Although Paul Newman passed away seven years ago, I still miss him. His charisma on-screen and his incredible charity off-screen made him almost too good to be true. A dedicated family man who didn’t care for the distractions of Hollywood, Newman went about his business as I wish many actors would today. His roles were many, his talent deep, his love of life unparalleled. Today would have been his 90th birthday, and while he may well have quit acting by now if he were still with us, having him as a resource for stories and anecdotes about old time Hollywood should would be nice. He is my favorite actor and his approach to his roles has given them life well beyond his own. I would assume that’s what every actor would hope.
And while we’re at it, here’s my list of favorite roles. Newman had the capability to bring something you might not expect to each role he inhabited. He, to me, is the blueprint for what an actor, and human being, should be.
Here we go:
Ben Quick – The Long Hot Summer
Newman plays a bad boy who can only be tamed by the love of a certain woman. That that woman also happens to be played by his future wife Joanne Woodward is pretty damn awesome. Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury and a gorgeous young Lee Remick round out this fantastic tale based on the Snopes stories by William Faulkner.
Lucas Jackson – Cool Hand Luke
One of Newman‘s most iconic roles, Cool Hand Luke shows us the story of Lucas Jackson as he tries to weather his time in a rural prison. Unwilling to adapt to rules, Luke butts heads with everyone from the prisoners to the guards to the superintendent in what has been famously said is “a failure to communicate.” Newman is off his ass in this one.
Hud Bannon – Hud
Here is Newman in another role as bad boy, although this time he can’t be tamed. Hud takes what he wants, when he wants it. Some find this endearing…others not so much. Newman lost out on an Oscar to fellow co-star Melvyn Douglas for this role. Patricia Neal also won for Best Actress in this one. A truly incredible film, exquisitely shot by James Wong Howe.
“Fast” Eddie Felson – The Hustler
Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) vs. Fast Eddie Felson – one of the great battles in cinema history all done over 9′ x 4.5′ table. Pool table, that is. Easily one of Newman‘s most recognizable roles (he reprised it for Martin Scorsese‘s The Color of Money, for which he won his only Oscar), Fast Eddie is a cautionary tale as much as a hero. I didn’t see this film until I was in my 20s. A shame really. It’s worth as many watches as you will allow.
Butch Cassidy – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
What to say about this role other than it is so fucking good? Newman operated so well in any genre. He tackled the Western with as much vigor, humor and gusto as he did with any others (he would go on to make two more Westerns in iconic roles as Buffalo Bill Cody and Judge Roy Bean). Acting opposite Robert Redford in his breakout role, Newman created one of his most memorable characters.
Brick Pollitt – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Oozing with sex appeal, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof pits Newman alongside Elizabeth Taylor at the height of her career as they battle one another in the adaptation of Tennesse Williams‘ play. An angry Brick wants nothing to do with his wife Maggie (Taylor) as he rests at his rich father’s estate after breaking his ankle while consumed with grief over the loss of his friend (and possibly lover) Skipper. In one of the great depictions of spiteful marriage, Newman shines as only he can. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the confluence of everything I adore about classic Hollywood.
Reg Dunlop – Slap Shot
It should be no small surprise that I would rate Newman‘s performance in Slap Shot as my favorite. It is, after all, my favorite film of all time. Newman owns his role as Reg Dunlop, the lovable loser player-coach for the failing Charlestown Chiefs. Blue collar to the bone, Dunlop’s schemes raise the profile of a hockey team that everyone has written off, even its owner. That we get to see Newman in a caramel-colored leather suit (see above for its deliciousness) as well as other amazing 70s threads make it all the more worthwhile. I can’t really describe my love for this film enough. Watching a foul-mouthed Newman skate and mix it up on the ice is truly one of the great pleasures of my life.
So there you have it. I’m so nostalgic right now, I wish I could hunker down and watch all of these films in a row. Another day perhaps.
As a huge hockey fan, I’ve been waiting to see this movie since I heard it was being released. Knowing that it is directed by Academy Award Winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) made it all the more exciting. The film’s central focus is on former Montreal Canadien/New York Ranger/Boston Bruins heavyweight and enforcer Chris “Knuckles” Nilan. Gibney gives us Nilan‘s story unfiltered – the good (winning the Stanley Cup), the bad (the taunting by his hometown crowd in Boston), and the ugly (drug and alcohol addiction). Structurally, Gibney sprinkles testimonials from some of the biggest names in hockey fighting – Tony “The Twister” Twist, Bob Probert, Marty McSorley, Terry O’Reilly, Paul Stewart, Donald Brashear – throughout the film,giving different perspectives on the role of the enforcer and in hockey itself.
Nilan plying his trade.
Gibney gives us the whole timeline of Nilan’s career from juniors to college at Northeastern University in Boston (his hometown) to being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 17th round to his ascent from the minors to the NHL. An underdog because his hockey ability wasn’t great, Nilan worked hard to get to the NHL. He worked on his hockey skills even after practices, but what propelled him was his lack of fear to drop the gloves with any guy on the ice at any time. After the rise of teams like the Philadelphia Flyers (The Broadstreet Bullies) in the 70s who had goons like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Bobby Clarke, Andre Dupont and Jack McIlhargey, hockey clubs had to have guys who could scrap in order to compete and protect their players.
Nilan as a rookie.
Nilan was a consummate team player and he sacrificed himself for the better of the team. If you fucked with any of the star players on his team, he sorted it out with his fists. Ruthlessly. But as Nilan, like most enforcers, got older, there were younger, bigger and stronger kids coming up. After taking the beating that these guys take, at 34, Nilan retired from the NHL. And that’s when his troubles began. In pain from the all of the injuries he incurred over the years of brawling, he needed painkillers. When those weren’t enough, he drank. Addicted to both, his life spiraled. He started taking heroin, lost his wife and had spent all of the money he had earned while playing hockey. He had hit rock bottom. In some respects, however, he was lucky. In 2011, three younger enforcers died within a span of four months – Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak. Former enforcer Georges Laraque said this about his and Nilan‘s role: “You have to fight to live when life after hockey is over, and there’s nothing for you.” And this is the bulk of what we in this documentary – Nilan trying to negotiate life after hockey.
