By MICHAEL deCOURCY HINDS, Special to The New York Times
Sylvester Stallone is to Philadelphia what Woody Allen is to Manhattan, though that comparison is not quite right because this city has so few other nationally known celebrities except Julius (Dr. J) Erving, the retired star of the Philadephia 76ers basketball team.
So when Mr. Stallone, a Philadelphia native, began filming ”Rocky V” here last week, he roused the city from its January white sales.
Instead of playing to the crowd, Mr. Stallone was more concerned with crowd control at his sets, and he has been secretive about the film’s plot and locations.
John G. Avildsen (”Save the Tiger,” ”The Karate Kids”), who directed the original ”Rocky” and is now directing the fifth movie about the indomitable prizefighter Rocky Balboa, dismissed the complaints of those who think Mr. Stallone is being stingy with information. ”That’s what you’ve got to pay $7 for,” the director said in an interview at his hotel, where he was relaxing after viewing the rushes from the first day’s shooting in South Philadelphia.
As is his custom, Mr. Stallone wrote the script for ”Rocky V” and is its star, but he brought Mr. Avildsen back to recapture the intimacy of the first film. Mr. Stallone directed the first three sequels. Mr. Avildsen won an Academy Award for directing ”Rocky,” which also won the award for best film of 1976.
The Rocky films, like Mr. Stallone’s Rambo movies, have been highly successful and have grossed an average of $111 million each, Box Office magazine reports. The original ”Rocky” cost $1 million to make; ”Rocky V” will cost more than $30 million.
Talia Shire returns to play Adrian, Rocky’s dowdy, adoring wife, and Burt Young is back to play his mooching brother-in-law, Paulie. New to the series are Tommy Morrison, the great-grandnephew of John Wayne, who plays Tommy Gunn, a 20-year-old heavyweight contender who becomes Rocky Balboa’s protege. Sage Stallone, Mr. Stallone’s 12-year-old son, plays Rocky’s son. The film, an M-G-M-United Artists production, is scheduled for release in November.
Details of the plot are sketchy.
”Sly is rewriting it as we speak,” said David Fulton, a publicity agent for the film. The basic idea is that Rocky is back in Philadelphia after whipping Ivan Drago, the Soviet killing machine in ”Rocky IV,” and is broke, down on his luck and an underdog again. His accountants apparently are to blame this time. Rocky hangs up his gloves, tries to do some honest work, is laid off and becomes a boxing trainer. He discovers Tommy Gunn, who reminds him of his own self-indulgent youth, and determines to make him a champion against all odds.
Eventually, they race up the 72 steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and finish in front of an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of Rocky with his arms held up in triumph.
The Statue, as it is known here, has been a sore point between Mr. Stallone and the city. He commissioned the sculpture, by A. Thomas Schomberg of Denver for ”Rocky III” in 1982 and then gave it to the city, expecting it to grace the museum’s plaza forever. But the Statue has been relegated to the entrance of the Spectrum, a sports arena, and it is taken to the museum when needed for the film.
”Rocky V” will contain many echoes of the original, said Steven Poster, director of photography.
Most of the film will be shot in South Philadelphia, a warren of narrow streets and home of the outdoor Italian market where Rocky may, once again, use cow carcasses as punching bags.
‘That’s My Boy!’
A recent spell of fair weather caused cinematographic problems, including growing crowds of onlookers, Mr. Poster said. About 150 people gathered behind police barricades the other day and did just about everything to get the attention of Mr. Stallone, dressed in leather, who was playing a street scene with his son, who had been beaten up by some bullies.
”That’s my boy! Rocky! He’s from South Philly,” screamed Jose LaTorre, a 19-year-old fan who said he was an auto body and fender mechanic in the neighborhood.
As a woman in a pink sweat suit tried to slip past the police for a better look at the action, Perry Patron, a nurse’s aide, turned her binoculars on Mr. Stallone. Mark Voci, a hairdresser, complained: ”Rocky should have exposed himself more to the people and his fans. This is maybe once in a lifetime, to see a person of his fame.”
Symbol of Urban Pride
There was also talk of Rocky in Philadelphia’s halls of academe. ”Rocky’s had a big impact on the city,” said Dr. Sandra Featherman, a specialist in urban and ethnic politics at Temple University. ”No film, including documentaries I’ve seen, has captured the neighborhoods or depicted the city as well as the first ‘Rocky’ did. Most Philadelphians felt a thrill of pride when they saw Rocky run up the steps of the art museum and look out across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.”
”Rocky” lifted the city’s morale, Dr. Featherman said. ” ‘Rocky’ made people realize there was more to the city than W. C. Fields jokes,” she said.
Rocky may make the city proud for years to come. Barry Lorrie, the executive vice president for marketing at M-G-M/United Artists in Hollywood, would not speculate on future sequels, but he noted that the studio is to start shooting the 17th James Bond movie this fall. MGM/UAd(M-G-M, United Artists)