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  Slap Shot What The Puck?
Year: 1977
Director: George Roy Hill
Stars: Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Jennifer Warren, Lindsay Crouse, Jerry Houser, Andrew Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, David Hanson, Yvon Barrette, Allan F. Nicholls, Brad Sullivan, Melinda Dillon, M. Emmet Walsh, Swoosie Kurtz
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Charlestown Chiefs are a Minor League ice hockey team, and things could be going better for them, to tell the truth. This might well be their last season, as they struggle during games and the demoralisation hits them hard. The player coach, Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) suspects the team are going to be sold, or worse, disbanded, a view that is bolstered when the manager Joe McGrath (Strother Martin) begins acting out of character. To make things worse, he has bought three new players, the bespectacled Hanson Brothers (Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and David Hanson) who don't exactly fill Reggie with confidence. Is there any hope for the Chiefs?

Well, there could be if they change their tactics, which of course is what they do. At the time it was released Slap Shot registered surprise in those who saw its screenwriting credit: a woman, Nancy Dowd, but as she had a brother who was a hockey player perhaps it wasn't so much of a shock that she knew the ins and outs of the game, although the strong language was decidedly unladylike. However, that dialogue is one of the film's greatest assets which the cast tackle with relish, with swear words and sexual references littering the soundtrack.

A woman's perspective is also a welcome one, because Dowd seems to see the men in the film as lost little boys, not in a patronising way but rather in a sympathetic manner. The town they live in is suffering from the closure of its main source of industry, and this has a knock on effect to the hockey games, with attendance dropping drastically due to fewer being able to afford the ticket prices. Things are bad all over, and the gloomy, chilly locations are not what you'd expect from a comedy, but from adversity springs humour when Reggie hits upon an idea.

Reggie is separated from his wife, but still loves her and though he sleeps around he wishes they were still together, just another example of the challenge to the men's masculinity. So what do you do when your masculinity is challenged? Stand up and fight, of course, which the Chiefs do on the ice when a confession from one of Reggie's one night stands persuades him to insult the opposing team's goalie. He flies into a rage, beats up Reggie and allows a goal in, which helps the Chiefs win for a change. From then on it's extreme violence all the way, as they realise that what the crowd wants to see is not a game played well, but as much brawling as possible.

It's refreshing that the filmmakers make no apology for the punch-ups, accepting that such all out aggression would indeed make for higher attendances. But Dowd doesn't let the crowd have it all their own way, as one player, Ned (Michael Ontkean) refuses to get involved, calling the fouls "garbage". Ned is having a difficult time with his alcoholic wife, Lily (Lindsay Crouse) and Reggie doesn't want to see their marriage go the same way his has, but how can help Ned when he won't go along with his morale-boosting efforts? Newman is charm personified, but the large ensemble cast are generously supplied with funny lines, and the over the top slapstick of the battles is hilarious at times, although the more serious themes can overshadow the humour. Nevertheless, Slap Shot is still surely the best ice hockey film of all time.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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George Roy Hill  (1921 - 2002)

American director, more at home with character than story, with a wide range of subjects under his belt. He started in television and theatre, and his first films were stage adaptations, but with The World of Henry Orient he appeared to find his voice in film. Other nineteen-sixties work included the epic Hawaii and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, but he enjoyed a monster hit with light hearted western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It's this mixture of the serious and resigned humour that saw Hill make his best work in the seventies: Vonnegut adaptation Slaughterhouse-Five, Oscar winning caper The Sting (reuniting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford), flop aviation drama The Great Waldo Pepper, crude comedy Slap Shot and uncharacteristically sweet A Little Romance. Irving adaptation The World According to Garp was his best work of the eighties, with only confused thriller The Little Drummer Girl and comedy Funny Farm to end his career, whereupon he retired to teach drama.

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