While his struggles are duly noted to cope with life after hockey, it appears that Nilan has gotten has feet back on the ground. He has founded The Knuckles Group, a company that puts him on the road and has him talk to kids about bullying and sells Nilan merchandise with 50% of the proceeds going to Kids Help Phone. Nilan knows he has a second chance now and he’s trying to make the most of it.
The hockey goon/enforcer has always captivated me. These men of largess who physically master their world often times look like the loneliest people to me. I remember watching an epic fight between Bob Probert and Marty McSorley when I was a freshman in college and the two just battled for over 2 minutes, which is extraordinarily long, trading blows to the face for nearly the entirety of the fight. It went on long enough for me to call my dad in the middle of it and narrate the action. Here is the fight:
But the punches thrown aren’t what I remember most. I remember the shot ESPN had of Probert in the penalty box afterwards most. I had always disliked Probert because he was the head goon for the Detroit Red Wings, the chief rival of my favorite team, the Chicago Blackhawks, and he always mixed it up when they played. But as I watched him in the box, his head hung low, face already starting to bruise, it seemed like he was the loneliest guy on the planet. Even though he was on his home ice and the the crowd was going nuts since he had just gotten the better of McSorley (although I wouldn’t admit that at the time), he just seemed kind of sad. Probert was a lot like Nilan and they were friends. He was arrested for cocaine possession during his time with Detroit and was even initially supposed to be deported to Canada and not be able to play hockey in the US. He died of a heart attack at age 45. He donated his brain to science and they found that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease found in the brains of athletes who take repeated blows to the head like football players, boxers and wrestlers. This is the legacy of the enforcer. This is what these men do to play the game they love at the highest level in the world. No wonder Probert appeared sad. Georges Laraque said this about his role as enforcer: “I did it because it was my job but I hated it.” Can’t imagine why.
The Hanson Brothers, hockey enforcer extraordinaires.
Slap Shot is my favorite movie of all-time (I know, you’re tired of hearing about it) and the Hanson Brothers are easily the most entertaining part of the film aside from Paul Newman‘s wardrobe. That the Hansons are portrayed in such a light way, having fun and dropping haymakers on everyone in sight is clearly a short-sighted representation of these guys. I have no doubt that there were men that went out and enjoyed fighting. Nilan appears to be one. However, the after effects of their job is just crushing to see. While Goon isn’t a very good movie, I think that the Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) character was captured pretty well. He is a solitary man, one who doesn’t connect with anyone, even in his hometown where he is a hero. On the flipside, Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Seann WilliamScott) is a goofy, likeable guy that gets along with everyone and doesn’t seem to grasp what it is that he’s doing to himself. He has that same mentality as Nilan in that he’d do anything to help his teammates, especially the guy he was signed to protect. As Nilan said about his former Canadiens head coach Jacques Lemaire and former Bruins head coach Mike Milbury, “I’d go through a wall for him.” Glatt has that same mentality, but it rings false for me.
This is an absolutely fascinating look at a man who was paid to whip ass. Nilan was the real deal – a tough Irish kid from Roxbury, MA, which is no place to fuck around. He took his tough kid from Boston shit all the way to the NHL and was really good at what he did. He has paid a price for it since, fallen from grace and is attempting, and doing well I might add, to redeem himself. This is a portrait of a portion of the sport of hockey you don’t get to see too often. Gibney did such a wonderful job with this film and I think it’s a fitting tribute to the toughness of Chris Nilan and to what it takes to be a hockey enforcer. As the game of hockey changes, fighting becomes less and less a part of the game. I’ve always liked the fighting, but part of me isn’t so sorry to see it go. Watching this film kind of solidifies that.
Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace) said this about Johnny Be Good: ” ‘Johnny Be Good‘ is completely bereft of comic imagination” and “There is no possible motivation for [the final] scene, except for the obvious one – artistic bankruptcy” as well as “The screenplay for this movie bears every sign of being a first draft – a quick and dirty one. The movie doesn’t feel written, it feels dictated.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, eh? It currently sits at 0% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. To put in perspective what that means, Gigli sits at 7% fresh. So this film is widely recognized as a shit sandwich by pretty much everyone. Well, except me, I guess. I’ll agree to disagree with Mr. Ebert on this one.
Johnny arrives at UCC (the flimsy stand-in for USC) to pomp and circumstance.
The premise of this film is pretty simple – Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) is the best high school quarterback in the country. Every school is licking their chops at his talent and wants him at their school and they will do anything to get him. Johnny is a kid who comes from a humble home. His father has passed away and he lives with his mother (Deborah May), his grandfather (George Hall) and his brother and sister. So when colleges are offering big money for him to attend, he is listening, much to the chagrin of the family and his beautiful girlfriend Georgia (Uma Thurman, smoking hot in her first film role). Johnny considers himself a package deal with his best friend Leo (Robert Downey, Jr.), so both are getting propositioned from all sides, including overtures made by their high school coach Wayne Hisler (Paul Gleason, also Mr. Vernon from The Breakfast Club). Johnny’s recruitment circus is being followed closely by an NCAA recruitment investigator (Robert Downey Sr.), and shit blows up like The Godfather as it’s clear that violations abound in certain schools’ pursuit of him.
Here are four reasons that this film is still worthy of a watch:
4) Paul Gleason as Coach Hisler and his clothes
It’s a bar shaped like a piano…with a piano!
Paul Gleason is amazing in this. Not only does he build off his asshole performances in Trading Places and The Breakfast Club, he brings some kitsch to this one. As the clueless head coach of Johnny’s team, Hisler is married to Connie, played by Jennifer Tilly, a woman who throws Tupperware parties. Still. I know this was made in 1988, but didn’t that shit go out of style in 1972? Clad in some of the sweetest gear this side of Paul Newman‘s wardrobe in Slap Shot, Hisler really spells C-L-A-S-S. The shirt pictured above is really the tip of the iceberg. Screenshots were pretty scarce, but you should watch this film alone to see his yellow suit. It is unreal.
For all of his attempts at being sneaky, Hisler really just comes off looking like a dumbass. But don’t let that fool you as he’s still one of the best characters in the film. His lack of social awareness (he drives a Pacer for God’s sake) is actually kind of endearing. Obviously he’s a better football coach than he is a schemer or being a social animal.
