Sunday, August 03, 2014

One of my favorite forgotten films


Watched one of my favorite movies that will never make the AFI list.   It’s THE STUNT MAN from 1980 – one of the few movies that was nominated for a bunch of Oscars and yet very few people have heard of it. Directed by Richard Rush from a script by Laurence B. Marcus and Rush (adapted from the novel by Paul Brodeur) THE STUNT MAN is that rare movie that combines a compelling story with great acting, terrific action sequences, and Barbara Hershey when she was really hot.

Here’s the plot: the late Peter O’Toole (in his best performance EVER…and yes, I know he was amazing in SUPERGIRL) is a flamboyant brilliant director making a movie about World War I. Steve Railsback (no one can play a psycho better – not to give him a swelled head) is a fugitive running from the police. He accidentally finds himself in a scene being filmed and just as accidentally, kills a stunt man. (It's a sad parallel to the recent Sarah Elizabeth Jones accident on the set of MIDNIGHT RIDER.)  O’Toole agrees to hide Railsback if he takes over for the fallen below-the-line worker. From here the lines of reality and art and ethics and game playing and illusion blend into one thoroughly engrossing experience. Can anyone say that about TAMMY?

Visually, the movie is also striking. It was filmed primarily at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, the same location Billy Wilder used for SOME LIKE IT HOT, although Wilder never took advantage of the roofs to stage a World War I battle scene. Everything about this movie crackles, from the pace, to the music (done by Dominic Frontiere several years before going to prison for scalping Superbowl tickets).

If there’s such a thing as a postmodernism thrill ride movie, this is it.

When THE STUNT MAN came out it was poorly marketed and didn’t get the attention it deserved. As Peter O’Toole said, “the movie wasn’t released, it escaped.” The DVD features all kinds of bonus goodies and commentaries. And there’s Barbara Hershey.

Check it out.

23 comments:

unkystan said...

When I saw The Stunt Man in it's original run it was added on as a double feature (remember those?) with the third or fourth week of "Eyewitness". I thought, and still do, it was wonderful and told everyone about it. But by then it had disappeared. Thank goodness for DVDs!

stang119 said...

Quick baseball question (that I can't seem to find reasonable answers to) Why is the position called "shortstop" and what is the origin of the term "rubber game" Obviously I know what it refers to but where did it come to mean the baseball term. Just asking.

Slapworth said...

The Stunt Man is one of my favorite films, but illness may be a factor in that decision.

When I was 12 or so, I was sick one night with a fever. Since I couldn't sleep, my mom propped me up on the recliner in the den, and let me channel surf on our (wired) remote. And that's how I discovered The Stunt Man, as it pumped into my feverish, sleep deprived brain at 2 in the morning.

I think that might be optimal viewing conditions for this movie.

Buggy White said...

There is a fascinating article about The Stuntman called "The Movie Seattle Saved" at seattlemet.com, detailing the travails that were gone through to get the film out before the general public. It's definitely worth reading!

Johnny Walker said...

I love the Hotel Del Coronado, but strangely I don't recall this movie being mentioned anywhere. Lol!

vinthefin said...

So glad to see this terric movie get some publicity. It's essential viewing for any Peter O'Toole fan. He's mesmerizing every moment he's on screen. So many films of this era had keyboard/synthesizer-based scores that sound incredibly dated today. The classic score holds up so well and adds to the story. A true under the radar gem.

Tudor Queen said...

Thanks for highlighting one of my favorite 'unknown' or at least seriously underknown films. I agree that it is O'Toole's finest performance (closely followed by "The Ruling Class", the Henry II duology and "Lawrence of Arabia"), and it is where I first started taking Barbara Hershey seriously. I was stunned when Frontiere's score, after winning the Golden Globe, wasn't even Oscar nominated.

BTW, the movie led me to the original novel, which is quite different and very dark.

I'll close with a couple of my favorite quotes:

Cross: "If God could do the tricks we do. he'd be a happy man!"

Cameron: "Hey, I know you. You're in the movies!"
Nina: "I am the movies..."

Charles Cavender said...

Railsback played Manson in "Helter Skelter." Indeed, deranged was his forte. "The Stunt Man" is a forgotten gem. Thanks for reminding me.

Steve said...

Fun and interesting movie, Ken. I actually got to see it in the theater. I was the only moviegoer in a 500 seat theater in Albany, NY to give you an idea how badly it did in its first release.

Hollywoodaholic said...

The film is on Blu-ray and includes the great documentary carried over from the DVD. Can't count the number of times I've turned friends on to this film. Belongs next to "Sunset Boulevard" as one of the best (and accurately cynical) movies about filmmaking.

Liggie said...

I only saw it once (and just the last two acts), in a hotel room 28 years ago, and it still sticks in my mind. I still remember the put-upon screenwriter, Barbara Hershey fighting tears saying "That's how little girls get in the movies", and the stunt scenes with the score that made them look like Buster Keaton scenes. Wonder why Steve Railsback disappeared, essentially?

Stang119, I heard "rubber game" comes from cribbage or rummy, and it got ported to baseball and other sports

Kosmo13 said...

I finally saw The Stunt Man on Cinemax a few years after its release and found it disappointing. By then I had seen so many articles and critics ballyhooing what a great, underappreciated film it is, that no film could've lived up to all the superlatives and hype.

Dixon Steele said...

I remember when its producer/financier Melvin Simon rented the then-Westwood (now Geffen) Playhouse to screen the film, taking advantage of the LA Times' rave review (Champlin? Thomas?).

Frankly, I was also disappointed and didn't think it merited the hype. However, I also liked the memorable score.

Maybe it's time for another look...

Donald said...

AND it's got Alan Garfield, one of my favorite charater actors.

Dana Gabbard said...

I saw it on Showtime when I was a teenager and it is one of those films (another ii The President's Analyst) that stuck with me. It was adult (and not because of the sex scene) which impressed me. Great film!

David Arnott said...

Love the movie. But, Ken, I've never seen that poster before. Even when doing a Google Image search for this movie :)

IIRC, this was the original 1980 poster:

http://www.impawards.com/1980/posters/stunt_man.jpg

David Arnott said...

Oh, and Donald, this was Garfield's many Allen Goorwitz films :)

D. McEwan said...

I was lucky. I saw The Stunt Man in its original release. Pauline Kael's review made it a seek-out-must-see. I acquired it on VHS as soon as I could and have seen it many times. One of its most-bizarre qualities is that the twists work every time, even when you know every one of them by heart.

Got to spend a lovely afternoon once discussing the film with Steve Railsback, who is gigantically proud of it, rightly so.

D. McEwan said...

Oh, and the musical score! One of the great pleasures of The Stunt Man, as important to its perfection as Peter O'Toole, is the musical score.

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

I first saw The Stunt Man on RCA VideoDisc around 1982. Fell in love with it then (I was around 12 I guess) and have seen it three or four times since. Nostalgic for the movie, but not for the RCA VideoDisc.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Dominic Frontiere also wrote the theme song to The Flying Nun.

cadavra said...

Dixon: It was actually the Avco-Embassy that Simon rented. Soon after that, Fox picked it up and then shelved it, finally letting it dribble out after the Oscars. The industry machers felt it portrayed them in a negative light and did their best to keep people from seeing it even as they went through the pretense of "releasing" it. It is indeed an absolute masterpiece. Incidentally, Chuck Bail told me that the scene where he crashes the jet-ski was an accident, but Rush was so tickled by it that he used that take in the film, even though it was mis-framed.

chuckcd said...

Just bought it off ebay for 7 bucks!