Well, I guess it’s time to catch up on all those Paul Newman movies I still haven’t seen. Slap Shot is one that my dad and little brother talk about all the time, quoting it to me and aghast when I remind them I haven’t seen it. So I finally saw it. And it was good, but I’m not about to reach their obsessive quoting status.
Slap Shot chronicles the descent of an unskilled, on-the-brink-of-termination minor league hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, into complete barbarity in order to secure enough interest and wins to be sold for profit to a different owner. The coach and oldest player, Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), does his best to encourage violent games, incorporating the Hanson Brothers, newcomers with brutal methods, into the lineup. He also hunts down the elusive owner of the team, beseeching her to sell the them instead of completely disbanding them. The movie follows them through many games, but focuses more on the the players off the ice, especially Dunlop’s fragile relationship with his ex-wife and growing attraction to/sympathy for teammate Ned Braden’s (Michael Ontkean) wife Lily (Lindsay Crouse). Braden himself has a lot of problems with the way Dunlop has been playing the game, while simultaneously trying to smooth things over with Lily. Everything sort of works out, in true dramedy fashion.
This is a pretty good movie, but I guess I thought it would be more of a straight comedy. It was funny but not uproarious, and parts of it were a bit sad or hopeless. If I had gone into it with different expectations I might have liked it better. Or it might be one of those movies that grows on you after repeated viewings. Also I’m not that into sports. Anyway Paul Newman’s there so there’s really not much more to know about it! And it’s kind of cool that it’s mostly based on (or inspired by) a true story. The writer, Nancy Dowd, had a brother on a team called the Johnstown Jets who played the game pretty rough. The Hanson brothers are based on the real Carlson Brothers and are played by two of the Carlson brothers themselves plus one other guy from the real team (the third brother couldn’t make it). Most of the other characters are based on real people too.
I was surprised and excited when I saw the movie was written by a woman. Because it’s so male character-centered and has the kind of humor that caters to my dad and brother, and a sports movie from the 70s, I guess I just wouldn’t have expected it. Pretty cool though. She’s penned or helped pen several other movies from the 70s and 80s (sometimes under male pseudonym Rob/Ernest Morton), written for a season of SNL, and won a screenwriting Oscar for Coming Home. What a cool lady! I can’t find what she’s up to now, if anything. Anyone have any information on Nancy Dowd? Or movies to recommend? I just added Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains to my Netflix queue, and I’ve already seen Ordinary People.
Here is a short article she wrote about Slap Shot and its origins.