Reappreciation Society: Slap Shot

Sports films are usually about challenges and overcoming them. Beating the odds, jumping the hurdles, sinking the putt, dunking the ball or scoring the touchdown. These films usually centre around a hero, or a sporting great or someone seeking redemption. What was different about Slap Shot however, is that it centres around a pathological liar, a cheat and a borderline alcoholic.

1977’s Slap Shot is the story of a run down town called Charlestown, with a run down ice hockey team called the Charlestown Chiefs who play in the run down Federal League. The run down town depends on the run down mill for jobs. Sadly, the run down mill is to close. Consequently, the hockey team is due to be folded at season’s end. Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), the veteran player-coach, has no intention of quitting and cooks up a story that the team is being sold to a prospective buyer in Florida, who would move the team out of bleak Charlestown to sunny climes. This motivates the team to carry on. He is also landed with a trio of psychotic triplets (the Hanson brothers) who seem more interested in fighting than playing hockey. Dunlop begins to realise that the more violent and dirty the team plays, the better the attendances. So he begins to trade on just that. The hockey goes out of the window and The Charlestown Chiefs become the hot ticket in the hockey world, but only for their fighting. However, some of the players start to miss actually playing hockey and Dunlop has to keep the lie going or find a way to keep the team in existence.

What makes this film so unique is the performance by Paul Newman. He was always effortlessly watchable in films such as Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy, but in Slap Shot, he has an almost electrifying presence. In the rare scenes he isn’t on screen, you miss him so much. Also, for Newman this is an unusual performance as he is called upon to swear so much. He later said that before Slap Shot, he swore very little, “There’s a hangover from characters sometimes. There are things that stick. Since Slap Shot, my language is right out of the locker room!”

Newman also stated that the most fun he ever had making a movie was on Slap Shot, as he had played the sport while young and was fascinated by the real players around him. He also said that playing Reggie Dunlop was one of his favourite roles. You can tell, he is constantly smiling or looking smug throughout this film, as well you would if you had landed such a plum role, even if he is playing a manipulating, lying cheat. He has some amazing scenes and some really great dialogue.

The script is also very well written and genuinely funny in a laugh out loud way. It is eccentric, quirky and most definitely a one off. However, there is also a sad side to the film. There is a real sense of the sword of Damocles hanging over the town, team and all the people in it.

It is a classic film in the way of most classic films, by which I mean you can revisit it numerous times and drop in at any scene and enjoy it like it was the first time. It is also a perfect tonic to the usual saccharine sweet sports “rites of passage” movie and has a very real sense of anarchy, so it is what can be genuinely called an anarchic comedy.

It is also worth noting that the recent Will Ferrell comedy Semi-Pro is almost a remake of Slap Shot, just nowhere near as funny or anarchic.

The film was reasonably well received when it came out, but has since gathered pace as a cult classic guy movie. In 1998, Maxim magazine named Slap Shot the “Best Guy Movie of All Time” above such acknowledged classics as The Godfather, Raging Bull, and Newman’s own Cool Hand Luke (which received a backhanded tribute when Newman’s character, while the Hansons were being bailed out of jail, stated to the booking officer that “most folk heroes started out as criminals”). Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #31 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films”.

Seek it out

Originally posted 2013-08-23 20:53:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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