Here is the speech he gives just before the state championship football game:
3) Jim McMahon‘s cameo
If you lived in the 80s and you don’t know who Jim McMahon is you might have been living under a rock…or just aren’t a sports fan. “The Punky QB” played for probably the best pro football team ever assembled, the 1985 Chicago Bears. He was known for his outrageous behavior and for being trouble for then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Was he the best quarterback? No. But he had more personality than all of them. That he’s doing an Adidas commercial is comical because he was fined for wearing an Adidas headband which was against league rules. Suck on that, Rozelle.
From the time I saw him in Six Pack, shaking the dew off his lilly, to watching him in Johnny Be Good, Anthony Michael Hall completed a perfect transition from nerd extraordinaire or “King of the Dipshits” as his character Ted exclaims in Sixteen Candles, to the guys who dates the hottest girl in school and someone who everyone wants a piece of. His comedic timing evolved over the films he did with John Hughes (RIP) and works well in this film. Perhaps his stint on Saturday Night Live in 1985-1986 helped with this, although I recall those episodes to be below average. All the same, it’s nice to see AMH pick up where his character, Gary Wallace, left off in Weird Science. This was his last “big” leading role in film – he did play the villain in Tim Burton‘s Edward Scissorhands in 1990. A fitting way for a young talent to go out? I’d say no, but I think it provides ample humor despite the film’s serious shortcomings. I have always hoped he would have a big comeback. Perhaps Tarantino can write him into something. I mean, he helped out John Travolta‘s one-note ass. Why not AMH?
1) Robert Downey, Jr. is off his ass funny
What kind of boy do you think I am? I will hardly pop you without having met your father first. Get him on the horn.
As bad/good as this movie is, one thing is certain: Robert Downey Jr. had obvious talent. He steals the show as Leo Wiggins, Johnny’s best friend and back-up quarterback. His crazy monologues/diatribes are quite funny and his facial expressions are so expressive, it’s no wonder he was chosen to play Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin. It’s not strange that he appears in this film as he co-starred with AMH in Weird Science, Saturday Night Live and showed his own range between these two and Johnny Be Good when he appeared in Back to School (a character similar to Leo Wiggins), alongside fellow AMH–brat packer Molly Ringwald in the Hughes-ian The Pickup Artist and showed his more dramatic side in the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘ debut novel Less Than Zero.
The funniest part besides when RDJ tries to “smell it” at the beginning in Coach Hisler’s speech, is the stories he tells the girls they pick up at Murf’s Better Burger:
All in all the production of this film is pretty sorry. It may have the worst sound production of any film I’ve seen in some time. The amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording) is so obvious, it hurts. Seems like half of the dialogue was redubbed. One astonishing thing about this film is that Robert Yeoman, the director of photography for all of Wes Anderson‘s films, shot this film as well, much like two-time Oscar-winner Janusz Kaminski shot Vanilla Ice‘s Cool As Ice.
This, like many of the movies of the time, are time capsules of the period in which they were shot. Looking back, it’s probably best that some stay that way. The events that occur in this film are so over-the-top and unbelievable, it’s hard to argue where Roger Ebert was coming from. Still, I find this film fun to watch and laugh at. One of the best parts about this film to me is that I saw this in theater with my grandma. The only other films I remember seeing with her in the theater: Disney’s Song of the South and Chariots of Fire. Quite an eclectic set of movies, no? A cultured woman, for sure.
Anyhither, give this one a spin if you want to see Anthony Michael Hall right before he fell into oblivion.
The opening of a film is arguably the most important part, yes? In just a few short minutes, it can be the aspect that keeps you watching, hooking you in, or it can be so awful that you turn the bitch off. The James Bond franchise has always been great about setting up the ridiculousness ahead with some incredible action scene to start off the film. From this, you know what to expect in the next 90-120 minutes. John Ford‘s iconic shot at the beginning of The Searchers sets the tone for the entire film in about 18 seconds. I’m sure plenty of folks would rank it amongst the best ever opening scenes. That it is bookended with one of the most iconic endings, doesn’t hurt its stature I’m sure. Conversely, when a film opens as shittily as, say, Joel Schumacher‘s Batman & Robin, you know you’re in for something really terrible. Have a look:
While I’m sure many thought having George Clooney‘s Batman-costumed ass start the film was a good idea, it ends up only conveying what many people already know – Joel Schumacher has no business making movies and that this movie is a giant turdball.
Here’s a list of my ten favorite film opening scenes. All but two hail from the last 26 years. I wish I could explain this, but these are the ones that have stuck with me over time.
10) The Way of the Gun (2000)
Now, I will admit that this is the most lowbrow of the entries on this list. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed as hard to start a movie than I did when I watched this the first time. I will also state that I am not a Ryan Phillippe fan. I think he is subpar when it comes to the job he gets paid to do – everything from his voice to his gestures annoy the shit out of me. However, this scene is perfect. That it is Sarah Silverman that is the obnoxious loudmouth is all the better. I had never heard of her when I saw this, but it all makes sense now. I will also say this film falls completely flat after this scene. That this film was written and directed by the same man wrote The Usual Suspects (Christopher McQuarrie) is perplexing. Talk about going from complete hit to total miss in one film. Nonetheless, this scene has forever been etched into my mind. I love that the Stones’ “Rip This Joint” is playing. Great fight music and a solid choice.
BTW – the laugh after Phillippe tells Silverman he’s going to “fuckstart her head” (whatever that means) is beyond priceless and may be the best part of the entire scene. Also, I do not condone punching women. Just want that to be stated.
9) Barfly (1987)
(watch the first 4:42)
I think it’s important to watch the title sequence as well as the opening scene. Director Barbet Schroeder was smart to include quick shots of lots of dive bars where main character Henry Chinaski, the alter ego of writer Charles Bukowski (played fabulously by a less worn Mickey Rourke), would possibly hang out, drinking his days and nights away. When we come upon Henry in a fight with bartender Eddie (Frank Stallone, Sylvester‘s brother), we automatically can see what we’re in for – an incorrigible drunk, a showboat, who has really hit bottom. Sit back and enjoy the booze-filled ride.
