Bet you’d never thought you’d be reading a review for a 1970’s hockey movie here. But then again, I never thought I’d ever see an actor like Paul Newman in crude comedy about a minor league hockey team vying to remain afloat by putting on a carnival show of fights and other nefarious distractions both on and off the ice.
When team captain Reggie Dunlop (Newman) learns that the local steel plant and main town employer are shutting down he realizes that The Charlestown Chiefs may be folding up. With no prospective buyers lining up and an elusive owner that keeps to the shadows Reggie decides to turn the team’s fortunes on his own. First he concocts a rumour that there are buyers interested by planting false information in the local paper. But the fun really starts when he notices that the local fans have a taste for bloody brawls, especially when the distractions lead to actually winning games. As luck would have it, the team has just signed the Hanson brothers, three young bespectacled goons whose idea of game preparation include wrapping tin foil and tape over their knuckles.
Most of the focus is on Reggie who’s stoking the fighting flames in the locker room and Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) the lone standout player who refuses to bow to the low brow tactics. But the show stealers are the Hanson brothers played by real life minor leaguers Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Dave Hanson. (That’s right, they were more Carlson brothers than Hanson brothers). From the moment they are greeted at a train station by Reggie who finds them battling with a vending machine which stole their quarter, the audience just waits for their next appearance. The fun includes a French speaking goalie trying to master the English language, a crude womanizing lounge lizard, the one good looking player with buxom twins constantly in tow, and the finale that pits a bevy some of the most notorious hockey hit men who are amassed to put the Chiefs in the penalty box for good.
Directed by George Roy Hill (who also directed The Sting, The World According to Garp, and a host of other great movies) the film is laden with reverence to old time hockey and invocations of the ghost of coach “Toe” Blake. It’s a surreal peek at semi-pro sports, hockey lifestyles, fandom and economics but it made this offbeat comedy something of a sleeper hit especially here in Canada. Even the French speaking public loved it because of it’s authentic Quebecois slang and swearing. Cool Hand Luke fans will also be glad to see Newman reunited with his former co-star Strother (“What we’ve got here is a failure to Communicate”) Martin.
If that wasn’t enough the soundtrack featuring Maxine Nightingale’s one-hit-wonder “Get Right Back Where We Started From” will get you right back to the 70’s.