Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Slap Shot.”
The Movie: “Slap Shot”
Starring: Paul Newman, Michael Ontkean, Strother Martin
Director: George Roy Hill
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A failing ice hockey team finds success with outrageously violent hockey goonery.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85 percent
Brown: So last week, we at the JOE-DOWN reviewed “F9: The Fast Saga.” And in my excitement after watching that utterly pointless adrenaline rush, I pretty much spoiled the entire thing for Froemming in a frantic phone call.
A couple weeks later, I still think Froemming wants blood.
So, what better way to open our annual Sports Month than with “Slap Shot,” a ‘70s sports movie gem that probably set hockey back quite a few years before they did away with the goons of old this century.
It’s a movie ripe with ‘70s tropes: gratuitous frontal female nudity, gay slurs and a soundtrack with not one, but TWO Fleetwood Mac songs.
Now, I love this movie. It’s on record as my favorite sports movie. But it’s… problematic. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore and that’s probably a good thing.
Froemming, get us your first take while I put on the foil.
Froemming: *Brown interrupts me while I am listening to Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From”*
It has been a long time since I saw this. Probably five or six years. I remember enjoying it for the fashion, the way I wish modern hockey players played like the Hanson Brothers and the fact Sheriff Harry S. Truman from “Twin Peaks” is in this.
What I did not remember was how this film used gay slurs as often as the cast of “Goodfellas” used the F-bomb.
And as our readers have figured from more than five years of Sports Month, I know nothing about sports, so I assume this movie and the time Happy Gilmore took off his skate and tried to stab a guy is how hockey is played.
Brown, as I look on Amazon to see if I can get a replica of Paul Newman’s fur coat in this, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: First off, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this movie was directed by fellow Minnesotan George Roy Hill, who directed “The Sting,” which won the 1973 Oscar for Best Picture.
Froemming: Fellow Minnesotan? Weren’t you born in Texas?
Brown: Missouri. You know, that state that Grandpa Simpson refuses to recognize.
Anyways, this movie opens with a TV interview with Charlestown Chiefs announcer Jim Carr interviewing the team’s goalie, Denis Lemieux. It’s a hilarious back-and-forth as Denis explains what constitutes a penalty. Also, I still say “You go and sit by yourself and feel shame” when talking about hockey. And I kind of want to use that phrase in a story sometime.
Now, I was laughing mostly at Jim’s physical comedy here. But for Froemming, I hope he was taking notes because this is probably the clearest way the rules of hockey have been explained to him.
Froemming: I have no memory of what he said.
Now, we soon find out that not only is this hockey team in trouble financially because they have to model clothes, which results in one of them flashing a bunch of women, but I guess this was OK behavior in the 1970s, but the fictional town of Charlestown is right out of a Michael Moore documentary and a Bruce Springsteen song. The old mill is closing, people will probably have to eat their pet rabbits, and unemployment means the death knell for a hockey team already on the ropes.
Brown: Charlestown is pretty much Billy Joel’s description of Allentown.
Not helping matters is, well, the Chiefs stink. They’re constantly berated (mostly with gay slurs) by their own fans, and the only player that seems to have standout talent is Ned Braden, who leads the Federal League in scoring. But he doesn’t quite fit the blue-collar mold of both the town and the hockey team, being a college boy (I think they said Princeton, so Ivy League) in a sea of dullards, perverts and French Canadians.
Froemming: Well, he had to start somewhere before he became the sheriff of a small town in the Pacfic Northwest where weird shit like this goes on:
Brown: I have the same relationship with “Twin Peaks” that I do with the band Sonic Youth: every couple years I’ll give it a try. And I’ll give up after about 20 minutes.
Froemming: The difference here is Sonic Youth is music for Chuckleheads. I have hated this band ever since I was on a trip with my dad and uncle to California a few years ago. We were in Big Sur and my uncle was excited to visit Henry Miller’s cabin and get a free cup of coffee.
But that sunofabitch Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth was putting on a stupid solo concert there, denying my uncle his free cup of joe.
