Column, Movie Diary

Down for the count

By Dom Cioffi

I was 10 years old in 1976, a little kid who loved sports and playing with his friends.

I also loved going to the movies.

Early on, my mother used to take me to see animated films and the occasional musical. Later, I became enamored with the “Herbie the Love Bug” series and other Disney fare like “Escape From Witch Mountain” and “Freaky Friday.”

But then on a frigid December afternoon in 1976, everything changed. That was the day I went to see a motion picture about a washed-up boxer named Rocky Balboa.

It’s funny the things that get stuck in your memory, but going to see the original “Rocky” film is permanently etched into my brain. Maybe it was because it was my first “mature” film or maybe it was because my father was taking me. Whatever the case, I remember the day, the weather, where I sat, and how I felt when I walked out of the theater.

It wasn’t normal for my father to take me to the theater. He was usually busy with other things, but he was a big boxing fan and “Rocky” was all the buzz, so he made an exception.

I distinctly remember it being rainy and cold on the day we went (I looked up the release date of “Rocky” and sure enough, it was released during the first week of December). I also remember where we sat, which was halfway down the center aisle, close to the left side.

My hometown had two movie theaters in the 1970s, both being restored from early 1900 theaters that had ornate architecture and finely appointed décor reminiscent of the classic opera houses of the past. Unfortunately, neither survived past the early 1980s due to the advent of smaller, multi-screen complexes.

But on this day, the theater was packed with patrons with more lined up outside the ticket office — all to see the movie everyone was talking about.

The original “Rocky” is a testament to Sylvester Stallone and his great storytelling. It’s that magical mixture of luck, opportunity, and what happens when someone has a fire lit inside of them. Rocky Balboa was a nobody who, through hard work and sheer force of will, rose to epic heights. And in doing so, he brought along every viewer in every theater across the country.

I was enamored with “Rocky” and so was my father. I didn’t often see him excited about things like movies, but this experience hit home, and I was thrilled to share it with him.

I was never a fan of boxing (I preferred team sports like baseball and basketball), but my father was a true fan. He was always watching weekend boxing, and if you were in the room with him, you were going to be subjected to his outbursts whenever a fight got heated.

After seeing “Rocky,” I entertained the idea of taking up boxing (I couldn’t find any data, but I’m guessing boxing clubs proliferated after the release of Stallone’s masterpiece). There was only one problem: I wasn’t particularly tough or aggressive.

However, I was willing to give it a try. But before I would ever step into the ring with someone or put on boxing gloves, I figured I had to attempt the training regimen that Rocky outlined in the film.

So, as a test, early one morning at 5 a.m. I dragged myself out of bed to go running. But before my run, I had to emulate Rocky by downing a concoction of raw eggs.

I cracked two eggs in a glass and then added a little orange juice for flavor. I then took a quick sniff before finally tipping the mixture into my mouth and down my throat.

I’ll admit that I got it down, but not without a fight. It wasn’t pleasant or tasty. It was also the last time I ever drank eggs. I did go for a run afterwards, but it was only once around the block.

After that ill-fated attempt at training, I officially turned my interests back to team sports. It was hard giving up the opportunity to be a Rocky, but the movie’s influence on me has never waned.

Since the release of the original “Rocky” movie and the ensuing franchise, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Sylvester Stallone. When the big man comes out with a new film, nostalgia kicks in and I generally go see it.

Unfortunately, Stallone’s new feature, “Samaritan,” while aimed at a younger audience more attuned to superhero films, fails to capture any of the magic that popularized the “Rocky” films.

Check this one out if you simply have to experience another larger-than-life character in the ever-expanding superhero genre. This one has its moments, but not enough to be considered a champion.

A bruised “C” for “Samaritan, now available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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