Two Sports Movies From The 1970’s

Sax von Stroheim writes:

One’s a masterpiece, one’s an interesting-if-not-exactly-good little movie.

First the masterpiece:

 Slap Shot (George Roy Hill, 1977)


Starring Paul Newman and this suit

A vulgar, American comedy from one of the 70’s most underrated filmmakers. (Considering the “classic” status of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, one would think he’d get more credit, but the appeal of those movies is usually put down to the dual star power of Redford and Newman). Slap Shot is a perceptive and compelling look at guys, sports, working class towns, class issues in general, economics, homophobia, violence-as-spectacle, and the connections among all of those things. Kind of reminds me of certain Renoir movies (especially Boudu Saved from Drowning) in the way that some Raoul Walsh films (like Sailor’s Luck) remind me of Renoir: it has a dense but lively mise-en-scene that suggests the messiness of life in all of its glory. The look Paul Newman’s wife gives him right at the end of the movie – in which she realizes how sad it is that this guy will always remain essentially clueless – is one of the great looks in American cinema.

Below the Belt (Robert Fowler, 1974 but released in 1980)


Jane O’Brien, a genuine wrestler, as the movie’s heavy: Terrible Tommy

Robert Fowler made only one movie, and it’s about women’s wrestling. It’s based on Rosalyn Drexler’s autobiographical novel, To Smithereens, and though it’s quite amateurish – about half of it seems to be made up of montages set to songs that explain the action and themes of the film, as if no one trusted the filmmaking itself to do those jobs – it’s also very honest and lived-in, full of details that feel like they’ve been taken directly by life. The casting is great: a mix of New York City theater actors and people that look like they were pulled from real wrestling circuits (it makes for a great gallery of hard luck faces). It’s one of those little movies that’s winning not because it’s made with much talent, but because it seems very human, without any of the artifice that you get even when – or, maybe, especially when – a filmmaker tries to consciously, intellectually strip away the artifice

Both movies are currently playing on Netflix Watch Instantly.

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9 Responses to Two Sports Movies From The 1970’s

  1. For the Manolo, the greatest of the 1970s sports movies is the John Huston’s Fat City, starring Stacey Keach and Jeff Bridges, and the late Susan Tyrell. Slap Shot is the more enjoyable movie, but Fat City is the deeper and more real movie.


  2. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    Re: the still of Newman, I could never pull off all that leather. ’70s Game.


  3. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    I need to catch up with “Below the Belt.”

    Some other ’70s sports movies worth mentioning:

    “Breaking Away”
    “Our Winning Season”
    “Hard Times”

    Speaking of vulgar hockey movies, I sort of enjoyed the recent “Goon.” It’s sort of like “Slapshot” with a bunch of Apatow stuff grafted onto it. Oh, and lots of violence. Actually, the movie’s approach to violence is pretty interestingly — it treats it respectfully, without a lot of sermonizing about moral lessons and whatnot. And there are some loopy characters. Stiffler is amusing as the daffy-brutal goon, Eugene Levy is perfectly cast in the Eugene Levy role, there are fun supporting parts for crazy Russian and French teammates, and I loved Liev Schreiber as the grizzled gunfighter preparing to mosey into the sunset.


    • Michael says:

      Nice to see the lead in “Breaking Away” Dennis Christopher getting a great acting role in “Djago Unchained” that’s Tarantino when comes to casting.


    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      My friend and I were going to watch “Goon”, but then I found out she hadn’t seen “Slap Shot”, so I demanded we watch that first.


  4. Supersmart stuff. Loved “Slap Shot” at the time of its release (as well as movies mentioned by commenters: Fat City, Hard Times and Breaking Away), even if it seemed a little commercial — oh, weren’t we spoiled. (We were comparing it to stuff like “Mean Streets” and “California Split”.) And fun to see a real filmbuff case being made for George Roy Hill. You don’t see many true film nerds going out on a limb for his sake.

    I wonder what QT thinks of GRH…


  5. Sir Barken Hyena says:

    Cultural barometer: when SS came out it was famous for nose-hair-curling levels of spoken obscenities; it was on TV in the 80’s and there were probably 10 seconds left after the bleepers got done…I saw it last year and didn’t even notice the language. Any episode of The Wire has more in 2 scenes…


  6. Sax von Stroheim says:

    Something I like about “Slap Shot” is that it says a lot without saying anything in particular – which is something else it has in common with Walsh’s (or William Wellman’s) work from the early 30’s. Probably because it’s so much rarer today, I really appreciate the ways these movies are open to kitchen-sink realities without making a big deal out of them.


  7. justin vandeusen says:

    I was wondering if anyone knew how to find any contact info on one of the actresses in this movies I found love letters after my grand father passed between him and a women in this movie and I would like to tell her of his passing


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