Stunt Man (The)
"The Stunt Man" is a cinematic puzzle with no answers, only the question: What is reality? Set on a movie set of a film about World War I flying daredevils, it introduces us to the director of the film-inside-the-film, (O'Toole), who wins us over, despite how improbable his project seems. He's so strident and stylized that he couldn't really exist, except, possibly, in real-life Hollywood.
His movie set is like a torture chamber that already has claimed a victim: A stuntman drowned after his car went off a bridge. Was it accidental? Or is O'Toole such a maniac that he planned it? When the hero (Railsback) stumbles into the scene, he's wanted by the police, and needs to hide out. The mad movie director offers him a job: replace the missing stunt man. Railsback has little choice; before long, blackmailed by O'Toole, he's doing the most difficult stunts, some of which are a little too real. Railsback begins to suspect that O'Toole wants to kill him, either for his cinematic art or because he's a sadist. That's the situation in every subsequent scene, repeating, again and again, from beginning to end.
It doesn't take a lot of thought to grasp that the movie's method is to deceive and mislead. A director always has that ability, because the viewer can know only what the director chooses to tell or show; thus, this movie is both frustrating and challenging as it gives the message of the subjectivity of perceived reality.
"The Stunt Man" is a legendary sleeper, one almost shelved without being seen. Richard Rush, whose other credits are "Getting Straight" and "Freebie and the Bean," began preparing this film in 1971, and finally shot it in 1978. Financed by Melvin Simon Productions, it couldn't find a distributor, and sat on the shelf for a year before getting favorable attention at the USA (Dallas) and Montreal film festivals, when was picked up by Twentieth Century-Fox. Its New York opening was hailed by The New Yorker's Pauline Kael, and has a great deal to admire.
Lawrence B. Marcus from the novel by Paul Broder
Peter O'Toole, Barbara Hershey, Denise Sharon Farrell, Nina Franklin, Bailey Adam Roarke,
Hollywood film industry's unsung heroes
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