You might remember Frank Stallone from the minute or so he spent onscreen in his brother Sylvester’s 1976 Oscar-winning “Rocky.” During the opening titles, Frank was the guy in the baseball jacket leading the street corner doo-wop group sharing a bottle of wine around a garbage can fire while singing, “Take you back, do do do do, take you back…” There’s also a moment when Rocky is walking with Adrian at night and he crosses paths with Frank (who is identified in the credits as one of the “Streetcorner Singers”) and Rocky chides him:
“Hey, the bum from the docks. Get a job, you bum!”
After that encounter on the street, Sylvester/Rocky went in one direction, toward global success and fame and fortune, while Frank headed the other way, continuing down a 50-year path with the occasional pit stop in the spotlight separated by years if not decades of toiling in relative showbiz obscurity.
The bittersweet documentary “Stallone: Frank, That Is” strives valiantly and in some cases almost desperately to make the case the 70-year-old Stallone had the musical chops and the raw acting talent to become a major star like his big brother, but never quite got that shot at the heavyweight title due to bad timing, bad luck, bad management, bad karma and bad breaks. Given Frank Stallone is listed as a producer on the film, it’s little surprise the 73-minute documentary often comes across as a hagiography/infomercial, as an eclectic bunch of celebs including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Dee Williams, Geraldo Rivera, Talia Shire, Frankie Avalon, Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, John Oates, Billy Zane and Sylvester Stallone praise Frank’s musical and acting talents. (Sidebar: Although Frank’s filmography consists mostly of B-movie junk such as “Terror in Beverly Hills” and “Lethal Cowboy,” he did turn in memorably strong supporting work in quality films such as “Tombstone” and “Barfly.”)
Meanwhile, Frank complains about the “Hollywood bull----” that robbed him of an Oscar nomination for his song “Far From Over” and complains about talk show hosts who always wanted to ask questions about Sylvester, and music venues that promoted his shows by advertising an appearance by “Rocky’s Brother.”
All valid and true, but as the documentary points out, Frank was barely eking out a living as a musician for the better part of a decade before Sly cast him in “Rocky” and put “Take You Back” on the movie’s bestselling soundtrack, and when Sly was directing the sequel to “Saturday Night Fever,” he put NINE of Frank’s songs on the soundtrack, including “Far From Over,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. So even as Frank often comes across as Fredo in “The Godfather,” wailing that he’s “smart, not like everybody says, like dumb” (in a self-effacing moment, Frank even quotes that line), the truth is, the major highlights of Frank’s career were made possible in large part because he’s Frank Stallone, not Frank Somebody Else.
Not that Frank is without talent or without charm. He’s still out there performing, and he’s got a hell of a voice, and he sure has a way with a story. Director Derek Wayne Johnson is clearly a fan of Frank, and of “Rocky”; his prior films include the documentary short “40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of the Classic” and a full-length documentary about “Rocky” director John G. Avildsen.
Johnson is a talented filmmaker, but it’s probably time to move on from the “Rocky” oeuvre. I love “Rocky” too, but I’ll be OK if we don’t get documentaries on the guys that played the club fighter Spider Rico or Miles Jergens the promoter.