I will never forgive that shaggy haired bastard for that.
Brown: Folks, I’ve never heard that story and I’m so happy I hit a nerve there.
Back to the movie, Ned is also dealing with marital problems. His wife, Lily, HATES Charlestown and is drinking herself stupid. Seriously, I don’t think there’s a driving scene with her in this movie where she isn’t taking a swig from her flask. AND SHE’S DRIVING!
Ned doesn’t exactly help his cause here. He’s content with the hockey life instead of a button-down job from his father-in-law. Plus he seems to love their pet St. Bernard, Ruby, more than Lily. St. Bernards are cute, so I get it.
Froemming: Plus Ruby doesn’t have that crippling drinking problem.
Brown: And hanging over all this melodrama around the rink is with the factory in Charlestown closing, there’s no chance the hockey team will last past the season.
That is, until player/coach Reggie Dunlop lies to the media about a potential sale, the son of a bitch.
Froemming: We also learn Reggie is also in a loveless marriage, like Ned. Also, Reggie is a little old to be playing hockey, right? How old was Paul Newman here, mid-40s?
Brown: Paul Newman was 52 when this movie came out.
Froemming: I guess that salad dressing he made was full of nutrients and anti-being-crippled magic.
Another thing I realized in this movie, I always assumed athletes and journalists in the 70s were raging alcoholics based off films. But every movie from this era, everyone is a big drinker. So, let’s just come to the realization everyone in the 70s were in need of an AA meeting.
Case-in-point, during the first game we see, one player is so drunk that once he is hit, he pisses all over himself.
Brown: Every ‘70s movie has this weathered-in grime that none of the characters can seem to wash off. At least that’s what Scorcese movies from that decade have taught me.
I’ll also mention that the sports writer in this movie, Dickie Dunn, every sports writer I know has used the quote “I just wanted to capture the spirit of the thing” at least once. It comes in the journalist syllabus in college, along with knowing the difference between libel and slander, and how to be a dirty commie lib.
Around the time that Reggie hears about the team’s impending demise, a trio of brothers, the Hansons, join the Chiefs. Reggie wants nothing to do with them since they appear to be childish and goonish.
Froemming: Let’s also mention here these brothers are based on siblings from Virginia, Minn. Proving for every Prince, we have violent goons as well. Well, you do. I am a North Dakotan now, and our only celebrities are Roger Maris and Carson Wentz.
Brown: Before the Hansons’ blood-stained debut, violence seems to strike a nerve with the Chiefs and their fans after a young player, Dave, beats up an opponent after making a crack about Reggie’s age.
See, up until this point, Reggie has been terrible as a coach. But now that he sees a spark by way of thuggery, he sees this as the way to the top. Or, to at least save the Chiefs and extend his career.
So, time to bring on the bloodsport!
Froemming: They and their fanbase basically becomes the haunted house here:
Brown: Something that never quite sit right with me regarding the Hanson story arc: The whole movie, they’re treated like disgraces to the game of hockey. A trio of goons that would fit in better in a prison yard than an ice rink.
But how exactly did they get this rep when they’re, what, 18, 19 and 20? That seems like an aggressive reputation to have when you can’t even buy a beer in a league chock full of adults and/or sexual predators like Morris, who is the epitome of Trump’s “locker room talk” defense.
Froemming: I will let Ben Affleck answer this for you.
Also, I love that while everyone boozes it up in the hotel, the Hansons are basically like Rush on tour: Being nerds. Here they have a toy race track. Rush played D&D.
Brown: I didn’t know that. If you told me a famous rock band played D&D on tour, Rush would have been my second choice. Number one, with a bullet, would have been Dio.
Well, regardless of how exactly they got that reputation, the Hanson brothers certainly live up to it with a style of play that can only be described as felonious.
And through the violence, the Chiefs are winning! They’re drawing fans at home and away games, so much so that there’s a fan bus that follows the team around. Hell, the bus driver is so enamored with the new Chiefs that he *checks notes* starts dressing like a Nazi?
*Sigh* (REDACTED) ‘70s.
