F.I.S.T.

1978, Movie, PG, 145 mins

Review

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Stallone likes to depart from his customary muscle image from time to time. Often it fails (RHINESTONE, PARADISE ALLEY), but sometimes he succeeds, as in this interesting (albeit somewhat flawed) drama of a Hoffa-like trade union leader. He's a serious and moral young man who is corrupted by the machinations of the labor movement as he rises, eventually assuming the mantle of boss in the Federation of Inter-State Truckers (F.I.S.T., in case you were wondering where the title sprang from). Based on a series of articles by Eszterhas, the movie details the story of a trucker's rise in the movement to heights undreamed of. The picture begins in the late 1930s and follows Stallone and his best friend, Huffman, as young truckers working for Wilcoxon. They begin organizing the unaffiliated drivers in the company for Herd, the union representative. Management hoodlums arrange for Herd's death, which sends Stallone into bad company. He joins forces with gangster Conway to fight fire with fire. With Conway as a partner, he doesn't have to wait long for the mobsters, led by LoBianco, to move in. The two secondary stories taking place only serve to distract from the main one. Stallone and Dillon fall in love, and so do Huffman and Yates. Flash forward to the 1950s. Stallone uses some blackmail to oust international union leader Boyle and then runs into Steiger, a senator who talks out of both sides of his mouth. In the third act, when Stallone is kidnapped, we don't know whether he will wind up on top or in a cement block. The core of the story is that power corrupts. Stallone's morality wanes as his prestige and power wax, and he comes to question whether even a worthwhile cause justifies the abandonment of principles. At 145 minutes, the movie is far too long. This kind of socio-crime drama ran 80 minutes in the 1930s, when Cagney and Robinson were making them. Beautiful photography from Kovacs and an excellent acting job by Stallone. F.I.S.T. was not a big hit; returns may not even have covered the cost of prints and advertising. Stallone has since decided to stick to what "the people want to see"-- some ROCKY sequels and two RAMBO films that have grossed millions. Conti, who was a starving composer newly returned from Rome when Stallone tapped him for the first ROCKY, has since gone on to great success. Born in Rhode Island, he couldn't get any work in the US, so he went to Italy and did several small jobs before deciding to make a last try at the big time. Huffman, in his film debut, was super--and might have gone on to a great career had he not been stabbed to death in San Diego, where he was appearing in a play early in 1985. Donat does his usual good work but has never received the big break he deserves. (His portrayal of the lead in CYRANO, broadcasted for ACT by Public Television in San Francisco, may have been the definitive one--perhaps even better than Jose Ferrer's. Donat played Rostand's hero as a creaky swordsman at the end of his days, living only for the thought of Roxanne (Marsha Mason). If the film comes to your area on TV, cancel everything else to watch it.) leave a comment

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