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Starting in the sixties, especially with the works of John Cassavetes, many movies strayed from the Hollywood standard of mounted cameras, narrative precision and high production values in favor of a new, cheaper and looser freeform style. In 1973, George Lucas took that style to new commercial heights with American Graffiti in which teenagers took to the streets for a night of cruising, partying and drag racing. Set in 1962, the film was a major box office hit and it wasn't long before the imitators started putting out their own versions. The Lords of Flatbush (1974) moved the story to the Flatbush borough of Brooklyn and moved the year to 1958 but much of the rest remained the same: Four central characters, all male, wandering through life aimlessly as they try to move forward into adulthood and a world outside their neighborhood. Many of the scenes were filmed in and around the Brooklyn area.
The Lords of Flatbush was written and directed by Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona (with additional screenplay work from Gayle Gleckler and additional dialogue from co-star Sylvester Stallone) and followed the goings-on of a gang of four high school friends, self-styled as The Lords of Flatbush. The movie's rambling story has Chico (Perry King) falling for the new girl, Jane (Susan Blakely), at his high school while dividing his time between her and his fellow Lords, Stanley (Stallone), Butchey (Henry Winkler) and Wimpy (Paul Mace). Meanwhile, Stanley gets his girlfriend pregnant and has to marry her, thrusting him into adulthood and away from his gang. Butchey and Wimpy both face uncertain futures as well and realize their days as the Lords of Flatbush are numbered.
The movie juggles several storylines, creating an oddly effective rambling style that seems to fit the lives of these aimless teens (though all the actors were in their mid to late twenties at the time). The dialogue almost sounds improvised on the spot and, in fact, many times it was. Sylvester Stallone, in particular, was allowed to write additional dialogue for his character and made suggestions for the rest. Sometimes the improvisation on camera resulted in fresh and unexpected reactions from the actors, producing a natural effect of real conversation that a lot of movies don't have. In one scene, in the jewelry store as Stanley looks at rings with his fianc and her friend, he asks the jeweler (played by Martin Davidson, the writer and director) to see a ring cheaper than the one she's chosen. When he brings it over, Stanley asks him again about the original ring which clearly throws Davidson off as he stutters and asks, "Wait, this one?," not sure which ring Stanley is now referring to. Those odd cadences exist throughout the movie and create an effect of real people caught on film.
Released at a time when none of its stars had yet achieved fame, Henry Winkler was the closest to mainstream success. He was already co-starring in a hit ABC sitcom released in the wake of American Graffiti, Happy Days, but was not yet the huge star he would soon become as Arthur Fonzarelli, aka, The Fonz. Two years later, Sylvester Stallone would outdo them all with a movie he wrote and starred in, Rocky (1976), which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Director as well as garner Stallone nominations for Best Actor and Screenplay. And it's star, Perry King, while never as big a star as Winkler or Stallone, would have his own success on TV with Riptide and other appearances in movies, such as the cult classic, Class of 1984 (1982). The only member of the gang to never achieve stardom was Paul Mace who would, in fact, make only one other movie, Sylvester Stallone's 1978, Paradise Alley. In 1983, at the age of 33, Mace was killed in an automobile accident.
In addition to the top billed male leads, another soon to be famous face can be glimpsed among the female stars, Susan Blakely. The Lords of Flatbush provided Blakely with a chance to show off her acting talents before The Towering Inferno (1974) put her face, already famous from modeling, before a much bigger audience. But like Stallone, 1976 became her big year as she was cast in one of the lead roles on television's Rich Man, Poor Man, a miniseries based on the bestseller by Irwin Shaw. The miniseries turned out to be a smash hit and soon, Susan Blakely, nominated for a Best Actress Emmy for the series, was everywhere. Within five years she would be playing Eva Braun to Anthony Hopkins' Adolph Hitler in television's The Bunker (1981).
The Lords of Flatbush never took off at the box-office like American Graffiti and even when it was re-released and shown repeatedly on cable to capitalize on its actors' newfound star status, it didn't make much of an impact. Still, it provided four young actors (Stallone, Winkler, King and Blakely) with a platform for future success and two other future stars, Armand Assante and Brooke Adams, have bit parts as a wedding guest and a high school student.
One interesting side note: Richard Gere was originally cast in the lead role of Chico but to say he and Stallone didn't get along was an understatement. The two actually came to blows at one point during filming and director Davidson, more invested in Stallone and his devotion to the characters and dialogue writing, fired Gere, replacing him with Perry King. Later, Gere would become a box-office giant, as would Stallone, but the two would never work together again.
Producer: Stephen Verona, Richard Millman (Associate Producer)
Director: Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona
Screenplay: Stephen Verona, Gayle Gleckler, Martin Davidson, Sylvester Stallone
Cinematography: Edward Lachman, Joseph Mangine
Art Direction: Glenda Ganis
Music: Joseph Brooks
Film Editor: Muffie Meyer, Stan SiegelCast: Perry King (David 'Chico' Tyrell), Sylvester Stallone (Stanley Rosiello), Henry Winkler (Butchey Weinstein), Paul Mace (Wimpy Murgalo), Susan Blakely (Jane Bradshaw), Maria Smith (Frannie Malincanico), Renee Paris (Annie Yuckamanelli), Paul Jabara (Crazy Cohen), Bruce Reed (Mike Mambo), Frank Stiefel (Arnie Levine).
by Greg Ferrara