Dean Youngblood: Fast Feet, Slow Fists

A spattering of thoughts regarding the hockey film, Youngblood (Peter Markle, 1986).  Minor spoilage–as usual, those portions will need to be highlighted to be read.

The only reason I even know it exists is because I did an Amazon search on Cynthia Gibb.  I decided to get it because it’s a hockey movie and features a very young Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.  According to IMDB, the film was released in American theatres two days after my fifth birthday.  Co-conceived by the director himself (with John Whitman on screenplay), Youngblood melds amour, ice hockey, and one young man’s journey from violently challenged innocent to violently adequate not-so-innocent.  Rob Lowe portrays the seventeen year-old title character, Dean Youngblood, whose greatest ambition in life is to play professional hockey.  The storyline and overarching conflict and thematic tensions are presented within the first five minutes: Youngblood has a chance to tryout for the Canadian junior league Hamilton Mustangs, and if he doesn’t at least try, then he’ll never make the professional league.  His dad (Eric Nesterenko) is reluctant to let him go.  Youngblood’s older brother Kelly (Jim Youngs) offers to take over his little brother’s farm chores, convinced that he will be back within two weeks.  Not only would Dean have to prove his hockey prowess but also his resolve, his refusal to quit no matter the humiliation or injury.  Supporting characters like teammate Derek Sutton (Swayze) and the coach’s daughter (Gibb) contribute in Youngblood’s growth as an individual.

The film begins with home video footage of Dean and his older brother Kelly playing hockey on a lake with other boys (similar to the beginning of Wildcats in terms of placement and thematic function).  Beginning credits follow and consist of Rob Lowe doing hockey footwork and shooting drills (in slow-motion) on the ice.  The first image is actually a close-up of a pair of skates followed by Rob Lowe as the owner of the skates and the film’s title.

There are two official practice sequences (Youngblood with team) and 2.5 unofficial ones (Youngblood with his brother, dad, and solo).  The unofficial ones include hockey drills and boxing tips.  There are three games, the third being the Memorial Cup Finals.  The first game demonstrates Youngblood’s scoring skills.  He scores twice and is then benched (probably because the coach doesn’t want him to get hurt).  The second game lands Sutton in the hospital and compels Youngblood to strive for more than a hockey win for his team.  He now has to give the opposing team’s player, Racki (George Finn) a dose of his own cheap-shot medicine.

On the thematic front, Youngblood is as representative of a sports film as any other.  Athletic competition is visually and narratively foregrounded.  Both of the conflicts hinge upon Youngblood’s performance as a hockey player.  Although I was invested in the win/lose aspect of the games (especially the last one), I found myself much more interested in the implications of a win/lose than the actual winning or losing itself.   Ultimately, the film’s portrayal of Dean Youngblood from someone with “fast feet and slow fists” to someone with faster feet and faster fists suggests that Youngblood is first and foremost a film about bridging the gap between being a young man and a man.  And on that point, the Mustangs do win the junior hockey league championship game against the Bombers.  They win 3-2, but the numerical victory isn’t enough.  Only when Youngblood demonstrates that he is sufficiently and effectively truculent to stay on the ice does the film erupt into the kind of glee and satisfaction that a scoreboard victory usually generates.

So, I bought the film on account of Cynthia Gibb.  Her character, Jessie, functions on three intertwined levels: love interest, minor plot tension point, kindred soul (Jessie also grew up without her mother).  Her first glimpse and impression of Youngblood flips the Laura Mulvey-ian gaze on its axis.  He’s all buttocks and she’s all voyeur.

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The producers thanks include shout-outs to:

CCM Hockey Equipment, Adidas, Canvin – division of Campbell Soup, Chrysler Corporation of Canada, Imperial Tobacco, KFC, Molson Breweries, 7-Up Canada, Tim Horton Donuts, Timex Canada.

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