George Roy Hill Vincent Canby - Essay

Vincent Canby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

George Roy Hill's unruly, funny new comedy, "Slap Shot,"… dramatizes the age-old contest between good and evil as clean vs. dirty, and it's dirty that wins, hands (and pants) down.

"Slap Shot," which follows the fortunes of the [Charlestown] Chiefs through their last, dizzy season, was written by Nancy Dowd…. She's a young woman who appears to know more about the content and rhythm of locker-room talk than most men….

I don't know enough about professional hockey to judge how accurate a picture "Slap Shot" is, but it does seem a stretch of the imagination to ask us to believe in this day and age, that neither the Chiefs' manager nor coach would have known that a dirty, violent game, accompanied by a lot of publicity hoopla, would bring in the crowds. Which is pretty much what happens to the Chiefs, first by accident, then on purpose, as the team goes onward and upward to the top of the league.

The film's point of view also appears to be ambiguous, for though it seems to want to be on the side of the clean, old-fashioned game, played by the rules, "Slap Shot" itself, like the Chiefs, largely triumphs by exploiting—sometimes uproariously—the brutality of the game and the protective vulgarity of the players.

Mr. Hill, a director of real sensibility, is certainly aware that people as thick-headed and slow-witted as are most of these characters aren't very interesting when seen in close-up for very long. Seen as a collective spectacle in a long-shot, though, they make a sometimes bitterly comic comment on one aspect of the industry that is professional American sports.

The performances—which have a lot to do with the right casting, particularly in the smaller roles—are impeccable….

["Slap Shot"] has a kind of vitality to it that overwhelms most of the questions relating to consistency of character and point of view. Much in the manner of [Sidney Lumet's] "Network," you know that it's an original and that it's alive, whether you like it or not.

Vincent Canby, "Hot Time on Ice, Newman's 'Slap Shot'," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 26, 1977, p. 11.