Guilty Pleasures: Al Navis

Lord Jeremy invited me to contribute to this blog and as his leige, I obeyed. The most difficult thing for me was to narrow my “repeat watchers” to only one. There are perhaps 20-25 movies which I own on VHS as well as DVD (don’t start, OK?) and yet, if I see them on broadcast television, I will be drawn to them like a male silkworm moth when he gets a whiff of bombykol.

Just last week it was BOTH Airplane! (I am serious and you can call me ‘Shirley’) and All the President’s Men (I just love the shot of the teletype starkly printing out that Nixon resigns). I have whittled that long list down to a short list of five, in no order at all:
Dave (Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver were both great but I liked the inner workings of the White House and Ving Rhames was great as Duane, the Secret Service guy).
Mr. Holland’s Opus (Richard Dreyfus is good but it brings back so many memories of playing in the concert and jazz bands in high school back in the late 1960s and so many of the characters in the film could have been based on kids I went to school with…and yes I cry at the end, every damn time!).
The American President (Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas are great as was the rest of the stellar cast but I loved the “West Wing” of the White House and writer Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue was flawless, especially the President’s lecture of the White House Press Corps near the end of the film about America, and I use this little monologue often when guest lecturing myself…
American isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.
…that is great writing!).
First Monday in October (The leads being Walter Matthau, Jill Clayburgh, Barnard Hughes and Jan Sterling…sadly all gone now but this 1981 movie is a gem. The title refers to the beginning of the Supreme Court session and while the plot ain’t all that great, the acting is brilliant and it’s one of those ‘behind-the-scenes-of-power’ films and Matthau plays Oscar again!).
If m’Lord Jeremy wants any of these four films to be expanded upon for a future blog, all he need do is ask and I would like feedback from you out there reading it as well.
The film I decided to feature as my choice for “Guilty Pleasure” is one that I have screened at least fifty times and perhaps more. I watch it a minimum of four times a year (once just before the NHL season begins, once around the All-Star break, again after the end of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and once on either the last day of July or the first day of August when it’s the hottest) and that film is, if you haven’t already guessed…Slap Shot.
Slap Shot is to sports films in general (along with Major League…and also in my top 25) and to hockey in particular what Animal House is to university/college films and Airplane! is to disaster flicks. It is the Oracle. The Great Beacon from the Lighthouse that draws all who see but a few short minutes of it, compelled to sit their asses down and remain, transfixed, bathed in toothless grins and really bad 1970s fashion, awash in stereotypical hockey players of that era. Sorry, I got a bit overwrought there.
You don’t even have to be a hockey fan to appreciate Paul Newman in his FAVOURITE rôle (his words not mine). In the mid-1990s I has cause to interview Mario Andretti for my radio programme and, at the time, his son Michael was driving for the Newman-Haas Racing Team and while I was interviewing Mario in the corporate luxury coach, Michael, Paul Newman and Carl Haas all came in and I ended up with a round table. I asked Paul Newman what his favourite movie was and, with no hesitation at all, he said “Slap Shot” He added that he wished he’d been a bit younger (he was 42) so he could have skated better but he told me he had a blast making that film.
The writer was Nancy Dowd, whose younger brother Ned had played hockey in university at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and one year at McGill University in Montréal. Ned wasn’t good enough for the NHL but played for two seasons for the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Jets during the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, playing 117 games, scoring 42 goals and 46 assists for 88 points but most importantly, had 96 minutes in penalties playing in the North American Hockey League. The NAHL was just another minor pro league (with most of its clubs acting as feeder teams for the World Hockey Association), populated by wannabees, almost-made-its and never-wases and Nancy modelled the fictional Federal League after the NAHL.
In the minors, fighting was the main drawing card for the spectators as most of the teams were in blue-collar towns in the so-called ‘rust belt’, so bench-clearing brawls (now only seen in baseball) were common back then. The movie was actually filmed in Johnstown, PA and the ‘fake’ team was named the Charlestown Chiefs.
Paul Newman plays Reggie Dunlop, an aging player-coach whose team will be folding at the end of the season primarily because the local mill is closing. Attendence is sagging and when the general manager (played by Strother Martin) brings in the “Hanson Brothers” (real life brothers Jeff and Steve Carlson – who had a 14-year pro career and once roomed with Wayne Gretzky while an Edmonton Oiler – with Dave Hanson playing the third brother because real life brother Jack Carlson had been called up to the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA).
Now the Hanson Brothers, complete with black horned-rim glasses—white adhesive tape holding them together—are a take-no-prisoners, hell-bent-for-election troika. They hit everything in sight, seldom score and usually end up in a brawl. They body-check vending machines and play with slot cars in their hotel room. They’ve been brought to the Chiefs against Reggie’s wishes because he likes hockey pure but finally Dunlop decides to let them play and in one shift they hit every player on the other team, trip the goalie, trip a linesman and knock out even the organist with a slapshot, who returns later in the film…wearing a helmet!
Dunlop now sees their fans really getting into it and encourages this Philadelphia Flyers’ style from their Stanley Cup-winning days of the early/mid-1970s. Dunlop then plants a story that if they play well enough, the owner—who he doesn’t even know at the time—will move the team to Florida. It’s a lie but the team responds and the attendence soars. When Reggie blackmails the general manager to tell him who the actual owner is, he pays her a visit. She says that it’s better for her financially, to allow the team to fold and take the tax breaks.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who are now going to dash out to your local video store and demand the DVD or go on to Netflix. Just please don’t bother with either of the sequels. Unlike ;”>The Godfather;”> they didn’t get better.
So put the kids to bed (because of the swearing), tell the wife to go shopping (because of the really bad 1970s fashion), grab some buddies and some Budweisers cause it’s time for old time hockey and Eddie Shore, so put on the foil and…your line starts!!

Al

Al Navis is the owner of Handy Book in Toronto for the past 28 years, a used and out-of-print independent bookstore. He was chairman and host of Bouchercon: The World Mystery Convention in 1992 and 2004. He has also been on and off Toronto radio for over 30 years. Books are his business and first passion. Other passions are most sports (except basketball), most music (except C&W and rap) and radio. More recently he has gotten back into editing and writing as well as appraising book collections for insurance or for loss.