8) Melancholia (2011)
If you have seen much of director Lars Von Trier‘s work, you’ll know that he’s quite the provocateur. So it was no surprise when I saw Melancholia, that the opening sequence was stunning and memorable (its ending is just as stunning). This was very reminiscent of the opening of Don DeLillo‘s novel Players, and really resonated with me. While this sequence isn’t quite so on the nose as many in giving us information about what we are to see after, it does give us a heads up that what we are about to watch is depressing, brutal, confusing and overwhelming. I was fortunate enough to see this one on the big screen and it was gorgeous.
7) Gangs of New York (2002)
The precursor to the epic battle at the beginning of Gangs of New York, I love this scene. It’s the only time we see Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) who is referred to so many times in the film. Watching as the Irish immigrants prepare for war against the Nativists led by Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most haunting roles) with “Shimmy She Wobble” playing over the scene is the perfect way to get the blood up for the battle, the fife and drum signalling the call to arms. Scorsese was very wise to open the film this way. You can see he channels the aforementioned opening scene from The Searchers when Monk (Brendan Gleeson) kicks the door open.
6) Magnolia (1999)
The prologue before this scene is just as good, but I can’t find a damn clip of it anywhere. This is a classic example of how to set up all of your characters in one scene. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s usage of Aimee Mann‘s cover of Three Dog Night’s “One Is the Loneliest Number” is a stroke of genius. As we find out, every character, even the beloved Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), is a miserable mess alone in the world even if they have plenty of people around them. As I’ve stated before, I believe Magnolia to be the best film of the first decade of the 2000s. This scene is one of the many reasons why I think so.
5) Rushmore (1998)
Rushmore is a top-ten favorite film of all-time for me. It is Wes Anderson‘s finest contribution to film (as I have stated here). It has the beauty of not only having a great opening but my favorite ending of any film I’ve ever seen. The opening of Rushmore adds to the delusional qualities of its main character Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), dreaming of how he wishes he was perceived, which is quite opposite from reality. Coupled with Mark Mothersbaugh‘s tinkly music, the opening sets the tone so well.
4) American Psycho (2000)
“I live in the America Gardens building on West 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I’m 27 years old.” Delivered coolly and calmly, you might never know what this character is capable of if you were to turn off the film after he (Christian Bale in what I feel is his finest role) speaks these first two sentences. Of course that changes quickly as the monologue continues. This clip is so perfect in giving us an idea what a socio/psychopath he is, which is only confirmed by events later in the film. While mostly expository, this scene is essential for us to learn about Bateman. But in the end, is what he says and does real? Or is it all in his mind?
3) The Player (1992)
One of the more clever film openings, The Player was director Robert Altman‘s return to form after the critical and box office success he enjoyed in the 1970s dried up in the 1980s. From its opening line of “Action!”, we as viewers have to figure out what’s going on. Is what we are watching a film within a film? That Altman chose to shoot this scene in one continuous shot is all the more impressive. By doing this, he was able to establish the main characters in the film, their roles and what space they occupy. He also put us as the viewers in an even more voyeuristic point of view, a key notion in the film, as we look through windows from the outside or across a parking lot to see the inner-happenings of a movie studio lot, something which people want to see but few ever do. This is one of the most wicked films I’ve ever seen and a perfect representation of Hollywood as a kill-or-be-killed environment. This scene is also a reference to #1 on this list.
2) Slap Shot (1977)
Best. Movie. Ever. Great opening scene as Charlestown Chiefs’ goalie Denis Lemieux (Yvon Barrette) and announcer Jim Carr (Andrew Duncan) discuss the finer points of hockey. Lemieux is a good representation in this film is captured in this short 90 second clip. It also foreshadows the shift in the Chiefs’ strategy later in the film from old time hockey to the goonery that the Hanson Brothers bring with them from the Iron League. They go to the penalty box for their two minutes, but most of them do not feel shame. I can’t imagine this film opening any other way.
1) Touch of Evil (1958)
Without a doubt, this is the best opening to a film I’ve ever seen. Here Orson Welles shows why he is one of the finest filmmakers ever. The suspense it creates is unreal. Watching as Mike (Charlton Heston) and Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh) pass and are passed by the car with the bomb in its trunk keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering when it will blow. Couple that with all of the other information you receive from the goings on around them, it is obviously put together by a master at the top of his game. Most will say that Touch of Evil was the death knell of film noir in its original incarnation. If that is the case, it’s one hell of a way to go out.
I’m sure I’ve overlooked some scenes that could easily make this list. Lists like these are always dynamic, changing on a whim or what you fancy on a particular day. These are mostly great examples of how opening your film with a memorable scene hooks viewers and begs them to sit through the rest of it. What’s more, it’s pretty obvious that music plays a pretty key role in most of these scenes. These scenes would play drastically different with no music or other choices. I have no doubt that what was chosen was carefully selected to match the intent or theme of the scene.
John Hughes would have been 63 today. His death in 2009 shocked me even though he had been out of the public eye for years and hadn’t directed a film since Curly Sue in 1991. Hughes was the absolute MAYOR of the 80s. His youth/teen films raised the bar for the genre and, in my opinion, have yet to be eclipsed. But he was more than just a teen film director. His adult comedies were as pertinent as anything he did in the teen realm, echoing the same themes of acceptance and understanding all while bringing the funny sprinkled with moments of levity.
I knew you’d come around…
Hughes‘ films are important to me. I hold them as dear to my heart as any film(s) that I’ve ever seen. I saw Weird Science at the Rivoli Theater in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court over visitation rights. I couldn’t imagine a better way to have staved off the nervousness I felt that day. I happily recall watching Sixteen Candles with friends, rewinding about a hundred times the scene where Anthony Michael Hall is dancing with Molly Ringwald and farts, laughing equally hard each time. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may or may not have been the inspiration for my own two-week school skipping streak in 7th grade. These films helped me with the rough road through adolescence, showing me that insecurity, dysfunction and all of the other problems of youth were the norm, not the exception. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that and I believe that’s why his films resonated so well then and continue to do so to this day.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no.
