Editor’s note: The Gazette sports staff has compiled lists of its top 15 favorite sports movies. Each day, a different staffer will share some insight into one of their favorites. Some of them are classics, watched and re-watched time and time again. But for a few, maybe we’ll be able to convince some of you to check it out for the very first time.
A last-place team is folding in a burned-out city that itself is being abandoned because “10,000 millworkers have just been placed on waivers.”
Reg Dunlop — Paul Newman, playing the hero, an aging, spent reject of a player-coach — feels the pinch. Knowing the Charlestown Chiefs are doomed once the mill closes, Dunlop crosses the hockey line, going from straight up, honest and gentlemanly to goon show.
Dunlop massages the gate and the Chiefs’ prospects when he uncorks the Hanson Brothers, three violent brutes from the hockey wilds of Canada — aka the Iron League. Sure, the Hanson Brothers’ first shift is cartoonish violence, but it’s damn funny. (Leaning over the goal and slashing across the face ... they just don’t highstick like that anymore.)
There’s no empty-headed jock mysticism, a la “Bull Durham.” That’s Hollywood.
“Slap Shot” is true to the sport of hockey. There’s never enough tape and there’s always too much laundry. Or “Slap Shot” is something close to it, something for laughs, anyway.
Screenwriter Nancy Dowd followed the 1974-75 Johnstown (Pa.) Jets, her brother Ned’s team, with a tape recorder and came up with a story, profanity and all. By the way, Ned Dowd played Ogilthorpe, who is still deported to Canada.
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This was the ’70s and this was minor league hockey. There is relentless profanity, highsticking, blood, fighting, Walt makin’ it look mean, a great disco soundtrack (Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From”) and a politically incorrect character named Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown.
And, if nothing else, Newman in a full-leather ensemble.
My Top 15 sports movies
1. Slap Shot — Dynamite ladies at The Aces. A $100 bounty on the head of Tim McCracken. That Hanrahan has got some problems. The Charlestown Chiefs are champions of the Federal League.
2. Raging Bull — Literally, the most bruising portrait. Also, the last movie my dad saw in the theater. He said it was perfect and there didn’t need to be anymore movies.
3. Rocky — The “Rocky work song” is the music that plays over the training montage. It’s the theme for everything you’ve worked your ass off for in your life.
4. Breaking Away — We all have some townie in us.
5. Heaven Can Wait — Hilarious, charming. Julie Christie, Jack Warden AND Buck Henry.
6. The Bad News Bears — Does Kelly Leak go to the bathroom for you, Tanner Boyle?
7. The Longest Yard — Burt Reynolds’ version is the only version. Ray Nitschke was an acting powerhouse.
8. Eight Men Out — John Sayles is painfully underrated.
9. North Dallas Forty — I didn’t know the Nick Nolte character went to Iowa until Brian Ferentz pointed out the Iowa pennant hanging in Phillip Elliott’s apartment.
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10. Miracle — Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. (Tears running down my cheeks right now.)
11. Rounders — Pay dat man his muhnee!
12. Kingpin — 1979 Waitress: Tanqueray and Tab. Ernie McCracken: Keep ‘em comin’, sweets, I got a long drive. Do me a favor, will you? Would you mind washing off that perfume before you come back to our table?
13. Caddyshack — You owe me one gumball machine. (When my brother was alive, all of our convos included non sequiturs that were lines from movies we saw as kids. This was a big one. So was “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.”)
14. Hoop Dreams — I often forget how much is at stake for the kids with the dreams in any sport.
15. Murderball — You’ll love these guys.
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