Release Date: February 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: Nancy Dowd
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean, Jennifer Warren
Pan Arts, Kings Road Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes
It’s almost the 40th anniversary of Slap Shot, so why not revisit it?
Slap Shot is what I consider to be the greatest hockey film of all-time. No, it is not a Disney family movie and it is crude, violent and often times profane. However it is also lovable, approachable and pretty much timeless. It also embodies the spirit of manliness and old school small town hockey unlike any other film. Albeit the more modern Goon has become a pretty close second.
This film has two great things going for it. First, it has Paul Newman in the lead role as an aging hockey player/coach that loves his team and his teammates as much as he loves the sport that pays his bills. Second, it has the violent iconic trio known as the Hanson Brothers, who are willing to take out any obstacle and pummel any opponent that gets in their way. The other characters are also equally awesome in their own ways and to be honest, this is the most entertaining sports team ever assembled on film.
The movie follows the Charlestown Chiefs, as they watch their town crumble after the closing of the local factory and the news that they are being sold and disbanded following the season. It is also a fight against the system and a fight for the sake of fighting in a world becoming neutered by political correctness. Additionally, it brings a bit of 70s era commentary on the aftermath of the free love movement and societal fears of homosexuality. It is a much more politically and socially conscious film than what it appears to be on the surface.
Slap Shot is also unique in the fact that this testosterone-fueled cinematic romp was written by a woman, Nancy Dowd. While that may seem odd, especially for the time, she did a more than spectacular job of capturing the essence of hockey and the thought process of manly men in a world changing around them. Dowd went on the be a writer for Saturday Night Live during its heyday. She also wrote several screenplays throughout the 70s and 80s – most notably Coming Home. She was also an uncredited contributor to the scripts of North Dallas Forty, Ordinary People and Cloak & Dagger.
The director of the film was George Roy Hill who won multiple Oscars throughout his career. His best-known pictures were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Great Waldo Pepper, A Little Romance and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He also did the critically-panned Chevy Chase film Funny Farm. Not really being nominated for anything for his work on Slap Shot, I feel like Hill got snubbed. While it wasn’t necessarily a “picture of the year” sort of movie, it has gone on to become much larger than a run of the mill cult classic.
Slap Shot is a glorious film representing a bygone era for the sport it is based on, as well as the culture of that time. Its message still rings true today and if anything, the underlying political and social current of the film still feels authentic and honest. Often times, comedy can make a point and hit a mark much more effectively than a dramatization. And despite all of that, it is still a thoroughly entertaining movie and a classic sports comedy unlike any other. Slap Shot is a unique gem of a film.