I have been trying to rack my brain and I can’t think of another filmmaker that had a run of success in such a short time as John Hughes did from 1983-1987. As prolific as Rainer Werner Fassbinder was (is this the first time Hughes and Fassbinder have been mentioned together, I wonder?), I don’t think he even put up the resume that Hughes has. Woody Allen has had some good runs in his life, but none quite so strong as Hughes. Let’s take a look at the the films that Hughes either wrote or wrote/directed in this time period:
Mr. Mom (1983) – wrote
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – wrote
Nate & Hayes (1983) – wrote (I had never heard of this one)
Sixteen Candles (1984) – wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1984) – wrote and directed
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1984) – wrote
Weird Science (1985) – wrote and directed
Pretty in Pink (1986) – wrote
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – wrote and directed
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)- wrote
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) – wrote and directed
By my count, that’s 11 films, eight of which represent some the most well-known and iconic films of the decade. Hughes only directed three other films past this period – She’s Having a Baby, Uncle Buck and Curly Sue – all fair films, I suppose, but none match the beloved status of the bulk of the list above. While he continued to write mostly family films (Home Alone series, Beethoven series) for years after pulling his best Keyser Söze (And like that, poof. He’s gone), he never quite captured the magic he had from 83-87. That’s a pretty tall order in the grand scheme of things.
As is the norm, here are my 5 (cheated, really 6) favorite works to which John Hughes contributed and why they still rock:
5) Mr. Mom (tie)
The Wall Street Journal just declared the caricature of inept stay-at-home dads depicted in Mr. Mom dead just a couple of weeks ago. However, the appeal of this movie still endures. Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of Jack Butler, the former GM engineer who lost his job and now stays home with the kids, is incredibly funny and I believe was probably pretty spot on for the time. I was raised by my father and I can certainly say that he was far more able to raise three kids than poor Jack, but this would seem more the exception rather than the rule. I think that’s why this is so enjoyable for me as it gives me an insight to what my childhood could have been like with a more maladroit father. Keaton is loveable despite his cringe worthy displays. For example:
All this aside, this film was pretty groundbreaking. Showing a woman, Caroline (played magnificently by Terri Garr), who is out in the workforce while the children are at home, succeeding and moving up the corporate ladder? I can’t recall a single film like it at the time. And as is typical, Hughes gives his characters some really great, memorable lines:
How’d you like a little trim on that moustache, Ron?
If Mr. Moms are indeed dead, then I’m glad we will always have this record to remind us of their haplessness. For that, John Hughes, I say thank you.
Here’s the trailer:
5) National Lampoon’s Vacation (tie)
The first in the Vacation series by National Lampoon, and undoubtedly the best, Hughes adapted a short story he wrote while working for advertising/public relations firm Leo Burnett (you can read it here) to start the journey of the Griswolds on-screen. Hughes seems to be especially hard on fathers in his films, and this one is no exception. Released in the same year (1983) as Mr. Mom, they seem to be perfect companion pieces to one another.
We watch his program… We buy his toys, we go to his movies… he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us, huh? He owes the Griswolds, right? Fucking-A right he owes us!
As most everyone knows, this movie follows the Griswold family – Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) – as they traverse the country from Chicago to California on their way to Wally World, America’s Favorite Family Fun Park. Convinced that driving is the only way to travel, the Griswolds stop at roadside attractions as well as seeing some family. Randy Quaid makes his first appearance as white trash Cousin Eddie and is in fine form. After a series of car breakdowns, getting lost in the ‘hood of St. Louis, nearly getting arrested for animal cruelty, a dead aunt, and a near adulterous encounter, Clark glides the finally happy family into the parking lot of Wally World…only to find out that it’s closed for two weeks. The final punctuation on a road trip where not much else could have gone wrong. So, he takes matters into his own hands…
An homage to all shitty family road trips, National Lampoon’s Vacation hits the proverbial nail on the head. Even as stupid as Clark seems, he still has a the biggest heart and wants nothing but the best for his family. Unfortunately, he fucks it up every time, a motif that plays itself out over the course of the three other films in this series – European Vacation (without a doubt the absolute worst of the bunch – that Hughes had anything to do with this one makes me sad), Christmas Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation, whose only saving grace is the appearance by Wayne Newton.
Far and away the best part of this movie, I still laugh hysterically each time I see it:
The edited version for TV is nearly as funny: What I look like – Christopher Columbo?
So if you’re preparing to take the kiddos to Disney (as I am in May – God help me) or any other long road trip, give this one a watch and learn what not to do.
Here is the trailer:
4) The Breakfast Club
The quintessential 80s angst film, The Breakfast Club has comedic moments, but this one hits a closer to the bone than the rest of his films. Set in Saturday detention, five seemingly different high school students – a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a freak (Ally Sheedy), a popular rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a popular wrestling star (Emilio Estevez) and a hood (Judd Nelson) – are charged with writing an essay telling the tyrannical Assistant Principal Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson) who they think they are. As the day progresses, the group of teens go back and forth, attacking one another, reconciling, telling each other their tales of why they are there. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they are alike.
Obscene finger gestures from such a pristine girl…
This was one of the two films (St. Elmo’s Fire being the other) that spawned the term The Brat Pack and solidified Molly Ringwald‘s short-lived status as Hollywood’s “it-girl.” This of all of Hughes‘ films still seems to resonate the most, ring as the most timeless. These characters still exist in today’s high schools (watch Nanette Burstein‘s documentary American Teen for easy examples), so it’s no wonder why Hughes is/was the teenager’s poet laureate. Its anti-authoritarian message certainly helps.
The ending sequence is pretty unforgettable (pun intended), as Vernon reads the essay that the five left behind, Anthony Michael Hall narrating. That Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays over it (flush with a Truffaut-like freeze frame) really is the perfect accompaniment, an anthem that all high schoolers echo just wanting to be noticed.
I always adored this moment. Even though I was only in fifth grade when this came out, it struck a chord. While I couldn’t know the rough waters I’d have to tread when in high school, this was a nice primer and one of the many reasons I cherish Hughes‘ oeuvre. I think it was this film that Hughes found his full voice as a writer. You could see traces his craft coming together in his previous films, but this is a fully realized work that melds the comedic and serious perfectly.
Here is the trailer:
3) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It doesn’t get much more iconic than Ferris Bueller. This movie drips cool, well…with the exception of Cameron’s (Alan Ruck) stupid ass Detroit Red Wings jersey. That sucks. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick‘s signature role) is the guy everyone wants to know in high school – friend to all, big and small, cool or not.
