Monday, January 22, 2007

Lost Hockey Movie Classics

These puck films are extremely hard to find... but for the true hockey fan, as Jamie Fitzpatrick points out, it could prove a very worthwhile search effort.
Generally, when Hollywood straps on the skates, the results are lame. Fans of a certain age might recall Youngblood (Rob Lowe as a young hotshot who learns to drop the gloves) or Ice Castles (Robby Benson as a young hotshot who falls for a blind figure skater). More recent titles include MVP: Most Valuable Primate. Need we say more?

While such horrors remain available on video or DVD, many of the hockey movies we really want to see have long since disappeared. Here are three that are nowhere to be found these days. Maybe you will stumble upon one of them on the late show.

Face Off (1971) celebrates young love, bad dialogue, post-hippie pretensions and the manly pursuit of pucks. Billy is a rookie with the Leafs, Sherry is a pop singer wowing the Now Generation. His is a world of hard-drinking, hard-punching jocks; her's is a grab bag of bearded, dope-smoking artsies. Can love bridge the gap?

The film is written by Scott Young, who knew a thing or two about hockey players and pop stars. He was one of Canada's most respected sportswriters (elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988) and the father of rock icon Neil Young.

Spot the cameos! Toronto captain George Armstrong and groovy Bruins' star Derek Sanderson have speaking parts. Harold Ballard, the Leafs' creepy owner, appears briefly. The hero of the 1972 Canada-Soviet series, Paul Henderson, cuts the rug at a team New Year's party.

Memorable scene: Billy accuses Barney, Sherry's guitar player, of corrupting Sherry with drugs and rock and roll. Barney's reply: "Oh man. That's heavy."

King of Hockey (1936) stars Dick Purcell as Gabby Dugan, a pure-hearted lad soiled by the depravities of professional sport. Gabby can skate like the wind and make the babes swoon, so he's a little cocky. The veteran goalie, "Jumbo" Mullins, tries to keep the kid on the straight and narrow, but Gabby starts gooning it up on the ice and soon falls in with gamblers and mobsters.

Rumors of bribery and game-fixing lead to a confrontation between Gabby and Jumbo. The goalie ends the discussion with a crack to the head, leaving Gabby blinded. It's up to the lovely Kathleen to step in and set everything straight. Cue lesson in humility, miracle operation to restore sight, inspiring comeback and hero's redemption.

The idea of pro hockey as a dark world filled with gamblers and wiseguys was hardly a stretch. In the 1920s and 1930s, the NHL family included William V. Dwyer, legendary rumrunner, associate of Dutch Schultz and Legs Diamond and owner of the New York Americans.

Memorable scene: Spotting Kathleen in the stands, Gabby deliberately takes a "foul" so he can go to the "penalty cage" and chat her up for a couple of minutes.

Gross Misconduct (1993) tells the true story of Brian "Spinner" Spencer, who played eight NHL seasons in the 1970s. Probing the grim underside of small-town hockey culture, Spinner's tale is much stranger than fiction. This is the darkest of all hockey movies.

Growing up in a desolate lumber town, the hockey prodigy is driven to excel by a spiteful father. Brian's emotional immaturity and violent streak are valued commodities in the hockey world, helping him claw his way to the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

All is well for a couple of years, as Spinner buys a big car and a fur coat and shags legions of puck bunnies. But his dream soon fades to the drab reality of life as a journeyman pro, doing the dirty work for a series of mediocre teams. Spencer quits the game, retires to a squalid Florida trailer, gets into various scrapes with shady characters and ends up dead at age 38.

Highlighting the troubled father-son relationship, the film is built around one of hockey's most bizarre episodes. On a Saturday afternoon in his rookie year, Spencer calls his folks with big news: he will be interviewed tonight on Hockey Night in Canada. Camped in front of the TV that evening, Roy Spencer discovers that his local CBC television station is carrying a Vancouver Canucks' game instead of the Leafs. Drunk and furious, Roy heads to the CBC building with a gun, demanding a switch to his son's game. As young Brian Spencer proudly takes a seat for his first interview on national TV, his father is gunned down by police.

Memorable scene: An inebriated, seething Roy Spencer tears through the winter night in his pick-up truck, bottle in hand and shotgun at his side, ready for a final reckoning with the Great Canadian Dream.

We Would Love To See:

The Game That Kills (1937) - Who can resist the title? Or Rita Hayworth as the coach's daughter? And who will rescue her when she is kidnapped by the mob?

Idol of the Crowds 1937 - A retired hockey star (John Wayne) returns to the ice because he needs money to enlarge his chicken farm.

So, there you have it. The Lost Hockey Film Classics. Let me know if you locate any of them, I'd appreciate any info you might find on being able to track them down.

Happy hunting.

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