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Friday, December 11, 2015

That day "Rocky" knocked out the New York Times

To publicize the latest film in the Rocky movie series, "Creed," Hollywood producer Irwin Winkler told the Daily Mail of the struggle to get the first one filmed. This passage was golden:
That evening I got an early copy of the New York Times and it was a terrible, terrible review of the movie and I thought, 'Oh boy, that's the end of that. All our hopes have turned to ash,' because the New York Times was so important in those days.
'I was pretty upset, standing in the wind and cold and my friend actor Peter Falk, came out of the theater and he came over and he said, 'Geez, congratulations, the picture's really great!' And I said, 'Peter, look at this review in the New York Times, it's going to destroy us!' And he said, 'Irwin, go in the theater, people in there are standing and cheering! That's more important than what the New York Times says.' So that gave me a little boost.'
Ah yes, the New York Times review of "Rocky." by Vincent Canby called the film racist -- and its plot implausible, even though it was based on Chuck Wepner's bout with Muhammad Ali.

From that review:
Under the none too decisive direction of John G. Avildsen ("Joe," "Save the Tiger"), Mr. Stallone is all over "Rocky" to such an extent it begins to look like a vanity production. His brother composed one of the film's songs and appears briefly, as does his father, while his dog, a cheerful mastiff named Butkus, plays Rocky's dog. It's as if Mr. Stallone had studied the careers of Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola and then set out to copy the wrong things.
The screenplay of "Rocky" is purest Hollywood make-believe of the 1930's, but there would be nothing wrong with that, had the film been executed with any verve.
It's the story of Rocky and his girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire), when Rocky, due to circumstances too foolish to go into, is granted the opportunity of his lifetime. He is given a chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, a black fighter named Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), modeled on Muhammad Ali so superficially as to be an almost criminal waste of character. It's not good enough to be libelous, though by making the Ali-like fighter such a dope, the film explores areas of latent racism that just may not be all that latent.
He knocked Stallone, fine. But he knocked the man's dog? He's the cur.

Over the years, Canby panned not only "Rocky," but "Blazing Saddles", "A Christmas Story", "Rainman" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," After 20 years of this, the Times finally caught on that Canby was a kook, and switched him to covering Broadway shows.

But the damage was done. The New York Times lost whatever sway it had on the film front. And if you are wrong about "Rocky," maybe you are wrong about Reagan. It snowballs from there.


  1. Donald Trump = Rocky Balboa? OK, I can dig the comparison, sorta. We're waiting for The Donald to throw the knockout punch, but, please, not in a reprise, because the country could not take a Donald II, III, IV, and V. Trump surely knows the Rocky franchise is already spoken for.

  2. NYT (Not Your Truth): Lying since Walter Duranty, at least.

  3. The people that do the weather looked at Canby and asked how he could keep his job after being wrong so often.

  4. I suppose if you based your movie viewing on Canby's rejections, you'd have a fine time in the theatre.

    I remember seeing Rocky in the theatre when I was 15, and thought it was great. Maybe not Oscar-winning, but probably the sad times helped put it over the top.

    We need more Rockys.

  5. Wasn't Talia Shire's character "Adrienne", not the male, "Adrian"?

    1. FWIW, IMDB lists her character's name as being spelled "Adrian."

      Wikipedia says it's short for "Adrianna"

  6. So this guy's NYT reviews are to movies, as Rolling Stone Mag reviews are to music.

  7. My! A film critic who's a kook? Who woulda thunk it?

    Kinda like Pauline Kael, film critic at the New Yorker at the time, who was mystified how Nixon had beaten McGovern in a landslide.

    "No one I know voted for him (Nixon)!

  8. I remember reading some Time magazine movie reviews in the late 60s. Seemed that whatever they thought sucked, I kinda liked, and vice versa. That pattern continued until I stopped reading Time many years later (didn't have to buy them... they were in the day room, at the barbershop, doctor's waiting rooms).

  9. Peter Falk was Columbo. I think Mr. Falk had a good idea of what would appeal to an audience.

    1. Mikey NTH approves of the comment that anonymous Mikey NTH posted.