Episode 30: Slap Shot (1977, George Roy Hill) / Cruising (1980, William Friedkin)

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast, we apparently continue our Queer Film Studies program with the most notorious and most quickly forgotten Hollywood movie ever made about gay men, and a not-very-gay movie which nonetheless contains jokes about homophobia and lesbians decades before it was fashionable.

The cult classic Slap Shot has essentially endured solely by word of mouth amongst Hockey fans since 1977. We’re now at the point where most people have at least heard of it, as evidenced by the recent straight-to-bargain-dvd-bin releases of Slap Shot 2: Breaking The Ice starring Stephen Baldwin, and Slap Shot 3: The Junior League starring a bunch of adorable urchins and Leslie Nielsen, getting in some last minute slumming before death. Both these follow ups feature the original film’s most indelibly iconic characters, the lovably dumb and merciless Hanson brothers, still doing their quasi-retarded shtick well into their 40s.

All comedy fans owe it to themselves to check this one out, besides the Hansons there’s the brilliant script (written by a chick, no less), the genial Paul Newman under direction from George Roy Hill of previous work like Butch Cassidy, the prerequisite various goony team members, and for Twin Peaks fans a stirring performance by young Sheriff Truman himself, Michael Ontkean. Oh, and the lesbianism.

Then, we delve into the seedy underbelly of New York gay bars circa 1979 for a serial killer thriller that no one asked for, no one watched, and few will ever defend. William Friedkin must have considered himself quite the progressive for setting what would otherwise be a competently directed potboiler in a subculture whose mainstream counterparts in male homosexual America were barely gaining acceptance on The Match Game and Hollywood Squares. There’s also a really cheap and stupid ending which completely contradicts the film’s mealy opening disclaimer:

This film is not intended as an indictment of the homosexual world. It is set in one small segment of that world, which is not meant to be representative of the whole.

Besides protesting too much-eth, this warning actually tricks one into thinking William Friedkin had something to say about what the newly legal, pre-AIDS gay bar scene meant about the condition of homosexuality in our society. No, he seems to have simply thought gay bars to be the perfect setting for an undercover police thriller. This exploitative approach might have been forgivable had Friedkin embraced it, but the feigned compassion and stupid twist ending make Cruising probably the most off-handedly homophobic movie ever. Pacino has never looked more like Eric Bogosian.

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NEXT WEEK: BARTON FINK (1991, JOEL & ETHAN COEN) & COPS & ROBBERSONS (1994, MICHAEL RITCHIE)

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