The Lords Of Flatbush

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailers, Talent Files, rated PG, 84 min., $24.95, street date 4/25/2000.

Studio Line

Directed by Martin Davidson and Stephen F. Verona. Starring Perry King, Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler, Susan Blakely, Pual Mace, Renee Paris, Maria Smith.

Clad in blue jeans, black leather jackets and bad attitudes, Stanley (Stallone), Butchey (Winkler), Chico (Perry King) and Wimpy (Paul Mace) are a 1950s Brooklyn "gang" of four cool, sexy rebels. Despite their tough appearance, these boys just want to have fun, but reality -- a.k.a. adulthood -- rears its ugly head when Stanley's steady informs him they have to get married, and blue-collar Chico falls for a beautiful blond (Susan Blakely) from the right side of the tracks. A high-octane cruise down memory lane, The Lords Of Flatbush is "immensely appealing, often hilarious, surprisingly touching and superbly acted" (The Hollywood Reporter).

Picture/Sound/Extras (D+/D+/D)

Although American Graffiti remains the most obvious inspiration for the hit TV show Happy Days, it may not have been the only one, as will become readily apparent to anyone who gazes upon the cover of DVD edition of 1974's The Lords Of Flatbush. Right there in the middle of a group photo is what appears to be one Arthur Fonzarelli, aka the legendary Fonzie.

Or maybe not. Actually, the picture displays the much-less-legendary Butchey Weinstein, a character who looks exactly like the Fonz, although he fails to live up to the more famous persona's coolness. He also failed to create quite the same stir as actor Henry Winkler's better known role. Anyone else remember the Fonzie-mania that occurred in the mid-Seventies? I was a kid at the time, and I still remember how excited I was to get a Fonzie doll - it even had hinged thumbs that could raise!

Anyway, as much as I'd like to follow my thesis that TLOF eventually inspired Happy Days to feature the Fonz, a quick check of dates makes the situation much less clear. Winkler apparently was cast as Fonzie back in October 1973 and Happy Days hit the air in January 1974. It's unclear when TLOF was filmed, but it wasn't released until May 1974. As such, it's possible that TLOF may have been shot prior to Winkler's acquisition of the Fonzie part and that the producers of Happy Days were aware of his work in the film, but it seems unlikely; indeed, it's even possible that Winkler got the role of Butchey due to his work on TV.

Whatever the case, TLOF has remained a better known film than it otherwise might because of this connection, plus the presence of another soon-to-be-famous actor in the cast, a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone. Although Winkler's Butchey mainly just looks like the Fonz with his leather jacket and ducktail, Stallone's Stanley seems like a tougher version of Rocky, though by the end of the film, the parallels are greater.

Stanley shares one distinction in TLOF: he's the closest thing to a full-blooded character the film possesses, and he's the only one who shows any actual growth. (When was the last time you heard that about a part played by Stallone?) Unfortunately, that's more of a reflection on the bland quality of this movie than it is an indication of any strong writing or acting; TLOF comes across as a dirtier - and much less compelling - version of American Graffiti.

Actually, the movie also shares a lot in common with 1971's Last Picture Show. Both took the period locations of the Fifties and imbued them with a much more graphic nature than we saw in the sweetly innocent AG. That worked well in TLPS but doesn't do much here; ultimately TLOF seems like little more than a half-rate combination of those two (much better) movies.

The film simply has little of interest. The characters are generally flat and uncompelling. Our main lead, Perry King's Chico, is the worst of the bunch for two reasons. First, he occupies the most screen time but we never see any sort of character development or nuance; he's just a handsome lunk out to get laid. Second, King seems inappropriate for the role. The other three actors in the Lords Of Flatbush gang (Paul Mace rounds out the quartet as Wimpy) all look like thugs to some degree, but King would seem more at home as the star quarterback; not for a second did I believe him as a juvenile delinquent type, and King lacks the acting chops to make it work.

Not much happens in the movie, which isn't necessarily a flaw as long as the characters work and the writing's crisp. Since neither are the case in TLOF, the general lack of plot hampers the film to a strong degree. It just kind of plods along with no real reason for being; it's just there. Ultimately, the movie seems mildly interesting as a curiosity due to the cast, but does little to sustain the viewer's attention even across its brief 84 minute running time.

The Lords Of Flatbush appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen version was reviewed for this article. Though not atrocious, The Lords of Flatbush offers an awfully ugly picture.

Sharpness is the main problem here, but not the only one. This is a tremendously soft image for the most part. Every once in a while a scene looks fairly crisp, but these instances are all too rare; most of the movie seems fuzzy and unfocussed. Well, at least this prevented any jagged edges or moiré effects! The print itself seemed fairly clean; I noticed periodic grain and white speckles plus a few small scratches, but it appears to have help up pretty well over the years.

Colors are decent though somewhat pale and faded; I felt they looked okay, though I think they would have seemed less satisfactory were it not for the image's softness. Black levels are fairly good, and shadow detail is decent but unspectacular. I've seen worse-looking DVDs, but not too many (thankfully).

Equally weak is the film's monaural soundtrack. It's pretty obvious that virtually all of the dialogue and effects were recorded on the set, and recorded poorly, as neither sounds even mediocre. Speech suffers the worst, as it's thin, flat and possesses a very distant quality; I had so much trouble understanding dialogue that I left the subtitles on throughout the movie. The effects fare better just because they're less important; they seem subdued and distant as well, however. The movie's rather poor songs obviously weren't recorded on the set, and they sound pretty decent; the music lacks bass but appears clean. Some background noise can be heard at times during the film. Ultimately, the soundtrack fails simply because it makes listening to the movie a chore.

At this point, I'd like to address one factor that may be on your mind: the budget of TLOF. It's clear this thing cost about $7 to make, so some may feel I'm being too hard on the quality of the sound and picture; that line of reasoning may believe that the film has enough of a disadvantage due to its age, so the added problem of a very low budget intensifies the difficulty in making it presentable.

And one would have a point. I don't think the poor quality of TLOF seems to be the fault of the folks at Columbia-Tristar (CTS) who transferred the movie. Instead, it's pretty likely that the thing always looked bad; cheap film stock and an inexperienced crew almost inevitably lead to an ugly movie.

Nonetheless, when I review DVDs, I feel it's more important for my grades to offer an overall indication of the quality one can expect from the disc. As such, there may be very good reasons why a movie can look or sound no better than a "D", but to "be nice" and give it a higher grade because of those factors creates a misleading impression. I grade audio on a curve based on age - which is another indication of how bad this film sounds - but still have to stick to some generally absolute standards when I assign letter grades. So fair or not, TLOF gets its "D+"s.

It earns its "D" for supplements much more clearly, as the DVD includes a pretty weak assortment of extras. We get the film's laughably bad trailer - which creates a faux doo-wop song to sell the movie - plus previews for Bugsy and La Bamba. The usual uninformative CTS talent files appear for actors King, Stallone and Winkler plus director Stephen Verona. Finally, some brief but decent production notes can be found in the DVD's booklet.

The lack of supplements is unfortunate if just because it might have lent some interest to this package. On its own, however, the film isn't enough to sustain attention. The Lords Of Flatbush isn't a terrible movie but it seems overly derivative and lacks much to compel the viewer. Add to that a DVD with poor picture, sound and supplements and you have a disc that should be skipped.

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