Thursday, January 21, 2010

Based on a True Story

I've mentioned in at least one previous post how much love I have for the movie Slap Shot. For a female screenwriter in 1977 to display such a deft hand with the amount of locker room profanity in this film is really astonishing, and it's also notable insofar as it is pretty unconventional for a sports movie, in which the final set-piece is a game where the outcome is pretty much irrelevant.

I recently had an opportunity to re-watch the film with Audrey, and I have to say, on the whole, it holds up really well. Not all of it mind; I am not sure how I would feel about the movie if I was gay, what with all the "fag" and "cocksucker" talk going around, but let's face it, it is hardly an unfair characterization of that culture at that time. To say nothing of the fact that when they address it with Paul Newman's character Reggie Dunlop a couple of times, he makes it pretty clear he doesn't really care. Sad to say, I find Dunlop's taste in pants more off-putting. Still and all, a very decent and eminently quotable comedy that draws well on a palette of great supporting characters, blue humor and slapstick, with a little pathos thrown in for contrast.

There's a scene during one game where Dunlop hears that the team is being sold, and he trots out of the player box in his skates and into the dressing room office, where he finds the manager (Strother Martin) slumped in a chair staring at a cigar in his hand. He looks up at Newman and says, "It's the final season; it'll be announced tomorrow."

Newman stares in disbelief, then collapses into another chair, his shoulders low. There is a beat, then from offscreen we hear the sound of the goal buzzer, followed by the cheesy organ music which tells us it wasn't the Chiefs. In that one scene, where he doesn't utter a word, I think Paul Newman looked older than he did in any of his next six pictures.

I've gotten into the habit of checking the "Trivia" tab under a movie's IMDb entry immediately after watching it, and when I did this for Slap Shot, I made a shocking discovery:

Slap Shot was very nearly a documentary.

I shit you not. It turns out that screenwriter Nancy Dowd had collected a number of anecdotes from her brother Ned, regarding his adventures with the Johnstown Jets in the North American Hockey League. She travelled with the team and even had Ned bring a tape recorder into the locker room on occasion.

Director George Roy Hill convinced her that the film had more potential as a feature-length comedy than a documentary, and legions of fans are glad he did.

Those who have seen the movie know what a great job they do building up the menace of Federal League uber-goon Ogie Ogelthorpe, with an early reference and relief that he has been suspended, to a later report from Dunlop that he's been deported. When he returns for the final game, the announcer really sells it:
"Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, what with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him, well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle... Ogie Ogelthorpe!"

If that isn't enough, the reactions of the players, especially French-Canadian goaltender Denis Lemieux's "Ogelt'orpe?!", certainly cements his reputation in the minds of the audience. So I was pretty stunned to find out that Ogelthorpe is based largely on real player Bill 'Goldie' Goldthorpe, a guy who got 25 majors for fighting by Christmas of his rookie year. In looking for more information on him, I found this great article that gives even more examples of the truth behind the fiction, including:

* The Hanson brothers are played by two Carlson brothers and an actual Hanson, because the third Carlson got called up by the Edmonton Oilers (!) prior to filming. The glasses were real too.
* The bounty? The fight during the warm-up? Going into the stands to fight a spectator? All based on real events.
* Michael Ontkean, who plays scorer Ned Braden in the movie, beat out Nick Nolte for the part, largely because he played hockey for three years in university.

The Carlsons (who played two of the Hansons), say the part about them "puttin' on the foil" was not true (although others say it was). They not only admit to wrapping their hands in leather, however, but they also say they would soak it in water then dry it with a heater to harden it.

And Nancy Dowd's brother, Ned? He's the one playing Ogelthorpe.

1 comment:

  1. "Hey Coach! When are you gonna put us in? We're just sitting around pulling our goalies"