Monday, March 30, 2015

'Face Off' - The Hockey Movie

On the first statutory holiday following the 1971 Stanley Cup playoffs, one would expect hockey fans to be basking in the warm spring air.

Normally, that would be the case, but on Victoria Day in May 1971, Toronto hockey fanatics converged on Maple Leaf Gardens for one more kick-at-the-can.

For .75-cents, an adult ( .50-cents for children) could get far more than hockey for the price of their admission.

As the above advertisement indicates, the Gardens was transformed into a movie set for the production of the Canadian produced hockey film 'Face Off.' I recall waking-up very early on that holiday Monday and dragging my dad to Church and Carlton to witness the filming.

The Globe and Mail reported that, "about 35 players representing six teams," participated in the action.

Johnny F. Bassett, the executive producer of 'Face Off', told Rex MacLeod of The Globe and Mail that, "we've shot about 40,000 feet of film," up to that point.

Portions of this pertained to action photographed during actual NHL games and off-ice scenes taking place in the dressing room or during a road trip.

"Some things had to be done more dramatically, so today we had cameramen right on the ice," said Bassett.

And for those of us filling the seats, it was a totally different type of experience. Time-outs for commercial breaks were replaced by lighting and camera set-ups between scenes.

Two of the principals on that day were lead actor Art Hindle and Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Jim McKenny.

Hindle's character, Billy Duke, is a prized rookie with the Maple Leafs. In the storyline, Duke meets Sherri Lee Nelson (played brilliantly by actress Trudy Young) a rock and roll singer, who doesn't know much about the game of hockey.

When Duke convinces Sherri to attend a home game, she sees another side of Billy. Engaged in a physical contest, Duke doesn't shy away from the rough going. Unable to stomach the blood and guts component of the game, Sherri bails and makes a beeline to the exit.

Their very different lifestyles is a major theme throughout the story. These two young, but conflicted, lovers, struggle to keep their relationship on track.

Distracted by his emotions, Duke's play on the ice begins to suffer. He losses his focus and it all comes crashing down in dramatic fashion, when he tosses a linesman (Matt Pavelich) to the ice.

Segments like the one involving Pavelich were filmed while the holiday crowd hooted and hollered in their role as one giant collective extra.

Jim McKenny, serving as Art Hindle's double, was filmed using a long-shot. The fact Hindle and McKenny looked alike, made the scenes they shared blend together flawlessly. A long-shot of McKenny skating into a corner gives way to a close-up of Hindle duking it out with an opponent. These edited scenes didn't lose credibility with the audience.

Clyde Gilmour, the Toronto Star film critic at the time, noted:

Director George McCowan, cameraman Don Wilder, film editor Kirk Jones and sound chief Al Streeter, deserve high credit for the major-league craftsmanship they have shown in capturing the speed, grace, savagery and tension of NHL hockey on their wide colour screen.

In an April 1971 interview with reporter Dan Proudfoot, Hindle stated, "I want my character to be halfway between the two (McKenny & Dorey) of them. Proudfoot expanded on this point, "McKenny resembles him closely...but Hindle thinks Dorey's temperament better fits the role."

It is understandable why Hindle would include Leaf defenceman Jim Dorey into the mix when preparing for the part. Dorey burst onto the NHL stage in a big way back in 1968. After his first regular season home game on October 16, Dorey's name entered the National Hockey League Record Book. He set a record for the most penalty minutes in one game, 48.

While McKenny was a perfect model for a smooth skating puck-carrying defenceman, Dorey fit-the-bill when it came to a character study of a tough take-no-prisoners rearguard.

The premier of 'Face Off' took place on November 12, 1971, at the Odeon Carlton Theatre. This venue seemed fitting since it was a skip and a jump away from Maple Leaf Gardens.

In early March on a Saturday afternoon, Mike Wilson, The Ultimate Leafs Fan, hosted a hockey version of the Bravo television show 'Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.' Here are some clips as Art Hindle, Jim McKenny and Jim Dorey chat about the feature attraction, 'Face Off.'

Art Hindle: "The first time I heard about the film was at an acting workshop taught by a guy from the Actors Studio in New York. It was explained that Jimmy (McKenny) was going to play in a movie called 'Face Off' that Johnny Bassett's producing and we should all do our best to help him accomplish that goal. So, that's what we did and we had a lot of fun. Jim was a great guy and we became friends. I guess at some point in time, John changed his mind. The next thing I know, the casting person was bugging me to consider doing the part. I said, Jim McKenny's doing it.

