Cult Movie: The Lords of Flatbush stars a young Stallone and a pre-Fonz Henry Winkler in a slice of 1950s nostalgia

The Lords of Flatbush features a young Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler
Ralph McLean

The Lords Of Flatbush

PERSONALLY, I blame American Graffiti. I mean, there has to be some reason why America, and therefore the entire watching world who traditionally coat-tailed Stateside trends, was engulfed in such a serious wave of nostalgic love for the 1950s during the-mid 1970s, right?

George Lucas's hit 1973 tale of teenage angst, burgers and rock and roll may have been set in 1962, but the vibe was 50s America all the way. The positivity of that era's brash and flash surface noise, all swooning doo-wop and first love naivety, obviously struck a chord with the cultural consumers of that most miserable of decades, the 1970s.

How else do you explain the phenomenal success of Grease, riding high on Broadway at the time, or all those endless K-Tel double album collections of 50s classics that cluttered up the charts in that brownest of decades?

There's also the small matter of Happy Days, a megahit TV show featuring American Graffiti star Ron Howard and a certain leather jacketed dude by the name of Henry Winkler. Winkler would find global fame as the Fonz in that production, but it's his turn in a decidedly undervalued mid-70s 1950s throwback that we focus on here.

The Lords Of Flatbush is never held up as one of the great 50s nostalgia fests, but it's a great snapshot of a lost era all the same. Set in among the street gangs of Brooklyn and powered by the kind of savvy pop music selections that Martin Scorsese picked for Mean Streets, it's gritty and grim like only 70s cinema can be.

Winkler plays Butchy, a bequiffed gang member who realises the folly of hanging around with a clueless bunch of street toughs. Perry King, a late replacement for Richard Gere, is the gang's lover man and Sylvester Stallone is Stanley, a troubled teen with a pregnant girlfriend and very little else to keep him out of trouble on the streets.

While a pre-Fonz Winkler is here in full leather jacketed rocker mode, this is Stallone's project. Alongside directors Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona, he contributed script suggestions and he steals the show as the hapless rocker with the bleakest future hanging over his heavy set shoulders.

In what feels almost like a dry run for the inarticulate Rocky character that would make him a superstar, Stallone is monosyllabic and moody throughout, and the film's best scenes usually involve him hanging around aimlessly on street corners or up in his rooftop pigeon coop.

Story wise, this is slight – but it remains fascinating all the same. As a rockabilly rebel yell, it's nowhere near as effective as something like The Wanderers, but as a fragment of that 1970s obsession with 1950s culture, it's hard to take your eyes off.

There's a moodiness that suits Stallone perfectly and even Henry Winkler later admitted that he based his Fonz character not on the swot he plays here, but rather on Sly's leather-clad lurcher in the back alleys.

It doesn't get much cooler than that, does it?

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