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STUNT MAN, THE (director/writer: Richard Rush; screenwriters: Larry Marcus/based on the novel by Paul Brodeur; cinematographer: Mario Tosi; editors: Jack Hofstra/Caroline Biggerstaff; music: Dominic Frontiere; cast: Peter O’Toole (Eli Cross), Steve Railsback (Cameron), Barbara Hershey (Nina Franklin), Allen Garfield (Sam), Alex Rocco (Jake), Sharon Farrell (Denise), Adam Roarke (Raymond Bailey), Philip Bruns (Ace), Chuck Bail (Chuck Barton); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Melvin Simon; Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1980)
“Overall a funny, compelling and curious film that was sabotaged by the Hollywood suits.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cult director Richard Rush (“Hells Angels on Wheels”/”Psych-Out”/”Color of Night”) took over 9 years to get his adaptation of Paul Brodeur’s novel The Stunt Man made and then had difficulty getting it released. The rarely seen film, willfully ignored by Hollywood, still became a cult classic as a black comedy, an anti-war film, an expose on the tricks of making movie magic and a caustic look behind-the-scenes of movie-making. The obscure film that was hard to categorize for some reason after being well-received, nevertheless put a hold on Rush’s career and he never became a Hollywood success story as one would think for someone so talented. It’s co-written by Rush and Larry Marcus, who aim to keep it energetic, zany and unique.

Cameron (Steve Railsback) is a mentally unbalanced Vietnam vet who is a possibly dangerous fugitive fleeing the police in the woods, where he tackles a telephone lineman who tries to stop him and accidentally kills a stunt man named Burt, on the set of a WW1 action picture, by forcing his car off a bridge. Granted sanctuary by the imperious, egocentric, manipulative, crazy man director, Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), the fugitive is hired to take the place of the deceased stunt man. Eli tells the skeptical investigating chief of police (Alex Rocco), in hot pursuit of both Cameron and the cause of death for the movie stuntman, that he never saw the escaping fugitive and that the stunt man survived. Eli orders everyone else on the set to follow suit and pretend that Cameron is Burt. In the three days of shooting at this location, Cameron performs some dangerous stunts and beds down the wacky but attractive leading lady Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey). The running gag is that Eli would stop at nothing to get the footage he needed and that he does whatever he wants with his writer’s (Allen Garfield) dialogue.

Filled with sight gags, witty comments on why there’s war and an endless supply of soldiers, taking a few jabs at Hollywood’s tricks of the trade in shooting a film and thematically questioning if man really controls his own destiny by using control-freak O’Toole as a God-like figure who controls the destinies of those who work under him.

The off-beat comedy, which is playful as it blurs the line between reality and movies, has its sparkling moments, but goes on for too long and after a fast start loses some of its sparkle. Yet it’s overall a funny, compelling and curious film that was sabotaged by the Hollywood suits. After playing in a few Left Coast theaters, it received rave reviews and won the Grand Prix Award at the Montreal Film Festival. With that, 20th Century Fox agreed to handle its distribution, but for some mysterious reason kept it on the shelf for two years and only released it in a few theaters with virtually no publicity and the film was soon forgotten by the public. That reality and fiction might have similarities and their lines could be blurred, can be seen by the way Fox played God with this movie just like O’Toole did in the film. The God-like figures are not evil, but it’s explained that we live in a crazy world that always is at war for some reason or other and therefore we lose control of our lives.

The film is best remembered for O’Toole’s brilliant performance as the barmy eccentric director who believes he can play God.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”