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Paradise Alley

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Star, London, 1978
(price: 75p; 218 pages)
(first published in the United States by GP Putnam's Sons, 1977)

dedication: To Sasha, who takes away the rain

The blurb on the back:

Amid the dirt, squalor and violence of New York's slums, the Carboni brothers plan an escape from the chains of poverty.
Lenny had the hard-head intelligence.
Cosmo had the hard-sell jive.
Victor had the hard-hitting fists.
Together they dreamed of a new life far away from the teeming warmth of the ghetto ...

Now we all known that Sly Stallone has never been the hippest name to drop, certainly not in Europe during the politically charged days of the 1980s, when Rambo was to Reaganite Republicans what the SAS used to be to old-school Portillistas over here. But even back then, there were still some of us prepared to argue that he was a great cinematic talent. The first two Rocky films were tremendous stuff, the best boxing movies that Hollywood ever produced (including De Niro's absurdly over-praised melodramatics in Raging Bull - that wasn't acting, that was just eating), while the over-looked F.I.S.T. was an intelligent exploration of trade union power that drew on the Jimmy Hoffa myth without being bound by it.

From the same period came 1978's Paradise Alley, which Stallone not only scripted but directed. It wasn't exactly a critical or commercial triumph, but it was a decent enough film, which - in a radical break from Rocky's story of an Italian bum in Philadelphia becoming a boxer - was about an Italian bum in New York becoming a wrestler. You see the difference? Subtle but significant.

Actually that's just being snide for the sake of it. In Paradise Alley Stallone plays one of three brothers living in Hell's Kitchen in the late-1940s, but he's not the one who becomes the wrestler, and the whole thing is more about family and culture than it is about sport. Although the novelization (by Stallone himself) is a bit over-wrought, the man's solidarity with and identification with the working class is convincing and worth cherishing: he, at least, never forgot that the his audience was essentially blue-collar. You're better off catching the movie, but the book's no disgrace.

Intriguingly it comes with illustrations that are not movie stills - which would have made sense - but instead drawings by one Tom Wright. Why this should be, I have no idea, but this is what they look like:

by Tom Wright


Mr Stallone also gave us:
click to enlarge

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