOILER ALERT): The small-time boxer from the heav­ily Ital­ian neigh­bor­hood of South Philly stum­bles into a bout with the heavy­weight cham­pion of the world, Apollo Creed, fight­ing in the city to cel­e­brate Amer­ica’s bi­cen­ten­nial. To get him into fight­ing shape, Rocky (played by Stal­lone) is trained by the pep­pery Mickey Gold­mill (Burgess Mered­ith), whose many one-lin­ers make him a fre­quent scene stealer. Rocky also finds love in the film with sheep­ish neigh­bor­hood pet store clerk, Adrian (Talia Shire). Though he ul­ti­mately loses the fight, Rocky proves him­self and wins Adrian’s heart, mak­ing him the win­ner of much more than a ti­tle.

The film it­self was a long shot, made on a bud­get of only $1 mil­lion and shot in 28 days, with a largely un­known cast, in­clud­ing Stal­lone him­self. And it was shot in work­ing-class Philadel­phia, a city that — de­spite its roots as the cru­cible of free­dom — had long had a chip on its shoul­der as sec­ond-tier as com­pared to more cul­tured East Coast me­trop­o­lises like New York and Bos­ton. (It is worth not­ing that the film had its pre­miere in New York.)

What the movie lacked in beauty, it made up for in heart, some­thing that res­onated with au­di­ences world­wide. The film was the high­est-gross­ing of the year, earn­ing $117 mil­lion at the North Amer­i­can box of­fice and an­other $107 mil­lion over­seas. “Rocky” re­ceived 10 Os­car nom­i­na­tions in nine cat­e­gories at the Acad­emy Awards, win­ning three: best pic­ture, best di­rec­tor (John G. Avild­sen) and best film edit­ing. Stal­lone, Burgess and Shire

were all nom­i­nated in act­ing cat­e­gories, and Stal­lone was nom­i­nated for his screen­play.

“Rocky” is pre­served in the Li­brary of Congress’ Na­tional Film Registry as be­ing “cul­tur­ally, his­tor­i­cally, or aes­thet­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant.” It was also ranked one of the great­est sports films ever made and is the sec­ondbest film about box­ing be­hind “Rag­ing Bull,” ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute.

GONNA FLY NOW

The score for “Rocky,” which was also nom­i­nated for an Os­car, was penned by Bill Conti. The main song, “Gonna Fly Now,” was orig­i­nally in­tended as filler for the train­ing se­quence mark­ing Rocky’s jour­ney from ama­teur to con­tender. The open­ing fan­fare is among the most rec­og­niz­able in Amer­i­can cul­ture, and the soar­ing melody that plays on the melan­cholic theme wo­ven through­out the movie is the back­drop to Rocky do­ing im­pres­sive one-armed pushups, punch­ing meat in his girl­friend’s brother’s butcher shop and run­ning through Philadel­phia’s Ital­ian Mar­ket, along the Schuylkill River and past the ship­yards.

Conti went on to win an Os­car for his score to 1983’s “The Right Stuff” and made mu­sic rec­og­niz­able to mil­lions in theme songs to “Dy­nasty” and “Fal­con Crest.”

THE ROCKY STEPS AND STATUE

The mon­tage cli­maxes in one of the film’s most mem­o­rable scenes, as Rocky bounds up the 72 steps of the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art, rais­ing his arms in tri­umph. Four decades later, the run and pose atop the steps are re-cre­ated daily in Philadel­phia, mostly by tourists. In 1982, a statue of Rocky com­mis­sioned by Stal­lone for “Rocky III” was placed in the spot where he stood in the orig­i­nal film. Its cur­rent home is just to the right of the steps and is a selfie stop for vis­i­tors.

ROCKY’S NEXT CHAP­TER

The orig­i­nal movie was fol­lowed by six se­quels. In 2015, Rocky was re­born in “Creed,” the story of Ado­nis Creed, the son of his neme­sis-turned-best friend, Apollo. An aging and dy­ing Rocky trains Ado­nis for a brawl not un­like the griz­zled boxer’s first fight nearly two gen­er­a­tions ear­lier. The New York Times re­viewed it as a “dandy piece of en­ter­tain­ment, sooth­ingly old­fash­ioned and brac­ingly upto-date.”

VIN­CENT THIAN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Ac­tor and screen­writer Sylvester Stal­lone poses for a photo dur­ing a news con­fer­ence to pro­mote the movie “Rocky Bal­boa” at a ho­tel in Tokyo. Four decades af­ter the pre­miere of “Rocky,” the movie’s reach is in­ter­na­tional, and the ti­tle char­ac­ter’s un­der­dog tale of de­ter­mi­na­tion, grit and sleepy-eyed charm still res­onates with fans.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ac­tor and screen­writer Sylvester Stal­lone holds ac­tress Talia Shire in a scene from the 1976 movie “Rocky.”

CHRIS PIZZELLO — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Sylvester Stal­lone, right, and his “Rocky” co-star, for­mer pro­fes­sional foot­ball player Carl Weathers, left, pose with pro­ducer Ir­win Win­kler at the Walk of Fame cer­e­mony for Win­kler in the Hol­ly­wood sec­tion of Los An­ge­les.

RUSTY KENNEDY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Sylvester Stal­lone poses at the top of the steps of the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art be­fore a statue of Stal­lone por­tray­ing boxer Rocky Bal­boa is un­veiled in Philadel­phia.

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