Stunt Man, The (1980)

The Stunt Man (1980), directed by Richard Rush.

A fugitive with a thousand-yard stare flees into an outdoor movie set and accidentally kills a stunt man. He is hired to replace the dead man. (You'll never get anywhere with this film worrying about plausibility). He knows he should get away, but stays because (1) he's in love with the lead actress, (2) he accepts the challenge of doing the dangerous job, (3) he is zapped by the movie magic world, and finally (4) he is fascinated by the possibly insane director: "I can't take my eyes off him." Fascination turns to dread when he comes to believe the director is going to kill him as part of the perfect stunt.

Before they clean up Steve Railsback we can't help but think of him as Charles Manson in Helter Skelter. This helps because we don't know why he's on the run until the end and are willing to suspect the worst.

As the eccentric director, Peter O'Toole is the best thing in the film and got an Oscar nomination. He says he based the character on David Lean, remembering his own experiences with him on Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The film has much to like: quite a lot of comedy, great stunt action sequences, and unexpected and jarring shifts between reality and movie making. Look closely and you see we have stunt men playing stunt men playing actors. I love how O'Toole keeps dropping out of the sky on his crane, like something from Terry Gilliam.

It also has a lameness factor. The repartee is not as funny as everyone involved pretends, and some of the dramatic bits are overwrought. It's odd because in the story the director complains about the anti-war film they are making: "We're shaking a finger at the audience when we need to slip in a message more subversively." In our film, any subversive message must be about the relation of fantasy and reality, but I'm not sure it ever emerges.

Brief passion and nudity. Some horrifically dismembered bodies, but they turn out to be makeup and stunts, so that's ok. Right? Theme song sung by Dusty Springfield.

Available on Blu-ray.