She said, 'well, he's not.'

I told her I'm not going to step in because Jim has become a friend and I don't like the optics of what that would be. Going back, I actually heard that at one point, it was a toss-up between you two guys McKenny & Dorey) as to who was going to play the part (of Billy Duke).

Finally, the casting person tells me I better consider doing it because Johnny's decided if you don't do it, he's going to hire an American actor. I talked to my friends and they said in that case, you have to do it because you don't want an American playing the best Canadian hockey player in the world.

The thing Johnny wanted was to watch me skate. We arranged a meeting at Tam O'Shanter Rink. I got out there and started skating around. My ankles started to hurt. For Johnny, I had one really fast skate around and I came to a really good stop.

He said, 'that's great, I'll talk to you latter.'

We started shooting late in March. First, I went on a road trip with the Leafs to Philadelphia, Oakland and Los Angeles. I missed the flight to Detroit. In Oakland during the practice, the coach, Johnny McLellan, told me I should put on some equipment and skate with the team. I did and Paul Henderson, who did not practice, was sitting in the stands with some Oakland players. They started laughing when they saw me stumbling around and falling. Paul told them, don't laugh, they just brought him up from Rochester, he's a goon and McLellan is going to start him tomorrow and you guys are in big trouble. Paul told me they all stopped laughing.

Cut to when we were shooting at Maple Leaf Gardens in late May. I'm skating all around doing my thing and when I skated off, Paul was standing there. He asked me, and I wear this like a badge-of-honour, 'how did you get that good?'

At one point during the filming they dropped the puck and we scrimmaged. I played Jim's position on right defence."

Jim Dorey: "He (McKenny) never played defence!"

Jim McKenny: "I went to the acting classes, but I was no good."

Jim Dorey: "I became involved in the movie because there were some fighting scenes. Art and Jimmy were up the ice in front of the net and I was back playing defence. It was a unique situation. Art really fitted in with the hockey team. The guys took it upon themselves to have him as part of the hockey team."

Jim McKenny: "Especially, when he missed the flight to Detroit. I thought, there's a player."

Art Hindle: "John made a deal with an American distributor and that was a big thing back in those days. I think it was Canon Distributing. They loved the film, but they told John there has to be more heat in it. John agreed to have a scene where Sherri and Billy are in bed. We went up to CFTO, the TV station owned by his family. There, on a sound stage, was a bed and some curtains. It looked like a porno set. John hated the idea of doing this. Trudy and I felt the same way. Trudy gets into bed wearing a negligee and they're waiting for me. I bounced out of my change room in full hockey regalia, skates included. I jumped on the bed and said, okay John lets start shooting. He fell over laughing and Trudy was laughing. John said, 'okay we're not shooting this!'"

Art Hindle: (on acting with the Leafs George Armstrong) "I thought he was pretty good. He didn't try to push it or anything like that."

Jim Dorey: "The other players dug the fact that something different was happening in hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs approved this and the NHL accepted it. They seemed to realize that there was a product after a product."

Art Hindle: (On the Victoria Day filming at MLG) "That day, I was the first one on the ice and there were already about 8,000 people there and the cheer went up. It almost seemed to lift the roof. It certainly lifted me. For that whole day I could skate like the wind. I even skated during the lunch break and talked with some fans. I wish I'd been able to go back and shoot some of those scenes which involved the athletes ego, so I could use it in that scene with Trudy (where Billy tells Sherri, "I'm younger, I'm stronger and tougher and that's why you dig me.") It's a unique thing, when 8,000 people are cheering."

Art Hindle: "I met for Slap Shot with George Roy Hill, who was the director. He was interested in me for the guy that strips at the end of the film."

Jim Dorey: (on the fight with Billy Duke in the dressing room) "We some improvising. i didn't know I had those lines in me. It wasn't anything I wouldn't normally do."

Art Hindle: "There was a scene where Ed Giacomin goes out behind the net to stop the puck. I come in and slew-foot him. Rod Seiling comes in and confronts me. We're suppose to push-push, drop the gloves and fight. We were doing take after take. I skated away at one point and wondered why the takes weren't any good. The camera guy, who was my best director, Don Wilder, told me that that Rod Seiling was laughing during the takes, so they were no good. In the next take, I suckered Rod with my glove still on and went on to do the fake fighting. They yelled, 'cut, we've got.' I jumped up and ran, I didn't skate, and ran into the Leafs dressing room and locked the door. Then, there was banging on the door.

