Carrying on from Myles Harris’ series on hockey movies, Adam Verran has taken on the arduous task of filling in “Lockout Time” by watching a few of the hockey films you might not have seen.
It’s said that some actors are simply born to play a role. There’s Ben Kingsley in Gandhi, Clint Eastwood in a Fistful of Dollars (or should I say Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo?), Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. Imagine someone other than Harrison Ford playing this guy. Or this guy. Or even this guy.
You can add Roy Dupuis‘ performance in “Maurice Richard” (Released to English-speaking audiences as “The Rocket”) to the list. His performance alone ensures that this film deserves inclusion in the list of “must-see” hockey movies.
Roy Dupuis was born to play Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard. It’s hardly a surprise. After all, he’s done it on three separate occasions. Dupuis captures Richard’s essence well. The intense gaze, the steely determination, the quiet humility and furious outbursts are all there. It’s easy to see why Dupuis’ commanding performance earned him a Genie Award.
The film begins and ends with the Richard Riot, and covers most of the key moments from Richard’s career with the Montreal Canadiens: scoring all 5 goals in a playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs (and being awarded all three stars in the process); becoming the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games; the famous goal he scored against Jim Henry to win the 1952 Stanley Cup semi-finals; becoming the NHL’s all-time leading goalscorer; and the brutal retaliation against Hal Laycoe, assault on a linesman and subsequent suspension for the rest of the season that would lead ultimately to the riot.
Where the film really triumphs is in the moments that are not so well-known. Richard became a machinist at 16 in order to support his family, a position he held even after joining the Canadiens.
It is a surprise that Richard was able to play professional hockey at all, given that he had suffered a broken ankle, femur and both wrists playing junior hockey. This also resulted in several failed attempts to join the military and fight in World War II. When Richard suffers further injury early in his Montreal career, the team become desperate in their attempts to move him on. That’s right: the Canadiens tried to rid themselves of Maurice Richard. In retrospect, such a move seems unimaginable.
A large portion of the film is spent detailing the love story between Richard and his wife Lucille, played by Julie le Breton. When Richard asks Lucille’s father for permission to marry his daughter, the permission is denied. Lucille’s father derides Richard’s ability to support Lucille at all, let alone becoming a member of the Canadiens. The couple marry in spite of this, and Lucille becomes Richard’s rock, sticking by her husband through thick and thin (as well as standing up to some taunting from Maple Leafs general manager Conn Smythe).
The chemistry between Dupuis and Le Breton is undeniable, and their interactions, along with the other insights into Richard the man, rather than Richard the hockey player, are what make the film so worthwhile.
The film features several cameos by NHL players. Former Quebec Nordique Mike Ricci sees the most screen time, playing Canadiens great Elmer Lach. Stephane Quintal is the perfect choice for Dollard St Laurent (both men played for the Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks). Ian Laperriere (Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion), Pascal Dupuis (Milt Schmidt), Philippe Sauvé (Jim Henry) and Vincent Lacavalier (Jean Beliveau) also appear in the film.
And who else but Sean Avery (who at the time was playing for the LA Kings) could fill the role of New York Rangers tough guy Bob “Killer” Dill?
If you don’t know the history of Dill’s duel with Richard, the clip below from the film will give you an idea of what happened in their fateful meeting. If you are the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs have a healthy dislike of Sean Avery, you will quite possibly enjoy it.
Almost stealing the show is Stephen McHattie, who plays legendary coach Dick Irvin. McHattie does a fantastic job of bringing the role to life, goading Richard to play the way Irvin knows he can. When Irvin takes a note out of his pocket and, in broken French, tells his players how proud of them he is, McHattie conveys such heart that you can’t help but be caught up in the significance of the moment.
If there are complaints to be made about the film, it would be in the fact that it doesn’t cover the years that Richard captained the Canadiens, leading them to five straight Stanley Cups. It also makes no mention of Maurice’s brother Henri, “The Pocket Rocket”, who would join Maurice in playing for Montreal. To be fair, the film establishes Richard’s greatness, and what he means to the people of Quebec, by the time the credits roll, and the film deserves far more recognition than it has received.
Sadly, this great hockey film can be a little hard to come by. Despite extensive searches, it doesn’t appear that the film secured an Australian distribution. Those who don’t mind importing their DVDs can do the same as I did, and buy it from a rather popular overseas shopping website (which I won’t name and/or shill for here).
In spite of how difficult the film can be to obtain, this beautifully shot biopic, about one of the greatest hockey players to ever lace up the skates, is well worth seeing.