When Ferris decides to fake being sick (who can be expected to go to school on a day like this?), an elaborate process that dupes his clueless parents, but not Vice Principal Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Rooney decides to catch Ferris and make him an example, in order to show other students that the path Ferris has chosen is wrong. Thus unfolds an epic game of cat and mouse between Rooney, Ferris and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara),best friend Cameron and his sister Jeanie/sometimes Shawna (Jennifer Grey).
When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…let my Cameron go.
Cameron is actually sick, but Ferris cons him into driving Ferris around for the day. Cameron is also a tight ass (if you stick a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you get a diamond) who needs to have some fun. So they embark on a journey for the ages, taking in the sites of Chicago and breaking through some barriers for each of the characters.
If you didn’t want to be Ferris Bueller in 1986, then I don’t know what to say about you. Who didn’t want to sing Wayne Newton and The Beatles on a float in a German parade through the streets of Chicago?
Incidentally, I lost a bet to my mother on whether the person singing “Danke Schoen” was a man or a woman watching this movie the first time.
This is one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen and may well be Hughes‘ finest creation. I think it, along with The Breakfast Club, is probably the most enduring as its themes are also universal. As Polonius said to Laertes in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I think Ferris followed this advice better than anyone. He never misrepresents himself to anyone he’s with, even to Rooney, and I think that’s why he’s such a relatable character. This was Hughes‘ biggest strength as a writer. It is evident in every film discussed here and why we are still talking about these films.
I hope The rebelliousness of Ferris is alive and well among the youth of today. If not, you must be a bunch of boring bastards…
Here is the trailer:
2) Sixteen Candles
I’m not sure how I originally stumbled upon Sixteen Candles when I was a kid. I can’t remember if we just happened to pick it up at the video store (yes, kids, there used to be actual stores where you could go rent videos, not DVDs) or if we had seen some preview for it. I wasn’t exactly following certain directors’ work back when I was 9. Or was I? Nonetheless, this movie floored me with its humor, its depiction of family as insanely fucked up, and the hope that things you wish for may actually come true.
Well if it isn’t Sammy Baker Davis Jr!
The story centers around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald in her first real starring role) who turns 16. However, her birthday happens to fall on the day before her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married. Since her family is up to their eyes in wedding details, they forget that it’s Sam’s birthday. An obvious nightmare for anyone, let alone a girl on her sweet sixteen. The scene when she realizes this is perfection, truly setting up each of the family member’s characters in a short 45-second scene. Watch:
Sam has one more big issue in this film as well, and that’s Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). She has a crush on him, but he is the most popular guy in school, very rich and is dating the hottest girl in school, Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris). When she passes a note that falls to Jake accidentally, he finds out about this. As she tries to make things happen with Jake, she is followed around by a geek and self-professed “king of the dipshits” named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), who incessantly tries to pick her up. Couple all of this with being saddled with taking her grandparents foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), to the school dance where Jake will be, and she’s got a lot on her plate.
No more yanky my wanky…the Donger needfood!
One of the biggest successes of this film is that it is also Anthony Michael Hall‘s coming out party. He really established himself as a quality comedic actor in this film. He had obviously worked with Hughes material in National Lampoon’s Vacation before, so perhaps that was to his advantage. His character is so slimy, yet so endearing that you feel sorry for him. Also, he is the chief architect of a few of the film’s funniest scenes, e.g. when he and his friends (one being a young John Cusack) meet Long Duk Dong for the first time at Jake’s party, the aforementioned dance sequence, and when he takes a drunken/passed out Caroline to meet his friends in the middle of the night.
But ultimately, this is Samantha’s journey. We ride the roller coaster with her, and at times, it is difficult. The talk she has with her father (Paul Dooley) after he realizes they forgot her birthday was very real and quite spot-on. Or I imagine it is as I’ve never had this talk with a teenage girl or been a teenage girl, but Hughes situated it where I could empathize. Not an easy task. While this film has its share of juvenile humor (it is a film about high school after all), it has a heart and certain characters end up showing this even when you think that they aren’t able.
This is for you ladies:
Here’s the trailer:
1) Weird Science
So this is number one. With a bullet. This may be one of the three funniest movies I’ve ever seen. A absolute riot from start to finish, this was kind of a surprise from Hughes who with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club had added more drama to each film leading up to Weird Science. It’s juvenile, filled with raunchy humor and is a departure from the prior formula he employed. And it works. WELL. At least in my opinion. It is far and away the Hughes film that I watch most and that it why it grabbed spot #1 on this list.
The basic premise is two losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), can’t fit in. Picked on, abused by cooler kids, and ignored by all girls, they decide to build their own woman using Wyatt’s souped up computer while his parents are away for the weekend. They cull the most beautiful images from Playboy magazines, give her genius intelligence and finish the job by harnessing the electricity from a thunderstorm to give her life a la Dr. Frankenstein all while wearing bras on their heads (ceremonial). And BOOM! They have Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).
What would you little maniacs like to do first?
So it becomes Lisa’s mission to help make the guys transition from being nerds to cool. Not an easy process considering what she has to work with. She starts off with them in a night on the town, which quickly goes from bad to worse. But then, Gary hits his stride amid the funniest scene in the entire film. Watch:
Fats, man…let me tell you my story, man. Were funnier opening words to a story ever uttered? Methinks not.
And let’s credit Hughes for maybe the best part of this film – the creation of Chet (Bill Paxton), Wyatt’s older brother and caretaker while his parents are away. Abusive and gross in every sense of the word, Chet represents what these two are up against every day of their lives. And Wyatt, chicken shit that he is, takes everything Chet has to give, served in a dirty ash tray. Chet extorts him and abuses him verbally and physically. But when Lisa enters the story, things start to change even with Chet. All that aside, I would argue that Chet is the second best movie character next to Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) in Slap Shot. And Paxton‘s performance pretty much rules. Who else can say, “But first, I’d like to butter your muffin…” any slimier than he does? I dare you to find someone. DARE YOU.
That is a severe behavioral disorder!
The guys have their eyes on two girls, Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) at school, but they happen to be dating Gary and Wyatt’s arch nemeses, Ian (a very young Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Ruslan). Lisa decides to help the guys out and throw a BIIIIG party at Wyatt’s house and invite everyone. When the guys stay in bathroom, Lisa does what she can to coax them out and prove their meddle so Deb and Hilly will see them for who they are. This of course yields two of the funnier parts of the film, but it’s here they make their final transition from nerds to being not necessarily cool, but noticeable, shall we say.