"Open the f%#king door you prick, I'm going to kill you!

Finally, it's quiet and I hear some say, 'open the door, let us in.'

I said, no I'm not opening the door.

And they said, 'we've talked to Rod.'

I opened the door and Rod said, 'look, I'm sorry. Here I think you guys are making fun of my game and what am I doing? I'm doing the worst thing and making fun of your game. So lets go out and shoot it right.'

Which we did and we've been friends ever since.

Art Hindle: "Bobby Baun was great. I walked onto the plane (for the Leafs road trip) and I see all these faces. I'm basically a shy person. I see all these guys and I'm thinking, what do I do? How do I handle this? Suddenly, a voice says, 'why don't you sit down here.' I look over and see there is an empty seat. I sit down and I turned to see who the person was that spoke to me. I looked and there's Bobby Baun. He was the see test nicest man to me. He made me feel right at home."

Art Hindle: "During the game in Philadelphia, I was sitting with the guys not in the line-up. Fans could reach up and ask for autographs. So, people were actually saying to me, 'please Mr. Ullman, could you please sign.' After the game, I go down to the dressing room and Johnny McLellan says, 'okay you guys, good game, there is a one-o'clock curfew.' We went to a bar in Cherry Hill named Dukes. And then, we were going to go to Doug Favell's apartment and by that time it was around 1:00am. I told Howie (McKenny) it's almost one and reminded him of McLellan's curfew.

 Howie said, 'he has to say that.'

Then, I asked, what if he checks up?

Howie replied, 'well, my roommate is George Armstrong, he'll cover for me.'"

Art Hindle: "One time, I told Brian Spencer we were all going to the pub for beers. He said he couldn't go because he was going to San Francisco to get something. I asked him, what he had to get?

He response was, 'some bullets.'

That's when I left him.

Art Hindle: "At that same hotel, we were sitting by the pool. I remember Jacques Plante being there and some other guys. Dave Keon was sort of floating around. Everyone was asking me questions about what I knew about hockey.

Keon   asked, 'so you think you know a lot about hockey, well who has the best backhand in the NHL?'

I said, Stan Mikitia?

Keon, 'NO'

Jean Ratelle?

Keon, 'NO'


Keon, 'NO'

Finally, I said I don't know.

Keon, 'It's ME!!!'

Art Hindle: (could you make 'Face Off' today?) "You couldn't make it today, not with the mindset the NHL has. Certainly not with the Leafs, they wouldn't agree to it. And certainly not with the NHLPA. It captures a piece of time. When you watch the film, it's a time capsule for the city of Toronto, the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. You've got Beliveau walking past the camera. You've got Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson. And don't forget the two goalies they had on that team, Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent."

Art Hindle: (on a sequel) "Sports movies rarely work. We all love sports and we've all gone to see sports movies, but they seldom make money.They are a tough sell. The few that have made it, like Bull Durham, are funky and outside-of-the-box. There are a certain niche of people who love 'Face Off.' There is not a market for it. You'd have a lot of trouble finding money. You have to make it and find distribution."

As the curtain fell to close out the conversation between Art and the two Jim's, their audience showed their approval with thunderous applause.

This critic gave it two thumbs-up and 5-out-of-5 stars!


  1. I was fortunate enough at 11 to be at the Gardens with my Grandpa for the shooting of the hockey scenes. The thing I remember best was when the PA announcer had to announce that Jacques Plante had agreed to let a goal be scored. I can still hear the roar of the crowd

  2. In '71 I was 12 years old & a big Leafs fan & I played hockey also. Davey Keon was my hero & I wore #13 as a tribute to him. I chose #13 instead of Keon's #14 as I knew I could never be as good as him. :-) I loved this movie so much. Or perhaps I saw it on TV later I'm not sure but it had a big impact on me. I managed to find an address I could contact Art & told him I was a big fan & loved the movie. He actually wrote back & said thanks & it's one of his favourites too. Pretty cool. I'm still trying to find a Leafs jersey circa '71 & make it a DUKE #18. Happy 50th Anniversay to Face-Off still one of my favourite movies.


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