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F.I.S.T. (1978)

In between Rocky's punches and Rambo's carnage, Sylvester Stallone attempted a serious drama about a fist. Actually, F.I.S.T., to be more precise - an acronym for Federated Inter-State Truckers. Released in 1978, this often-overlooked film stars the action hero as the rising leader in a Cleveland truckers' union organization during the Depression. Alternating between political marches and courtroom confrontations, the film, nevertheless, has its share of action sequences ranging from mob violence to full-scale riots to bloody confrontations between the police and the strikers. F.I.S.T. is also imbued with a post-Watergate paranoia while advocating a return to populism.

Despite the film's low profile during its initial run, F.I.S.T. boasts considerable wealth in cast and crew talent. Stallone, who achieved superstar success with Rocky (1976) two years earlier - a film he not only starred in but wrote as well - would soon reinvent himself as another action icon by playing John Rambo in First Blood in 1982.

Stallone contributed to the screenplay for F.I.S.T., sharing a co-writing credit with Joe Eszterhas. No stranger to controversy, Eszterhas has penned such infamous screenplays as Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995). Bill Conti composed the film's score, while legendary cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs lensed the picture. Conti, known for the musical direction of several Oscar ceremonies, also scored an Oscar himself in 1984 in the Best Music category for The Right Stuff (1983). In another Stallone connection, he also had a number one hit with the song "Gonna Fly Now", the theme from Rocky. Kovacs' credits include such classics as Easy Rider (1969), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Five Easy Pieces (1970). Norman Jewison took the reins as director, adding another eclectic credit to his repertoire. Perhaps best known as the director of In the Heat of the Night (1967), winner of the 1968 Best Picture Oscar, Jewison's filmography also includes works like the original The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Moonstruck (1987), and the recent Denzel Washington vehicle, The Hurricane (1999). F.I.S.T., however, remains one of the director's lesser known movies; in an interview about it he remarked, "Somehow I failed. Maybe it was the casting."

Jewison might have been referring to Stallone but "the Italian Stallion" was in some pretty good company this time, anchored by veteran actor Rod Steiger. F.I.S.T. also marked the second time Jewison directed the Method actor - the first being In the Heat of the Night (a performance for which Steiger earned an Oscar), and again in The Hurricane. Steiger is also known for his powerhouse performance alongside Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), and perhaps more infamously for turning down the title role in Patton (1970), a decision he called his "dumbest career move." His F.I.S.T. co-star Peter Boyle could relate: the actor who played the tap-dancing monster in Young Frankenstein (1974) once refused the role of Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (1971). Boyle has found more recent success with the television series Everybody Loves Raymond, on which he plays the cantankerous and callous father. Brian Dennehy, known for his gruff and burly screen presence in films like Semi-Tough (1978) and Silverado (1985), rounds out the tough-guy supporting cast. Most recently the actor had a victory on Broadway with the lead role in Death of a Salesman. Melinda Dillon appears in one of the few female roles in F.I.S.T. A versatile character actress, she is best remembered for her roles as the mother in both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and A Christmas Story (1983). Fans of the music band Red Hot Chili Peppers should have a lookout for Cole Dammett, a.k.a. Anthony Kiedis, the group's lead singer--he has a bit part in the film.

Producer: Gene Corman, Norman Jewison, Patrick Palmer
Director: Norman Jewison
Screenplay: Joe Eszterhas, Sylvester Stallone
Production Design: Richard MacDonald
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Costume Design: Thalia Phillips, Tony Scarano, Anthea Sylbert
Film Editing: Tony Biggs, Graeme Clifford, Antony Gibbs
Original Music: Bill Conti
Principal Cast: Sylvester Stallone (Johnny Kovak), Rod Steiger (Sen. Andrew Madison), Peter Boyle (Max Graham), Melinda Dillon (Anna Zerinkas), David Huffman (Abe Belkin), Kevin Conway (Vince Doyle), Tony Lo Bianco (Babe Milano), Cassie Yates (Molly Story), Peter Donat (Arthur St. Claire).
C-146m. Letterboxed.

by Eleanor Quin

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