You’re dropping wolf bait, and there’s chicks outside! Light a match, light a fire. I don’t know.
While it doesn’t have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have, Weird Science earns its ending. While Hughes moved on to more adult and family friendly fare after this (with exception of maybe Uncle Buck which treads some of the same water here), I’m so glad he squeezed this one in.
Here’s the trailer:
So as I said before, Hughes left a mark on my childhood – his films helped me navigate the unsteady times of adolescence. These films are signposts that me and many of my friends can point to as we continue to try and make our way through this world. Hughes‘ passing in 2009 was tragic because he gave voice to my generation. While he hadn’t spoken for it in quite some time, he still held that title when he died and I believe he continues to do so. There are rumors that one of his unproduced scripts in moving into production. PLEASE DON’T. Let the man rest. There is a reason that project went unproduced.
And I thought the A Christmas Story poster was the best fan-made alternate poster I’ve ever seen. Just so damn awesome. This one is absolute perfection and captures the essence of the film so well…at least when the Chiefs aren’t playing Toe Blake/Eddie Shore-style old time hockey.
Here is a great article on why Slap Shot is so damn great. And if you are interested, here is a great book about the making of the film. As I’ve stated before, this is my favorite movie of all-time. Chock full of the most colorful characters cinema has to offer, it still makes me laugh as hard today as the first day I saw it.
Kudos to Paul Slayton who designed this. Truly amazing work, sir!
As far as iconic Westerns go, Butch Cassidyand The Sundance Kid has to be up there. Despite being released in 1969 well outside the hey day of the Western, this film was a big hit and basically launched the film career of one Robert Redford. Playing alongside the best actor of his generation (and perhaps of all-time as he certainly is in my book) in Paul Newman probably didn’t hurt. This film is basically a who’s who of Hollywood production at the time – George Roy Hill (director of the best movie ever – Slap Shot) directs, William Goldman wrote the absolutely wonderful script, Conrad Hall is the cinematographer, Burt Bacharach‘s scored and wrote the still loved “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” for the film, and of course Edith Head did the costumes. Goldman, Bacharach and Hall all won Oscars for their work on this film with Bacharach winning two. Not a bad pedigree at all.
Sundance (left) and Butch contemplate what move to make next.
For those who don’t know, this story was based on the real lives of Butch Cassidy (real name Robert LeRoy Parker) and The Sundance Kid (real name Harry Alonzo Longabaugh). They were outlaws and bank/train robbers and had a crew of men called The Wild Bunch gang (The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang in the movie).
The real Wild Bunch gang – Sundance (front row bottom left) and Butch (front row bottom right)
Goldman‘s script follows Butch and Sundance’s final years. When the rob the same train too many times, the owner of the train, E.H. Harriman (also a real person) of the Union Pacific Railroad sends out a group, known as the superposse (a Goldman creation), to track down the outlaws. With ruthless persistence, they stop at nothing to get the men. Following them all the way to Bolivia where Butch takes Sundance to get away. Traveling with them is Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta Place (played by the magnificent Katherine Ross), who eventually leaves them knowing they are destined to lose the game at which they play.
Here is one the best scenes in the whole film as Butch and Sundance are trying to escape the superposse:
The on screen chemistry between Newman and Redford is pretty amazing and carried over to another George Roy Hill classic, The Sting, which won seven Academy Awards . This is a buddy film like no other, a western that almost acts more like a comedy. Newman absolutely shines like he does in everything he’s in. The man was an unparalleled talent. The final shot of the film is pretty awesome. If only Truffaut hadn’t already done it with The 400 Blows, it might have blown to roof off of cinema…
The final shot for the film and as well as for Butch and Sundance.
This is one of the most fun rides you can take, so check it out. You won’t be sorry.
This movie streams on Netflix, iTunes and is free on Amazon if you’re a Prime member.
Slap Shot (1977) is my favorite movie of all-time. There. I said it. I make no apologies for this. It is not the technical best film of all-time. It is not the best acted film of all-time. However, it is the one film that I can return to at any given time and it can still make me feel as good as, if not better than, the first time I watched it. Its comedy endures, its humanity endures and its fashion endures…well, perhaps not that part. It is the finest example of why I watch movies and it will forever occupy that coveted #1 spot in my all-time top 10.
“Puttin’ on the foil. Every game. Want some?”
Slap Shot follows a hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, based in a town where the local iron mill employs the vast majority of its inhabitants. The players on the team are as blue collar as the mill workers – journeymen working a job to get paid and survive, some putting more into it than others. Past his prime player-coach Reg Dunlop (played masterfully by the best actor of his generation, Paul Newman) is the architect of the fifth place Chiefs. Reg is a local celebrity who once played with great players like Toe Blake and Eddie Shore. However, it’s clear he’s way past his prime, both as a player and a coach.
Player/Coach Reggie Dunlop (played by Paul Newman)
The players seem to just go through the motions of being hockey players and are the subjects of hurled insults from the fans who likely come as much to heckle them as to cheer them on. League-leading scorer Ned Braden (played by David Lynch-fave Michael Ontkean) is an ace on the ice, but off the ice is another story. He and his booze-fueled wife Lily (played by a young Lindsay Crouse) are at odds with their lifestyle. Ned was all-Eastern at Princeton, but loves playing hockey. Lily wants nothing more than to leave the dingy arenas of minor league hockey for a more stable environment far from mill towns like Charlestown.
Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean)
Around Dunlop and Braden circle a cast of the most sordid characters: Denis Lemieux, the French Canadien goalie prospect who has an “allergy” to fans who attend the games, sex-crazed Morris Wanchuk, playboy Billy Charlebois (from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – best name for a town ever?), willing-to-please-the-coach-at-any-cost Dave “Killer” Carlson and none more famous than the bespectacled Hanson Brothers – Jack, Steve and Jeff. The Hansons come to the Chiefs in a trade from the Iron League, notorious for its vicious fights. But after Dunlop spots them in their hotel room playing with toy cars and putting foil on their knuckles before their first game (pictured above), he’s convinced there is something wrong with them and they are banished to the bench.
