The Stunt Man (1980)

the stunt man

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Convict becomes a stuntman.

Cameron (Steve Railsback) is on the run from the cops who unknowingly comes onto a movie set and inadvertently causes the death of one of the stuntmen. Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole) the film’s God-like director takes a liking to Cameron and decides to hire him on as the replacement stuntman. Cameron is initially reluctant as he has no experience, but decides it would make a good cover from the police who are still after him. He starts an affair with the film’s leading lady Nina (Barbara Hershey), but finds that it may be Cross that he should be the most afraid of and who may be planning to film Cameron’s death during a difficult underwater stunt in order to add realism.

This is another one of those film-within-a-film type movies with this one faring a bit better than the others. One of the best ingredients it has is showing the behind-the-scenes politics that go on during any film production as well as hitting-the-nail-on-the-head with its caricatures.

Railsback is fun in a rare leading role. The way he can get intense as well as convey the rugged, ragged personality of a war-weary veteran on the run and just trying to survive is completely on-target. His best moments are simply his frightened and confused facial expressions that he has while going through many of Eli’s elaborate stunt routines and not sure if he will be coming out of it alive or not.

O’Toole is in peak form and was nominated for the Academy Award playing an egotistical director, which he modeled after David Lean. Having a director make a film advocating the horrors of war and violence, but then beat-up or threaten numerous crew members any time they make a mistake is perfect irony. My favorite moment of his is when they are showing rushes of Nina’s scenes from that day to her parents and then to their shock he throws in a few scenes showing Nina naked and in bed with another man. Then the next day he informs Nina about it simply to upset her and get the needed reaction that he wanted for the scene.

Hershey is splendid as a Hollywood actress who at times is quite jaded while at other moments is very naïve, child-like and emotionally fragile. Allen Garfield as the film’s exasperated and beleaguered screenwriter is also quite good. I also liked Chuck Bail who essentially plays himself as a stunt coordinator who tries to teach Cameron the fundamentals of the business.

Dominic Frontiere’s booming orchestral score is quite distinctive and at times even stirring particularly during the chase sequence. There is an abundance of ironies and twists that keep things interesting throughout and at points a bit surreal, but it’s missing that one final delicious twist or payoff and has an ending that seems a bit like a copout.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 11Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Rush

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

2 responses to “The Stunt Man (1980)

  1. Pingback: The Visitors (1972) | Scopophilia

  2. Joseph Kearny

    Kinetic direction, a superb O’Toole and a winner of a film

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