Froemming: I will never understand people in the 70s sporting nazi crap. This bus driver, Sid Vicious…well just about every punk band for some reason. What a garbage decade.
Also, I love when the Hansons are strapping aluminum foil to their fists. I have no idea what this does, but it adds to the plot that they are kinda bonkers.
Let’s get to the scene where Reggie sleeps with a lesbian, which makes not a whole lot of sense to me.
Because Reggie is a heartthrob(?), he can seduce people who have no interest in him sexually? He then drops some more homophobic remarks with this woman, who just told him she is a lesbian. I dunno, this whole scene was very, very awkward to me. Like, it at first tries to make a statement I think, then goes off the (REDACTED) rails.
How? Because this moment of honesty this woman told Reg, he uses it against her estranged husband during a game, by using even more gay slurs about her to him.
As you can guess, this causes quite the stir on the ice. Because homophobia was apparently hilarious in the 1970s.
Brown: They also talk about how the husband believes that by his wife being a lesbian, that makes him queer? That’s… not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!
And you’re right: “Slap Shot” is all over the place with its B-story of how tough it is to be the girlfriend/wife of an athlete. There’s points where it’s more poignant, where I was debating if the women in this movie or the mob wives in “Goodfellas” were more miserable.
And… then there’s turning a woman’s foray into lesbianism into poorly-aged humor.
Like I said at the top, this movie has not aged well.
There’s several peaks in the Chief’s goonery. There’s the pregame donnybrook at Peterborough, which leads to my favorite joke in the movie where one of the Hansons yells at the referee during the national anthem.
There’s also the Hyannisport game where the Hansons climb into the stands to fight the fans. And thankfully, reason prevails and the Hansons go to jail, albeit for a night.
Froemming: Years before Ron Artest made that sort of thing cool!
Brown: And at the very top, there’s Reggie putting a bounty on the head of Syracuse captain Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken, another famed tough guy on the ice. McCracken, who legit looks like a serial killer, is less than pleased with this transaction.
All three of these clips, all things that would get you BANNED FOR LIFE in a major sport. But for the Charlestown Chiefs, it was Tuesday.
Froemming: Are you telling me Reggie, by offering cash to the first person on his team to take out McCracken in the game violently, was wrong? Well, if he is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Oh, after this, while Reggie is trying to relax after literally putting a bounty on someone’s head in a game of hockey on the air, Lily shows up because she left Ned. She didn’t bother writing a note and even took his dog, which makes Ned’s once Ivy League life now a sad country song:
Now, adding to Reggie’s bullshittery was his non-stop hitting/harassing his teammate’s wife. In fact, Reggie in hindsight is one of the biggest assholes I have seen in a movie since Rob in “High Fidelity.” So, now Reggie has to sleep with Ned’s dog to get any rest before the big game.
Brown: With a rabid crowd waiting for someone to cash in on the bounty, it takes no time at all for all hell to break loose as Dave (now going by “Killer”) goes after McCracken.
The only player who hasn’t bought into Reggie’s violent sideshow is Ned, who flat-out refuses to go along with this abomination to the game. Once Reggie makes a crack about Ned’s crumbling marriage, Ned loses it and leaves the team.
So I know fighting is what’s drawing the box office for the Chiefs. But you just alienated the Federal League’s top goal-scorer in a game where you need to score more goals than the other team to get a victory.
… Good job, Reggie.
Froemming: Yeah, but scoring isn’t putting butts in the seat. Mindless violence is. This team’s theme song is basically:
Ned not only quits, he goes on the radio, assaults and viciously mocks a man in a toupe, and swears over the FCC controlled airwaves!
Funny, it is the words over the radio that will get the team in trouble, not the vicious beatings they serve their opposing teams. This sure is a funny world when you think about it.
After planting the seeds of a sale through most of the season, Reggie finally hunts down the owner of the Chiefs, Anita McCambridge, a wealthy widower. She gives credit to Reggie for planting the fake story about a sale to Florida (screw you, Reggie) and admits that, yeah, she could probably sell the Chiefs to an interested party. However, her accountant told her it’s a better option to just let the team fold and chalk it up as a tax write-off.
