Slap Shot (1977)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Slap Shot</strong> (1977)

(On TV, February 2019) In hockey-mad French Canada, Slap Shot has become a bit of an unintentional classic for reasons unforeseen to the original producers. As legend has it, the dub for the Quebec release was handed over to someone who unusually decided to translate it into French-Canadian street joual—as far away from proper grammatical French as it can be. This was a rarity back in 1977, and an entire generation grew up on the vulgar patois proudly heard in the dub. While the cultural omnipresence of the film has waned somewhat in recent years, it’s easy to see why Slap Shot would prove to be a smash hit in Quebec. For one thing, it makes no pretence as to the nobility of hockey: Taking place in the rough-and-tumble minor leagues, this is a sports comedy in which skating is accessory to fist-fighting, taking a very populist stance toward the sport. Then there’s the French-Canadian factor: Taking place in the world of northeastern hockey, it’s natural that some of the characters end up being French-Canadian (featuring snippets of French here and there even in the original English dub), and that some known French-Canadian actors would be featured in the film—such as Yvan Ponton, who would find later celebrity headlining the hockey-focused TV series Lance et Compte and playing in Les Boys series. It does help that the script (written by Montréaler Nancy Dowd) effectively creates striking characters. Paul Newman pleasantly looks out of his element here, his good-natured personality clashing with the gritty and vulgar late-1970s blue-collar environment. While billed as a comedy, the ending is more bittersweet than anything else, although there are a few funny moments along the way. Looking at the film’s release date, it does occur to me that you can draw a straight line from Slap Shot to the underdog comedies (sports or otherwise) of the 1980s, making this film feel even more than a precursor to a much larger movement. The consequence, of course, is that Slap Shot certainly doesn’t feel as fresh or shocking as it must have back then—but that’s the price of success.

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