The past weekend was the 40th anniversary of the movie Slap Shot, now considered a classic. At the time of release it was more-or-less critically shunned. Over the decades opinions were revised upward.
There was a good deal of coverage of a celebration in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The streets of this small town are littered with relics from the iconic movie “Slap Shot” filmed here 40 years ago.
There’s the statue of the dog that, in the movie, saved the people of fictitious Charlestown from the 1938 flood. There’s the park in the center of town with the fountain where Paul Newman and Lindsay Crouse shared a memorable scene. There are familiar storefronts. The Aces restaurant is still in operation. The steel mills are still standing. Then there’s the Cambria County War Memorial ice rink.
People in this town take pride in the movie, but Johnstown is somehow different than it was 40 years ago.
The rust-belt town took a massive hit to its economy when Bethlehem Steel Corporation, America’s second-largest steel producer, closed its mill in 1982. The town’s population was well over 70,000, but after the mill closed, the downturn began.
“The steel mill left. The jobs left. The people left,” said Johnstown police Capt. Chad Miller.
No one embedded with the Hollywood royalty at tonight’s Oscars or even in the global television audience is likely to spare a stray thought for the worst injustice in the history of the Academy Awards, probably because almost no one shares the following opinion:
“Slap Shot” got jobbed.
A loving cinematic monument to the raw essence of hockey, framed by the ribald lawlessness of the minor league game in the 1970s, the film that starred Paul Newman as an end-of-the-line player/coach and Johnstown, Pa. as itself was released 40 years ago this weekend.
As you might never imagine from Saturday’s commemorative celebration in and around the Cambria County War Memorial, home of the long-defunct Johnstown Jets on whom Nancy Dowd’s rollicking script was not-all-that-loosely based, “Slap Shot” was not Best Picture of 1977.
“Now make sure when you’re watching this, you’re drinking a grape and orange, but none of that stinkin’ root beer,” actor Dave Hanson said.
And back at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, fans got the chance to meet and greet with the Hanson brothers and other cast members.
“It’s fun to talk to people all over the United States, I said, and Canada,” actor Steve Carlson said. “It’s their favorite lines, their favorite movie.”
Carlson, one of the three famous Hanson Brothers, says it’s a very special event to be a part of.
“This is where one of the greatest sports movies of all time, you know, one of the greatest hockey movies of all time (was filmed,) so it’s great to celebrate it in a place that we started at,” Carlson said.
Dave Hanson agrees.
“It’s always a treat to come back here for any reason, but to be able to come back to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Slap Shot” is just a special treat,” Hanson said.
“Hey, the boys are back in town man. We’re putting on the foil,” Carlson said.
I’ve been storing up the energy to for a review of “Slap Shot,” the Seventies movie with Paul Newman as the player coach of the Charlestown Chiefs (modeled on the Johnstown Jets) of western Pennsylvania. I have an old videotape and have had it on replay. “Slap Shot” can also be viewed through the lens of America’s forty year slump, a movie framed at the time big business resurrected a devotion to unrestricted preying on its human labor, and — as it turned out — hundreds of millions of future livelihoods.
The backdrop for “Slap Shot” is the perfect picture of it. The steel mill is set to close in “Charlestown,” laying off thousands.
“Ten thousand people put on waivers,” says Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean), the Charlestown Chiefs’ leading scorer, to Paul Newman, as both stand outside the steel mill waiting for a ride from Lily (Lindsay Crouse), Braden’s wife.
“What’s going to happen to them?” Newman, as Reggie Dunlop, the Chiefs’ player/coach asks.
It’s every man for himself, replies Braden.
Or the beginning of the root hog or die economy in the Rust Belt. Donald Trump should have marked it last Saturday.