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Rocky & Rocky II

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Ballantine, New York, 1977
(price: 65p; 122 pages)
first published in 1976

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Rocky II
Futura, London, 1979
(price: 85p; 184 pages)

The blurb on the back:

'A slum fairy tale ... funny, unpretentious and relentlessly upbeat ... its only message - endure, reach your potential, be a man ... I can't recall such excitement about a movie since, maybe,
Giant and James Dean!' - Time magazine.
'An oasis of upbeat expectations. Hardened cinema cynics have actually been seen standing up and cheering!' -
New York magazine.
'One of the best boxing movies ever made - maybe the best' - Pete Hamill.
That - like the movie - will have you laughing, crying and cheering out loud!

He came from nowhere to within a heartbeat of victory...
Then, suddenly, success was more difficult to live with than failure - and the downward path began.
He remembered once more the struggle from the streets, the agony, the rejection and the pain.
But would he have the chance to fight back? The chance to love and live again?

opening lines:
November 12, 1975. A cold night in Philly. Hot action inside the Blue Door Fight Club, a room that resembled a large unemptied trash can. The boxing ring was extra small to ensure constant battle and the lights overhead had barely enough wattage to illuminate the dim recesses of the mind, much less the dim specters of the ring.

If you've been with me as this site has grown, you'll have noticed a couple of themes emerging. One of them is that novelizations of movies suck; another is that Sylvester Stallone is an undervalued film-maker. So here we are with the two themes coinciding in Rocky, a novelization of Stallone's first and greatest block-buster. And? And it's very good indeed actually, written by Julia Sorel from a screenplay by Sly.

In case you don't know the story (shame on you): the world heavyweight boxing champion is Apollo Creed, a fiercely intelligent, articulate black fighter with a fantastic sense of theatre and box-office (any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead purely intentional). He's due to defend his title in Philadelphia on 1 January 1976 to get the US Bicentennial Year off to a flying start, but unfortunately his opponent sustains an injury in training and Creed instead decides to give a complete no-hoper, an underdog a shot at the title: it's the land of opportunity we're celebrating, after all. And the man accorded the honour is Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion, a bum who would be over the hill save for the fact that he's never lift his eyes far enough from the gutter to notice that there is a hill.

So you've got a simple little Hollywood fable that translates perfectly well onto the page. Without the epic, and frankly preposterous, scenes in the ring, it's a quieter, tougher piece. And I still love the peripheral characters, especially Rocky's bitter old veteran trainer, Mickey, described here as having 'one foot in the grave, the other in a Dr Scholl's footbath', and portrayed in the movies by Burgess Meredith (who played the Penguin in Batman in the 1960s, trivia fans).

hunk of boxin' love

Part of the beauty of Rocky II is that it kept all those peripheral characters, right down to the acapella vocal band hanging out on the street corner. The story followed up how a simple man handles overnight fame, which is a perfectly sound basis for a movie, and was one of the few cinematic sequels worth making. (The remaining films in the series, on the other hand - oh dear, oh Lord, oh my oh my.) The book claims to be by Stallone himself - he wrote and directed the movie - and isn't quite as strong as the first. Still pretty good though.

Time to pay some respect to Sly.


Another boxing novel? Why not?

William Campbell Gault, The Canvas Coffin