Thursday, December 8, 2011

Slap Shot

Ah the 70's. It was a time of disco, checkered pants, and tight polyester. Thank god I wasn't alive to see it.

Slap Shot (George Roy Hill, 1977) is a quintessential comedy about a minor league hockey team that resorts to violence and brutality to gain fans. The film makes a point to express the styles of the day, including leisure suits worn by Paul Newman and a soundtrack centered around Maxine Nightingale's seminal "Right Back Where We Started From". Part of what makes the film so hilarious today is seeing such outlandish clothing being accepted as normal. I can't begin to count the number of times I grimaced when seeing Newman's fur trench coat.

In a sense, that's what this film is all about though. It is a stylistic satire on the game of hockey and perhaps that rubbed off on Hill's depiction of the modern era. The goon style of hockey played throughout the film is reminiscent of the "Broad Street Bullies" in Philadelphia at the time. Looking back, Slap Shot illustrates a simpler time in terms of hockey, to incredibly humorous results.

The comic antics of the Hanson brothers (Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, and David Hanson) perpetuate the hooligan-like archetype of hockey in it's heyday. Watching them slyly trip goalies and referees gives a whole new meaning to the term slapstick comedy. However, what puts this film over the top in terms of comedy films is the performance of Paul Newman. At the time, the fifty-two year old Newman plays the role of the aged hockey player to a T. He delivers all of his lines with the timing of someone who had been making comedies their entire life. And of course, it would be funny no matter what to hear Cool Hand Luke say "dyke" and "pussy" on a regular basis.

But what Newman does the best in this film is create a sense of attachment between the audience and the film. He's the reason we fall in love with the Chiefs. He's the reason we have any sort of emotional connection to the romantic story lines throughout the film. Watching King Cool act as a coach, player, and lover, all with a surprising comedic excellence, is truly a special occasion. Even if he is wearing a turtleneck most of the time.


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