Denis Lemieux (Yvon Barrette)
Morris “Mo” Wanchuk (Brad Sullivan)
Billy Charlesbois (Guido Tenesi)
When word is out that the steel mill that supports the vast majority of the town’s populace is closing, the status of the Chiefs’ existence comes into question. After general manager Joe McGrath (frequent Newman collaborator Strother Martin) unexpectedly makes a road trip with the team, it is announced that the Chiefs will fold after the season is over. The whole team panics, unsure of their futures. Braden, with his college degree, at least has a backup if another team doesn’t sign him. Captain Johnny Upton (played by long-time Altman 2nd Unit director Allan Nichols) sums of the bulk of their situations – “fucking Chrysler plant, here I come!” Dunlop makes a last ditch effort to save the team, however. After being told by his ex-wife that he needs to retire and he can no longer count on hockey anymore as he is no good as a coach and can’t make the Chiefs win, he adopts the “I’ll show them” attitude. He begins by installing the Hanson brothers in their first game after Carlson is ejected for fighting. And this is where everything changes. The Hanson Brothers don’t disappoint. They wreak havoc on everyone who steps on the ice, pulling no punches, literally, even when a referee intervenes. They are all ejected from the game, but the once morose fans are injected with excitement and enthusiasm by this new display of violence, a typically American reaction. And it spirals from there. The Chiefs begin a winning streak and cultivate a larger and larger fan base, winning fans hearts at home and terrorizing them on the road. Fans fill the stadium wherever they go and the Chiefs are enjoying a period of prosperity that they haven’t seen in years. The players hopes are inflated when Dunlop gives local sports reporter Dickie Dunn (whom this site is named for, played by character actor M. Emmet Walsh) a scoop that the Chiefs are on the verge of being sold to an investment retirement group in Florida. But this is all smoke and mirrors put forth by the far-more-crafty-than-you-would-think Dunlop. He’s really just trying to find out who the real owner of the team is in an attempt to save his own ass and hopefully those of the rest of the team by making them profitable.
Meanwhile, Braden, who is a scorer not a “goon” (as those who are prone to fighting are called in hockey), refuses to play the new Chiefs strategy. He tells Dunlop, “We win cos I score goals.” Dunlop retorts “Oh, kiss my ass. We win cos I make ’em crazy!” And he benches Braden. On top of this, Lily has left Ned and concentrated on herself for once. And this drives Ned crazy.
After blackmailing McGrath, he is finally able to locate the owner, Anita McCambridge (played by Kathryn Walker). After a back-and-forth, she admits that she could sell the Chiefs as there has been some interest; however, her accountant tells her it’s better to fold the Chiefs and take a tax loss. Infuriated, Dunlop delivers one of the most memorable lines of the film, one perhaps best left for him to say.
That evening the Chiefs are to play in the Federal League Championship against the Syracuse Bulldogs. Dunlop has had a change of heart, though. He tells his team the that he made the Florida deal up. “You know, we ain’t hockey players. We’ve been clowns. We’ve been goons! We’re the freaks in a fuckin’ sideshow.” And they vow to play their last game together playing old time hockey, the way it should be played, a notion that is constantly echoed by Maxine Nightingale’s anthem “Right Back Where We Started From” throughout the film.
However, in retribution for an earlier altercation with their captain Don “The Hook” McCracken, the Bulldogs have gone out and signed the games most legendary goons and cementheads – Gilmore Tuttle, Andre “Poodle” Lussier, Ross “Mad Dog” Madison, Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown, and the biggest goon of all, Ogie Ogilthorpe (based on real-life goon, Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe).
Ogie Ogilthorpe: “The biggest goon in hockey today”
The final game is rife with humor and an unexpected resolution as the colorful cast of characters battle it out putting the proverbial cherry on top of what, to me, is the most fun ride in sports film history. Director George Roy Hill and cinematographer Vic Kemper (whose work also includes Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky) did such a great job capturing the on-ice action. They are literally able to situate the viewer in the middle of all of the crushing checks and scoring rushes.
“She’s just scrappin'” is one of my favorite lines of any movie (and so perfectly delivered by Newman). It sums up so much, not just about Lilly Braden, but of the other characters in the film as well. These characters have to claw and scratch, and yes “scrap”, to get everything they’ve got, which isn’t much. It is also a phrase that can sum up blue-collar-to-the-bone Charlestown and most of its inhabitants. Kemper’s shots of Charlestown are bleak, filled with gloomy, grey skies, rowhouses, mill workers and dingy bars filled with drunks watching soap operas in the middle of the day. One of the few shots where we see the opposite is when Dunlop goes to Anita McCambridge’s house. In her world it is sunny, birds are chirping, grass is green, and a Volvo station wagon filled with groceries sits in the driveway. All is well on her side of the tracks, which is quite a contrast for the 10,000 mill workers who’ve been placed on waivers.
This line also could have easily applied to the film’s screenwriter, Nancy Dowd, who based the film on her brothers exploits in hockey’s minor leagues and specifically playing for the Johnstown Jets. Writing in Hollywood has largely been a man’s game. And writing about tough guys sports like hockey? Forget about it. Dowd brought a compelling story with incredibly colorful characters to light and for that I am eternally grateful. She should be cheered on high. This film has been the source of endless entertainment for me, my family and friends. How many quote sessions have we had? How many video game characters have we named after its characters? Too many to count.
It is also an honest portrayal of blue collar people, tough economic times and making the most of what situation you are in. The lessons put forth in this movie are ones that are still important today, perhaps most importantly summed up by words of The Bard – “to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day; Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Paul Newman called this his favorite film role and when that is taken in context, that speaks War and Peace-sized volumes. This from the man who played Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie Felson, Hud Bannon, Luke Jackson, Ben Quick, Henry Gondorff and Lew Harper. Perhaps he likes it so much because he got to spend nearly all of his off-ice time in the film in a sweet caramel colored leather suit. Maybe not. It’s hard to believe that Al Pacino was considered for this role (and Nick Nolte for the Braden role). Good thing Pacino couldn’t skate.
This film endures to this day and is widely regarding as one of the best sports movies of all-time. In my opinion, it’s the best movie of all-time…and my opinion is pretty damn good.