Slap Shot

Year 1977

Paul Newman as  Reggie Dunlop
Strother Martin as Joe McGrath
Michael Ontkean   as Ned Braden
Jennifer Warren as Francine Dunlop  
Lindsay Crouse as Lily Braden
Jerry Houser as  "Killer" Carson
Andrew Duncan as Jim Carr
Jeff Carlson as Jeff Hanson
Steve Carlson as Steve Hanson
David Hanson as Jack Hanson
Director - George Roy Hill  
Screenwriter - Nancy Dowd

Every sport has its defining movie. Baseball has Long Gone (Or something. I'm not a big baseball fan.), golf has Caddy Shack, football comes closest with the original Longest Yard, and hockey has Slap Shot.

You may be asking yourself, "Hockey? Why would anyone want to watch a movie about hockey?"

Well, hockey at the time of this movie used to be a "pure" sport. That was before every millionaire in the game took a year off because they wanted more money (to the detriment of the non-millionaires, the fans, and the sport as a whole). It was sixty minutes of skating. The rules were simple then and the athletes appeared to enjoy their sport. But I digress... This movie depicts the events of one season as seen through the eyes of a minor league team during the sport's halcyon days.

If you look at the movies that I've listed that have managed to capture the sport they depict, they share two items:

  1. They depict non-professional players.
  2. They are comedies.

Slap Shot fits into those categories.

"What about Paul Newman as a rough and tumble hockey player?" There are four phases in the career of Paul Newman that I can tell. The first was as a pretty, mealy mouthed love interest. Boring stuff. The second was as the aloof bad boy. Still boring, but the women liked it. The third phase is my favorite. This is the confident, wise cracking, everyman hero. The fourth phase, his last, was the confident, self-assured, aloof, superior guy. This last phase has its moments, but I still prefer the third phase best.

So, "What about Paul Newman as a rough and tumble hockey player?" In the movie, he's a manager/player so he pulls it off. Even his skinny, pale legs don't detract from the illusion too much.

A minor league hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, is into its last season in Charlestown because the mill is closing. The manager/player Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) has a plan, though. If he can make the team interesting enough, maybe someone in another city will buy the team. So, Reggie uses every trick he can think of to keep people talking about the Chiefs.

The ruses are hilarious. From offering a bounty on an opposing player to using the Hanson brothers as a Goon Squad to keep things lively, Reggie leaves no publicity generating stone unturned.

And through it all, the characters are just guys. Since they are men, most of them think about nothing but sex. That is except for the arrested development Hansons who think about slot car racing and comic books.

The supporting female characters have a bit more depth than the guys. Oh, there's the pair of beautiful blond twins which is pretty much of a steroetype/male fantasy. But, there's also the ex-wife who's a success since she left her hockey playing husband and who still likes the guy, maybe even loves him, but knows they aren't meant for each other. There's the newlywed wife who's had it with hockey before the season is even over. Then there're the wives who've just given up on the idea of something better and nearly dislike themselves for living the life they've chosen.

But mostly, it's about hockey. The skating is real, even if the actors are sometimes doubled by stunt men. The hockey loving attitude of the players, the fickle nature of the fans, and the mercenary approach of the team owner all ring true.

Now I'm not saying that all minor league hockey teams have such a diverse cast of characters, but nothing in Slap Shot seems too outrageous or forced to be considered out of place. If the DVD commentary is to be believed (and why shouldn't it be?) then the events in the film are based on actual incidents. No wonder it seems over the top but still believable.

Lots of credit goes to Nancy Dowd for culling these stories and arranging them in such an entertaining manner.

Quotes? Let's see if I can remember some that don't include the dreaded ef.

Announcer (Paul Dooley): The fans are standing up to them! The security guards are standing up to them! The peanut vendors are standing up to them! And by golly, if I could get down there, I'd be standing up to them!
Hyannisport broadcaster: Look at that. You can't see that, I'm on radio.

The Hansons, one shared mind and three mouths, are getting ready for a game.
Reggie Dunlop:
What are you guys doing?
Jeff Hanson: Puttin' on the foil!
Steve Hanson: Every game!
Jack Hanson : Yeah. You want some?

It's the last game of the season, and the opposing team has brought in every ringer they could find including...
Jim Carr:
Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him, well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. Number six, Ogie Ogilthorpe.

Incidentally, the actor who played Ogie Ogilthorpe was Ned Dowd, the screenwriter's brother.

Then there are the silly things in the movie like deliberately targetting the organ player with a puck to the head at a game because no one can bear to listen to him play "Lady of Spain" a single time more.

Is this movie offensive? Yes - to gays, Canadians, Americans, the English, as well as fans, owners, and organ players. Is it funny? Yes, it's often laugh out loud hysterical. Is it profane? Yes, most conversations make a typical DeNiro/Pesci scene sound downright tame. Is it worth watching with the commentary on? Yes because the stories told by the ex-hockey player commentators, the guys who starred as the Hansons, are sometimes funnier than their depictions.

So what're the downsides?

It's really a reverant look at hockey from the eyes of someone who wants you see it as it is, warts and all. If you keep in mind the fact that this male sport has been exuberantly and, from what I've read and heard, accurately captured by a women, well, that's just some wonderful icing on the cake.

Back to the "More Than Once" list or the main movie list.