Our free-market economy is strong, people.
Froemming: Basically my understanding of a write-off:
Brown: Now, I want to empathize with Reggie here as he laments about people losing their jobs instead of relocation. That is a shitty thing for Anita to do.
But… it’s hard for me to be empathetic to Reggie when he A. Lied to a sports reporter about the whole thing, and B. Stormed out of Anita’s house after insulting her son with gay slurs.
God, the ‘70s was a trash decade.
Froemming: The only good thing was the music. The rest? Ooof.
Brown: Yeah, but for every good ‘70s band (for example, I’ve been binging Black Sabbath for a month now), the ‘70s also gave us music like this.
Froemming: Unlike you, I have two ears and a heart and can appreciate the Captain & Tennille.
Now, because his world has been shaken, Reggie doesn’t want to hype up the violence and the whole production of having an ambulance drive around the stadium. He is, essentially, experiencing what doctors refer to as “sour grapes.”
So he decides the team should, you know, play old fashioned hockey, which is a weird way of saying “hockey” because what they were playing before was more MMA and not hockey.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the Syracuse team has been switched up and features nothing but goons and racial stereotypes. One player is said to have been banned from playing, so what the hell is he doing on the ice?
Brown: In the lead-up to this championship game, I do like the Chekov’s Gun this movie puts together with Ogie Ogilthorpe.
Throughout the entire movie, the players constantly bring up Ogie and how violent and terrible for the game he is. Then suddenly, in the championship game, he’s introduced as a starter for Syracuse. Apparently he was supposed to be deported back to Canada, only for Canada to refuse to accept him. So, you know, Canada isn’t sending us their best and brightest.
And all this for a 20-year-old rookie. This movie doesn’t quite understand the dynamic of rookies on a team. Hockey goons are usually guys deeper in their career who have little skill other than fighting.
So, Syracuse is ready for mortal kombat, but Reggie told the team beforehand that he wants to go out a winner playing hockey the right way instead of the brutal way.
The hockey fans in Charlestown handle that as well as hockey fans in Springfield.
Froemming: And it goes about as well as you can expect. The Chiefs are getting the bejesus knocked out of them, despite the fact the Hanson Brothers were very polite at the start of the game.
So, during halftime or whatever, Reggie does not have an inspiring speech for his beaten and bloodied crew of misfits. But they learn there are scouts for various NHL teams in the audience, so by God they will show off their skills.
By being (REDACTED) goons again!
And the following is what you should expect, everyone is just beating the shit out of one another and Ned sees his estranged wife all dolled up cheering the team on, so he decides to get on the rink and perform a striptease.
Which is my favorite part in this whole movie. Him stripping and skating and disturbing the hell out of the goons on the Syracuse team. The audience is pretty shocked too, but whatever, they were all sociopaths for the amount of carnage they demanded, like this was the Roman Colosseum or something.
Brown: I enjoy that scene just for the idea that a (presumably) high-school pep band had the wherewithal to play striptease music while Ned is doing his thing.
Also, how did Ned get his long johns off without taking his jock strap off?
Froemming: I will let Ben Affleck answer this:
Brown: After McCracken punches out the referee, the Chiefs are awarded the championship after Syracuse is disqualified. The Chiefs are champs by default, the two sweetest words in the English language!
During the championship parade, Reggie’s wife is leaving town since, you know, Charlestown is a dying steel town. And Reggie has apparently gotten a job with the Minnesota Night Hawks and plans on bringing some of his players with him!
And I’m sure that venture fails and the team moves to Dallas. Eventually, Minnesota will get another hockey team with a lame mascot that can only be described as ManBearPig from “South Park.”
Froemming, I’m finished listening to the (REDACTED) song. Let’s get to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Yep. It hasn’t aged well but I still get a kick out of it and quote it often.
Froemming: Yup, although a lot of the humor has not aged well, this is still a solid and funny sports movie.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: