Sunday, June 29, 2008

Netflix pick of the month

Okay, so I waited until the last day.

In a rare and probably futile attempt to show I have even a modicum of depth, this month’s pick is not a comedy. 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: 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. O’Toole agrees to hide him 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 THE MUMMY III?

Visually, the film 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.


Anonymous said...


This is one of my favorite movies! I saw it in a theater when it came out (A few people did.) and have had it on VHS for 20 years. O'Toole was nominated for an Oscar for it, so someone saw it. When I met O'Toole, and later Steve Railsback, this was the movie I wanted to talk to them about.

You hit most of it's qualities, but lets not forget the great performances from Alex Rocco and Alan Goorwitz, and even Phil Bruns. And you can't overemphasize the importence of the music. That zingy main theme propels the film and sets the mood, and never leaves you. I can hum it at a second's notice.

It does fudge how films are shot. Complex action sequences that probably took Rush three days to shoot are presented as being shot in one take, but it's a minor quibble.

But I would still classify it as a comedy, or at least a comedy-drama, as it is very funny, particularly when Peter O'Toole is floating through scenes (Literally in one memorable scene) dropping wit to the masses. Pauline Kael called it "Slapstick metaphysics."

Once you've seen it, you'll never forget how tall King Kong is. Great, great movie.

Morgan McKinnon said...

"When THE STUNT MAN came out it was poorly marketed and didn’t get the attention it deserved."

Does the law allow a studio who has learned from their marketing mistakes to bring a movie back into the theater?

I mean, wouldn't that be similar to...a remake?

Who is God where this is concerned?

Michael said...

I didn't remember "The Stunt Man" from 1980 - I thought you were talking about the 1978 stuntman movie "Hooper" starring Burt Reynolds. I remember that being a cool movie, but I was 12 at the time.

Toby O'B said...

O'Toole swooping around everywhere in his crane seat - that to me has stuck in my mind most from this film for the last 28 years.

Definitely one I keep saying I should see again. All of those other actors I don't even remember being in it..... Funny to think that of all people, Phil Bruns worked twice with O'Toole. (He was in 'My Favorite Year' too.)

Unknown said...

Wow I just learned from IMDb that her boyfriend is Naveen Andrews. F*** me. That's... wow. Cool :-D

Unknown said...

"If God could do the tricks we can, he'd be a happy man."

This is my all-time favorite film and I cannot recommend it enough. It's a celebration of movies and why we love them, a thoughtful essay about art and why we try to make it (even though nobody wants us to), and on top of all that, it may be Peter O'Toole's greatest performance, "Come here to me..."

Also, the score is incredible. I spent 50 buck on the very rare LP, 15 years ago, and then spent another 60 on the even more rare CD, just a few years ago.

Dwayne McDuffie

Anonymous said...

I have a DVD copy of this and it is one of my all time favorites,
"Pink smoke....I'll show you pink Fing smoke!!!" I laugh every time I think of it

Phil H. said...

I was in high school when theis came out on video and my brother MADE me and some friends watch it. It was so unlike anything we had ever seen, and we all loved it. One of those friends broke his leg later that year and we all wrote varous quotes on the cast, "three foot six you a**h***!". It was, and remains, one of my families favorite films.

Morgan McKinnon said...

Ken, McEwan, Michael, Toby, Sebastian, Dwayne, Wayne and Phil...

That's a great start.

Oh, and me. I've never seen it. So I would certainly go. And of course I would have a date, so...there.

Anonymous said...

"I thought you were talking about the 1978 stuntman movie "Hooper" starring Burt Reynolds. I remember that being a cool movie"

Movie algebra:


Michael said...

I had to look up "City Lights" as I've never seen that one. Never saw "Duece Bigelow" either.

Charlie Chaplin played a male gigolo in order to get the money for the girl's operation?

Regarding "Hooper", I was 12. Stunt car fu and shit blowing up is awesome to a 12-year-old boy. I don't remember if it had naked boobs in it, though, but if it did, that would have ratcheted it up higher on the awesomeometer.

Anonymous said...

I saw it in the theater when it came out. The plot sounded cool and the idea of having Peter O'Toole in it didn't hurt (back then he was younger...). I just think it wasn't having that "something". It works, it has a good idea and so on. But... maybe Railsback, Hershey whatever... cast it again with Angelina Jolie after "Wanted" and things would certainly change.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a whole slew of "stunt man" type films around the time this one came out?

How much after "Wanted" should we cast Angelina Jolie for anything? How about NEVER?

I can't believe a movie can be so fucking stupid. Wait, what was that Tomb Raider sequel called?

webbie said...

This is one of my favorite movies. I must have seen it a dozen or more times. Why don't we ever see it on cable?

Anonymous said...

I watched this film once... and completely didn't get it. Maybe I'll have to give it another try.

Nat G said...

If you've seen the movie, if you have it on VHS -- Netflix it anyway. As befits an all-time great movie, this has one of the all-time great commentary tracks.

Anonymous said...

Loved it when it came out, but you're right--when you mention it to people, their reaction is "Huh?" "Used Cars" (Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Michael McKean and David Lander) is another of my favorites (1980) that nobody's heard of. I think it got lost in a glut of movie releases at the time (including a little picture called "The Empire Strikes Back").

Jon88 said...

When I started collecting DVDs, this was at the top of the list. Amazon had two versions: the movie (1 disk) and the movie with a making-of docu and lots of extras (2 disks). The latter offering was cheaper. I never did understand that.

Anyway, you can find some copies of that here: [www_amazon_com]

Anonymous said...

Really fine movie, Ken. I actually got to see a private screening of the film back in 1980. Meaning, the 500-seat theater I saw it in was completely empty except for me.

Howard Hoffman said...

If you don't remember the film - especially by the revised DVD art Ken posted here - try to remember a dark image of Satan as a cinamatographer. That's how it was marketed...completely inappropriate.

See it here:

Anonymous said...

Barbary Hershey is still extremely milfy hot, dude.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Stunt Man joins Used Cars as one of the great overlooked films of 1980. And Peter O'Toole was flat brilliant in it. However, that was not his best performance.

O'Toole's best came two years later when he played Alan Swann (a barely disguised Errol Flynn) in another overlooked work of near-genius, My Favorite Year. It's one of those films I watch every year-or-so just to be blown away by the transcendence of one performance within it. And there's never been any comic performance -- on stage, screen or Presidential lectern -- that comes close to matching Peter O'Toole's greatness in My Favorite Year.

And just when you think O'Toole can't make you laugh more heartily in the film, he switches gears and makes you cry -- genuine heartfelt tears too. Not Milton Berle-spec schmaltz.

The Stunt Man is great. But in a lifetime of great performances, O'Toole's greatest is My Favorite Year.

Anonymous said...

I guess everybody's memory is different, but I don't think My Favorite Year was overlooked. As I recall, O'Toole got lots of acclaim for the movie, including an Oscar nomination and re-energized his career, transitioning him from the Drunken Irish Guy Who Was A Pretty Good Actor When Sober phase into the Well Respected and Elder Statesman British Actor and Raconteur phase.
Even though he got nominated for Stunt Man, that got nowhere near the run of attention that My Favorite Year brought him.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget the "The Ruling Class." O'Toole is always great when he gets a great role. I was amazed when I caught up with his most recent nominated performance in "Venus." Playing that randy old actor might not have been a stretch for him, but he's just brilliant.

But yeah, "The Stunt Man" goes on that ever-growing list of films I must see again now that a couple of decades have passed.

Anonymous said...

"I had to look up 'City Lights' as I've never seen that one. Never saw 'Duece Bigelow' either.

Regarding 'Hooper', I was 12. Stunt car fu and shit blowing up is awesome to a 12-year-old boy. I don't remember if it had naked boobs in it, though, but if it did, that would have ratcheted it up higher on the awesomeometer."

There aren't any naked boobs in HOOPER. The biggest boob in it is Burt Reynolds, who fortunately remains clothed. I also saw it when it came out, in a double bill with FOUL PLAY, which was far better. 12 is certainly the right age for it. Sadly, I was 28.

HOOPER is an average comedy about stunt men, hobbled by havng Burt Reynolds in it.

THE STUNT MAN is a magnificent movie about paranoia vs trust, reality vs perception, and getting away with it, all done in high style, top acting, and with brilliant dialogue. It happens that the plot involves a fugitive on the run hiding out as a stunt man. The two films have nothing in common besides characters that are stunt men, and one is a mediocre little comedy, and the other a masterpiece.

And if you had to look up CITY LIGHTS, you are seriously behind on your film-watching. It's one of the Top Five Greatest American Movies Ever Made, right up there with CITIZEN KANE. Go rent and watch it today. Not tomorrow. Today. You'll thank me. The last shot will break your heart. (You get points for never having seen DUECE BIGALOW. And the comparison was about quality, not plot points.)

Great big Radio Guy, I very much disagree that the original ad art was "Completely inappropriate". Was or wasn't Peter O'Toole's character a demon of sorts is a question Railsback is always openly considering throughout the film, as in his paranoia, he can never decide whether or not O'Toole is trying to kill him. And O'Toole's character is certainly "Full of the devil" as my mother would say. I love that poster.

Anonymous said...

Re: Peter O'Toole

He is just the best. I could listen to him read the congressional record, even a page about a debate on redistricting.

MY FAVORITE YEAR was a fairly big hit. It's certianly a really wonderful film.

In THE RULING CLASS he gives a great performance, although I don't think the film holds up. That precious 60s cyncial surrealism doesn't age well.

MAN OF LA MANCHA sucked all the way around, and O'Toole's singing was dubbed by someone who sounded nothing like him, but O'Toole was great, and Sophia Loren looked great.

He was transcendant in VENUS.

I saw him play Henry Higgins onstage in PYGMALIAN 21 years ago, from the second row, and it was pure heaven. When I was speaking to him afterwrds, I asked him to come do a play in Los Angeles, so I wouldn't have to make a 6000 mile reound trip to see him, and he gave me a look that clearly said, "Theater in Los Angeles? You are quite insane little man."

Plus he has that doubly phallic name. And what do we find when we are sandwiched between his Peter and his Toole? Why the Big O of course. He was Tallulah's favorite drinking buddy back in hte day.

Nathan said...

I saw this when it came out (and a bunch of times since), and I've always loved it. Somehow, though, it escaped me that it didn't do well. I just assumed everyone had seen this and loved it as much as I did.

Something must be done.

Anonymous said...

Just to continue this a bit longer...

My Favorite Year was, as I remember, a dud at the box office -- at least as disappointing as The Stunt Man. It has, however, picked up a bigger following on DVD and tape. And yes, O'Toole was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, but he was also nominated for The Stunt Man.

I guess there's an argument to be made that My Favorite Year revitalized O'Toole's career. But that same argument can be made for The Stunt Man. Having said that, it's not like his career has been marked by prolonged periods of unemployment. IMDB has him down for 90 projects over a 52 year career.

However just about his weakest output year was 1981 -- the year between The Stunt Man's release and My Favorite Year's. He's credited with only one project between those two, the role of General Cornelius Flavius Silva in the TV mini-series Masada.

Also according to IMDB (and my recollection), The Stunt Man was actually filmed during 1978 and not released until 1980. Which just goes to show that good stuff sometimes isn't even recognized by the people who paid for it. Or, maybe, that good movies need some time to ferment.

Finally, while everyone here is spreading around the O'Toole love, let's also throw out some appreciation for Steve Railsback's work in The Stunt Man. Though his career is nowhere near as storied as O'Toole's his work in The Stunt Man is exceptional. And he was flat brilliant (at times I thought he was literally mesmerizing) as Charlie Manson in the 1976 TV film Helter Skelter.

Anonymous said...

As Groucho Marx once observed to Dick Cavett: "Did you ever notice Peter O'Toole has a double-phallic name?"

Off topic: First-time extra on set with Johnny Depp:

Annie said...

If you expect to get up off the couch and rent the movie, the least you could do is offer a coupon.

Nat G said...

According to Box Office Mojo, My Favorite Year did $20,123,620 domestically, which would be around $57 million today... not exactly a blow-out, but for a first=time-director, one=faded-star-name picture, probably nicely profitable.

The Stunt Man? $7,063,886.

Laura Deerfield said...

LOVE this movie. So much, in fact, I married a man quite similar to O'Toole's character. (Scary, yes)

And it may not be a comedy, but it's definitely funny.

(Also enjoy The Ruling Class...not as good as Stunt Man, and more dated - but still lots of fun to watch.)

Anonymous said...

Steve Railsback is definitely due more love. He's a really terrific actor, and hasn't worked near enough.

I met him two years ago, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he's not the least bit creepy or scary in person, but quite friendly and approachable. Had a lovely conversation with him.

Yes, it did indeed take Richard Rush two years to get THE STUNT MAN released, two chilling years spent wondering if the best film he'd ever made would ever be seen by anyone.

Knuckles Buchanan said...

I would like to heartily endorse the notion of Barbara Hershey still being hot, as well as wonder how Richard Rush could go from the greatness of "The Stunt Man" to utter crap that was "Color of Night".

Anonymous said...

Whether Barbara Hershey was then, or still is now, hot, is not a matter about which I have an opinion. Naveen Andrews sees somthing in her, and since he could do better, there must be something to see. But if THE STUNT MAN has a major flaw, it's her.

She's simply miscast. She has to be a MOVIE STAR, full of style and glamorous artificiality, a Hollywood goddess, a temptress and a tease. She has to deliver the line: "I AM The Movies!" It needs someone like a 30 year old Bette Davis or Katherine Hepburn. It needs someone on the road to becoming Tallulah Morehead. She is none of these things. She's pretty-but-blah.

There's a reason people discuss O'Toole and Railsback in this film but not her. One instantly forgets she is even in the picture, next to these two brightly burning performances. She vanishes next to either of them, the way the planet Venus vanishes when the Sun rises.

O'Toole's character is supposed to have had an affair with her. It's difficult to see what such a brilliant narcissicist would see in her. At the time, O'Toole was married to the magnificnet actress Sian Phillips. Now THAT is believable, and she, a decade younger, would have been great in the Hershey role.

Hershey's scenes are the film's dead spots, the moments it goes slack, like Mae Clarke's scenes in FRANKENSTEIN. The scenes she's not in scintillate, and then she comes on, and it fizzles out.

It has a couple other small flaws. O'Toole keeps Railsback around to find the "Madness" his movie needs, but when he extracts that madness, it's in the form of a scene where he dances on the wing of an airplane, and it has no punch, and the scene is a bit bungled. It doesn't linger in the memory.

And, as Pauline Kael pointed out in what was mostly a major rave, a movie set is not where you get your paranoia cured. It's where you get it inflated.

But the overall brillience of the film rises above these flaws, and even rises above Barbara Hershey.

When the company that produced it chose not to release it, Richard Rush had a heart attack. It took four-walling it privately first in Seattle, and then in Los Angeles (Where it was a local hit) to convince Fox to pick it up, and even then, they didn't know how to market this one-off.

Knuckles Buchanan said...

If memory serves, the movie was initially screened here in Seattle at one of the Seven Gables (now Landmark) Theatres. That story is now legendary amongst Seattle cinephiles, and cited often as we continue to seek validation that Seattle is, in fact, a great cinema town.

Knuckles Buchanan said...

Oh, and I don't know that I'd ever call Barbara Hershey a great actress. I can't say that I've seen her in any role that I've ever really liked, save for her turn in "Tin Men" with Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss.

Morgan McKinnon said...

Hoosiers. She was wonderful in that.

No special effects or not a lot of you watched it.

Nonetheless, she was great in that movie.

Anonymous said...

Hershey had a nice run later in the 80s with "Hannah and Her Sisters" and back to back awards at Cannes for "Shy People" and "A World Apart," followed by the notorieity of "The Last Temptation of Christ" and a commercial peak in "Beaches" (the latter marred by the sudden appearance of collagen enhanced lips). She got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1996 for "The Portrait of a Lady." I think maybe her problem is that she just kinda coasts if the material isn't quite there, or if she's miscast. I'd written her off in the wacky "Seagull" years, so it was kinda neat to see her stock rise again in her late 30s.

Derryl Murphy said...

Saw this one because another film was sold out when we got to the theatre (I think it was My Bodyguard). I remember the bunch of us walking out in something of a daze. Remarkable, and lucky we found it before it disappeared.


Anonymous said...

Well Hershey wasn't what was controversial about THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. But that film and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS both sort of support my point about her. I've seen both films, the latter several times, and I'd utterly forgotten she was in either. For me she goes in one eye and out the other, leaving no traces behind. For me, THE STUNT MAN is her most-memorable performance, since I do remember her being in it, and she's forgettable it it.

As for BEACHES, well I'm the one gay man in America who couldn't be dragged into a theater to suffer through it. Never seen it; hopefully never will.

As for HOOSIERS, the title alone kept me out of the theater. Isn't it about a sports team? Morgan is right, I wouldn't have any reason to see it.

Unknown said...


I first saw it late one night on HBO and have seen it maybe fifteen times since.

Steve Railsback's performance is just flawless I think, and Peter O'toole is amazing.

I agree that Barbara Hershey is the mistake in the cast. She wasn't at all believable as the big star.

I would love to find a DVD of this so I can watch with the commentary tracks (I love DVD for just that reason.

Thanks for reminding me of this movie. It is going on my list of must see DVD's.

Karen said...

Hmmmm...42 comments, almost all of which are in support of the genius that is The Stunt Man, but many of which are by the same people.

I guess I see why it bombed at the box office.

It came out at a time when I wasn't going to a lot of movies--I worked nights, and slept days--but I saw it when it came out on VHS and it blew my mind. I'd love to have seen it on the big screen. And yes, this is definitely an O'Toole performance right up there with Lawrence of Arabia and the wondrous My Favorite Year, dark and complex and funny. What an actor! And he was still almost beautiful in this one, unlike My Favorite Year, where he was already beginning to show signs of having been rode hard and put away wet.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I forgot about this movie. I guess I was one of the few who saw it in the theater when it came out. My sister and I were/are Peter O'Toole fans and we saw it together in Orange County, probably at the old Cinedome. We both loved it - was that before or after Railsback played Manson? I can't remember if I already knew of him or not, but I remember thinking he was wonderful.

I have not seen it since, and look forward to renting it.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

42 comments, and not a single mention of my favorite O'Toole performance, in my favorite movie of all time, The Lion in Winter. You're all off my Christmas list.

Morgan McKinnon said...

Dr. Marvin it's 45. Actually 46, but who's counting.

As for Barbara Hershey...brilliant actress. She's got "IT". Sorry.

And d.mcewan it is about basketball...but it's about so much more than hundreds of strong young muscular boys running around on a basketball court wearing very short...shorts.

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Anonymous said...

Wow. I thought I was the only person to have seen The Stunt Man. I actually saw it in the theater, and remember liking it. I haven't seen it since, and pretty much forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder. I think I'll check it out again.

Anonymous said...

Bleh. I just rented and watched it, and I couldn't disagree more with everyone here. O' Toole was great, but I couldn't stand Steve Railsback. He ruined the whole thing for me.