Classic Reels: The original Rocky

One consistent notion that runs through American ideology is the fabled “American dream”. It’s the idea that if someone works hard enough and posses enough determination, they can achieve whatever they set their minds to. If one movie were to personify this idea, it would be Rocky.

It’s 1976, America’s bicentennial, and world heavy weight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), agrees to fight an unknown fighter on national television for a shot at the title. On the mean streets of Philadelphia, small-time hustler and amateur boxer, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) spends his days collecting money for his boss and boxing in his spare time. He’s kind hearted, never hurting the people he collects money from, and everyday he flirts with his crush, Adrian (Talia Shire), a shy girl who works at the local pet shop. Rocky’s life isn’t going anywhere and he seems to have accepted the monotony of his future until the opportunity of a lifetime comes along.

Chosen simply for the catchiness of his boxing name, “The Italian Stallion”, Rocky Balboa is picked to fight Apollo Creed for the heavy weight title on New Year’s Day. He is the underdog, everyone expects him to lose and Creed is predicting an early round knock-out. What Creed doesn’t expect is a man willing to “go the distance”.

After seeing many of Sylvester Stallone’s movies, it’s easy to place him in the same category of actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mr. T. However, Stallone gives a surprisingly believable performance, showing off his acting skills. He is so believable as Rocky that it is hard to separate Stallone from the character to this day.

Surprisingly, it’s the lack of boxing that makes Rocky so great. Most of the film is spent following Rocky in the weeks leading up to the fight. It’s much easier to become more emotionally invested in Rocky, to see the obstacles he has to overcome. One of the most memorable scenes in Rocky, is his early morning training routine. He runs through the cold, early morning sunlight of Philadelphia as pedestrians stand and stare. At the end of his run he sprints up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and raises his hands in triumph.

Although Rocky is a movie about boxing, its love story plays just as an important role. Rocky, the loveable loser, and Adrian, the shy, plain sales clerk he falls in love with, are an extremely believable couple. Rocky never does anything too extravagant or unbelievable that seems to occur in most Hollywood films. Instead, he tells jokes, treats her with respect and takes her ice skating. Through this simple romance, both become more human, no longer just characters on the screen.

Over the years, Rocky spawned five sequels, but none has ever come close to the magic of the original. Rocky is still as classic and as relevant today as it did the day it was released. It remains an ode to the American dream of doing things on your own. By the end of the film it’s obvious that Rocky has class, he’s no longer a bum anymore, but instead, he’s finally become a contender.

Rating: A+

— Brian

Classic Reels is a weekly blog by Lariat contributor Brian Sanders. Sanders reviews old movies for those looking to brush up on their historic cinema or those that are looking to reminiscence on old flicks.

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