PARADISE ALLEY - Aspen Hill, Marlow 2, Roth's Plaza, Roth's Silver Spring West, Tysons 1, and Springfield Mall 2.
Nobody told Sylvester Stallone that you can't wear long hair and a gold earring when playing a Hell's kitchen ruffian in a movie set in the 1940s.
Possibly one reason for the omission is that Stallone is the writer and director of "Paradise Alley," as well as its star. All that was done to account for this silly anachronism, which the star may have thought spiffier than the style of the time, is that the writer had to supply dozens of lines explaining its being a "trademark" - and the director let them both get away with it.
What makes the haircut and jewelry problem serious is that the chief thing "Paradise Alley" has going for it is atmosphere. Stallone, Armand Assante and Lee Canalito play three destitute brothers - representating Spirit, Brains and Brawn - looking to work their way up and out. After trying various schemes, including a non-dancing monkey, they groom the strong brother to be pummeled up in wrestling contests run by a sleazy bar called "Paradise Alley."
A lot of this is done by drawing on the movie images of the 1940s, as if no straight form of history were available. There's a third-rate James. Cagney hanging around with some standard assorted thugs, a cutrate dime-a-dance girl, and a lot of nicknames from Damon Runyon's discard file.
Nevertheless, a fresher version of this atmosphere succeeds in coming though. There is a strong assumption thtat poverty is a temporary measures that can be changed through work, luck or cleverness. The muscular brother is just as convinced that his steady work as an iceman will lead to a better life - he dreams of buying a houseboat for the Chinese-American girl who is teaching him vocabulary - as he is, later, that wrestling will do it. The smart brother is embittered by having been crippled in the war, but rallies when a practical scheme presents itself. And the spirited brother, played by Stallone, never loses his faith.
This, with the physical attributes of the actors, makes them extraordinarily attractive characters. They are blessedly not trying to change the world, but to participates in it; they are not trying to be superheroes, but men. If there is a touch of wishful romance, it's in the respectful way they treat the women who are no better then they are, such as the dance-hall girl. (The Chinese-American, who stands for education and idealism, is seen as being infinitely better than they are.)
An interesting use of tight has a great deal to do with the success of the mood. Various kinds of artificial light send energy into Hell's Kitchen, where the pallid sunlight is too weak to compete.
But the darkness is no excuse for having those old film shadows and new pop styles running around. It's a shame to waste that good aura.