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How fitting that the “slap heard ‘round the world” in March came during Oscar presentations meant to glorify achievement in the movies, themselves a repository of famous slaps.
The on-screen slaps were scripted, though – unlike the ad-libbed and inappropriate response by actor Will Smith to an equally inappropriate joke by comedian Chris Rock.
Notable slaps have worked their way into film history, and others administered in real life have gained their own notoriety.
It was 100 years ago that Moe, Larry, and Curly got together as the Three Stooges, who probably delivered the most cinematic slaps ever, the majority of them slaps at one another.
Their production of slaps was rivaled for decades by movie tough guy James Cagney. Despite his delivery of uncountable slaps, he was remembered more for a breakfast scene in which he squished a grapefruit into the pretty face of actress Mae Clarke.
In Moonstruck, Cher took a memorable swing at the lovesick Nicholas Cage, exhorting him to “Snap out of it.”
And in The Opposite Sex, June Allyson smacked Joan Collins so hard she knocked one of her earrings off.
Sidney Poitier, playing a Black police detective in In the Heat of the Night, got slapped by a white plantation owner – and in a gratifying response instantly slapped him back.
Slaps have played memorable roles in a multitude of films, including The Birds, Titanic, Mommie Dearest, and The Lion King. Then there was The Godfather, in which slaps and kisses alike foretold sinister happenings.
Slaps have been a mainstay in cartoons; Bugs Bunny made a living taking swipes at Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd.
In real life, a famous slap got World War II Gen. George Patton in hot water. It’s been often told how, when visiting an Army field hospital and upset with a frightened 18-year-old rifleman there, Patton called the young man a coward and slapped him with a leather glove.
Days later Patton absorbed a strong verbal slap from his boss, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
Reenacted by George C. Scott in Patton, the wartime slap had the distinction of reverberating both in real life and on the big screen.
Slaps could also be found on the comedy circuit: Rodney Dangerfield got many a laugh with his, “I was so ugly when I was born the doctor slapped my mother.”
Slaps have also found a place in the world of “sport.” There are actual slapping championships in which two people stand face-to-face, barehanded and with no head protection, taking turns trying to slap each other down.
But let’s examine something more peaceable – the Bavarian Slap Dance. Rooted in ancient courtship rituals, this stylized dancing features harmless and entertaining slaps as ersatz romantic rivals vie for female affection.
It’s all in good fun. Too bad that in our violent time, movie fiction would be needed to see aggression resolved not in blood and bone, but in music and laughter, to the cadence of trumpets, trombones, and tubas.
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.