In its superb telling of how a humble but idealistic young man escalates to the corrupt heights of unbridled power, F.I.S.T. is to the labor movement in the United States what All the King’s Men was to an era in American politics.
The first hour of the film presents the milieu of unorganized labor circa 1937, a time when the phrase ‘property rights’ was as persistent (and often as shrill) a harangue as ‘human rights’ later became. Sylvester Stallone and lifelong friend David Huffman are among the workers in Henry Wilcoxon’s trucking company. They drift into organizing drivers for local union rep Richard Herd, whose assassination during a brawl triggered by management goons drives Stallone into league with Kevin Conway, a local hood.
The next act depicts the militant labor response of Stallone and Conway, highlighted by a well-staged riot, after which the tentacles of mobsterism – Tony Lo Bianco personifying them well – parallel the growth and power of the truckers’ union.
Action then cuts to the late 1950s, when Stallone pushes international union leader Peter Boyle out of office by some private blackmail, only to run head-on into Rod Steiger, crusading US senator.