With all that Irish talent on display at the Oscars last week, it was easy to miss a deep Irish connection to another new Hollywood hit – Creed III.
No, star and director Michael B. Jordan is not a distant cousin of any Irish filmmakers Or if he is, that’s not the point here.
I’m talking about the story at the center of a 50-year-old franchise that began with Sly Stallone and his Rocky back in the mid-1970s.
All these years later, in Creed III, Jordan again stars as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, son of Apollo Creed, a one-time enemy of Rocky Balboa’s who later became Rocky’s pal.
In Creed III, we learn about young Creed’s hard youth.
“The Adonis Creed that we meet…isn’t yet the Creed that we know, a headstrong champion laboring in his father’s shadow,” noted Rolling Stone magazine.
“Here, he’s just 15 years old. He’s a sidekick to an older teen named Damian – ‘Diamond Dame,’ they call him – who’s well on his way to becoming boxing’s next big thing.”
It’s no spoiler to note that things don’t go as planned.
“There’s an incident involving a gun and an assault and, eventually, the police. There’s an arrest. The details are complicated, but the result is neat. Two young black men, two separate fates, and a pair of paths that are hell-bound to collide when they meet again.”
In other words, Adonis goes on to fame and fortune, while Diamond Dame goes to prison.
“Creed III is about what happens when the adult Creed, a man on top of the world, is forced to answer for another young man’s sacrifice…many years later,” as Rolling Stone put it, underneath a headline calling the film a “Muscular, Punishing Statement on Race in America.”
But it’s also a reboot of a classic Irish American flick starring Pat O’Brien and Jimmy Cagney.
Angels With Dirty Faces, from 1938, is also about two pals from the tough part of town who get into a jam as kids.
One of them goes to prison. The other goes on to a far more respectable life.
It’s no spoiler to note that the two Irish toughs meet again as adults.
Angels With Dirty Faces is not a boxing movie. But one of the characters is named Rocky.
As luck would have it, the Toronto International Film Festival is next month planning several screenings of the Cagney-O’Brien film on the occasion of its 85th anniversary.
“Angels With Dirty Faces is often considered the archetypal Hollywood gangster film of the 1930s,” a festival press release notes.
The two Irish toughs in the movie are Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) and Jerry Connelly (O’Brien). Both are nabbed by the cops as kids, but only Sullivan is locked up.
“Rocky is sent to a juvenile prison, where he quickly takes to the criminal life, gaining notoriety as a mobster. In contrast, Jerry goes on to become a priest and tries fervently to prevent a group of miscreant youth from falling under Rocky's influence and following in his footsteps, putting him at loggerheads with his childhood friend,” says the Toronto fest synopsis.
The point here is not that the Irish American experience of the 1930s is exactly the same as the African American experience in Donnie Creed’s and Diamond Dame’s day.
But a lot of folks these days, all across the media landscape, are a bit too fascinated by just how different we all are. As if nothing that is going on in the world right now could have any kind of precedent at all in any way, shape or form.
Some of the folks who think like this are bigots, who think the good old days should never have come to an end.
But others who think like this have good intentions and want to call out unfairness and injustice, as they see it.
It’s just that they think they are the first people in human history to ever notice that sometimes things are unjust and unfair.
But the truth is, Rocky Sullivan could have taught Donnie Creed a thing or two, just as Rocky Balboa did.
And Donnie Creed could surely teach both of the Irish toughs a lot as well.