The Stunt Man

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The Stunt Man
Theatrical poster
Directed byRichard Rush
Screenplay byLawrence B. Marcus
Richard Rush
Based onThe Stunt Man
by Paul Brodeur
Produced byRichard Rush
StarringPeter O'Toole
Steve Railsback
Barbara Hershey
Allen Goorwitz
Alex Rocco
Adam Roarke
Sharon Farrell
Philip Bruns
Chuck Bail
CinematographyMario Tosi
Edited byCaroline Biggerstaff
Jack Hofstra
Music byDominic Frontiere
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • June 27, 1980 (1980-06-27)
Running time
131 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million
Box office$7,068,886[1]

The Stunt Man is a 1980 American satirical psychological anti-war action comedy film starring Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback and Barbara Hershey, and directed by Richard Rush.[2] The film was adapted by Lawrence B. Marcus and Rush from the 1970 novel of the same name by Paul Brodeur. It tells the story of a young fugitive who hides as a stunt double on the set of a World War I movie whose charismatic director will do seemingly anything for the sake of his art. The line between illusion and reality is blurred as scenes from the inner movie cut seamlessly to "real life" and vice versa. There are examples of "movie magic", where a scene of wartime carnage is revealed as just stunt men and props, and where a shot of a crying woman becomes, with scenery, props and soundtrack, a portrait of a grieving widow at a Nazi rally. The protagonist begins to doubt everything he sees and hears, and at the end is faced with real danger when a stunt seems to go wrong.

It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Peter O'Toole), Best Director (Richard Rush), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. However, due to its limited release, it never earned much attention from audiences at large.[3] As O'Toole remarked in a DVD audio commentary, "The film wasn't released. It escaped."[4] The film has since developed a cult following.[5]


Cameron, a Vietnam veteran who is wanted for attempted murder, is caught by police but escapes. Crossing a bridge, he dodges a car that seems to be trying to run him down; when he turns around, the car has disappeared. A helicopter flies close to the bridge and a man inside looks at Cameron. Later, Cameron is attracted to a movie shoot — a World War I battle scene. Afterwards, he notices an older woman who walks through the set greeting the actors, then falls in the water. Cameron dives in to rescue her and is horrified when she pulls off her face — a mask. She is the movie's leading actress, Nina Franklin, testing make-up for scenes set late in her character's life.

The director, Eli Cross, the man in the helicopter, descends from the sky on his camera crane. He offers Cameron a job, explaining that their last stunt man just ran a car off a bridge. They haven't found the body, and Eli can't afford the production delays if police get involved. The police chief is aware of the accident but Eli convinces him that Cameron is the stuntman. Cameron accepts the job. Eli shows the police film footage that seems to show that Cameron was never on the bridge.

Denise, the film's hair stylist, dyes Cameron's hair in order to make him resemble the leading man, Raymond Bailey, and harder to recognize. Cameron is convinced Eli is selling him out to the police but Eli reassures him that he is not. Cameron learns from Chuck, the stunt coordinator, and films a scene where he is chased across the roof of a large building and falls through a skylight into a bordello. At the same time, Cameron gets involved with Nina, who once had a romance with Eli, who becomes jealous of Cameron.

The last shoot at the current location involves Cameron's most difficult stunt, driving off a bridge and escaping under water — the same scene Burt was shooting when he died. Cameron believes Eli is trying to kill him, and will use the stunt to make it look like an accident.

The morning before the shoot Cameron tells Nina he planned to open an ice cream shop when he got home from Vietnam with a friend, but his friend did not want Cameron around because Cameron's girlfriend had left Cameron for the friend. Enraged, Cameron destroyed the ice cream shop. When a cop showed up, Cameron knocked him out, leaving his head freezing in a bucket of ice cream, resulting in an attempted murder charge. Nina and Cameron plan to escape together: Nina will hide in the trunk of the car, which Cameron will drive away in the morning instead of driving off the bridge.

Chuck has planted an explosive in one of the tires to make the car's tumble look more realistic. Cameron starts the scene too early. The car goes into the water when Chuck triggers the exploding tire, and Cameron scrambles to reach Nina in the trunk, until he looks out the window and sees Nina with Eli on the bridge. The air bottle Cameron is supposed to use to breathe seems to have been sabotaged, but he is able to get out of the car anyway. Cameron emerges and notices there were divers in the water with him all the time. Nina tells him that she was found in the trunk hours before the shoot, and Eli told her Cameron had decided to do the stunt. Eli explains that he would not let Cameron run off thinking he was trying to kill him. The best way to convince Cameron of Eli's good will, Eli felt, was to make sure Cameron got through the stunt in one piece. Cameron, though furious, is amused and relieved to survive. Cameron and Eli bicker over Cameron's pay and plan to catch a plane to the production's next location.



Shortly after Paul Brodeur published the original novel, his Harvard University classmate Frederick Wiseman initially agreed to direct an adaptation but quickly departed the project. Columbia Pictures held on to the film rights to the novel, and considered either Arthur Penn or François Truffaut to direct it. They both expressed interest but declined in favor of other projects, although they did incorporate elements of the film into their projects Day for Night (1973) and Night Moves (1975).[6]

Columbia Pictures finally offered the film to Richard Rush on the strength of the success of his previous film, Getting Straight.[7] Rush initially rejected, then ultimately accepted directing The Stunt Man. In July 1971, Columbia announced that Rush would direct the film with William Castle executive producer.[8] Rush then penned a 150-page treatment different from the book; in the novel, the characters were all crazy, and in the screenplay, they were instead "sane in a world gone mad."[3] Columbia executives then rejected the script, saying it was difficult to find a genre to place it in. Said Rush: "They couldn't figure out if it was a comedy, a drama, if it was a social satire, if it was an action adventure...and, of course, the answer was, 'Yes, it's all those things.' But that isn't a satisfactory answer to a studio executive." Rush then bought the film rights from Columbia Rush and Lawrence B. Marcus completed a screenplay nine months later, but could not convince any other studios to fund the film.[6] shopped the film to other studios, to no avail.[6]

Rush spent the next several years unsuccessfully pitching both The Stunt Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), which he had optioned from Michael Douglas, to different studios. Rush was finally offered several deals to finance The Stunt Man in 1976, but they collapsed after Warner Bros. Pictures began developing a similarly titled film called The Stuntman. Rush challenged Warner Bros. to Motion Picture Association of America arbitration which also delayed The Stuntman for several years and forced Warner Bros. to change its title to Hooper (1978). Trans World Entertainment agreed to finance the film and principal photography was planned to begin in San Diego on October 17, 1977. The production was cancelled at the last minute after Rush and Ely Landau could not agree on casting. Funding for the picture finally came in 1978 from Melvin Simon, who had made a fortune in real estate.[3][6]

Production began in the summer of 1978. Many scenes were filmed in and around the historic Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California. The film was delayed after Rush suffered a heart attack in the autumn of 1979. Although the film was completed in August 1980, it still could not find a distributor. Simon booked the film at a single cinema in Seattle, followed by two more in Dallas and Westwood, Los Angeles. 20th Century Fox finally agreed to distribute the film on November 3, 1980, after it won the Grand Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.[6]

Peter O'Toole mentions in his DVD commentary that he based his character on David Lean who directed him in Lawrence of Arabia.


Reviewing it upon its release, Roger Ebert wrote "there was a great deal in it that I admired... [but] there were times when I felt cheated".[9] He gave the film two stars but noted that others had "highly recommended" it. In an October 17, 1980, review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin noted "the film's cleverness is aggressive and cool," but concluded that although "the gamesmanship of The Stunt Man is fast and furious... gamesmanship is almost all it manages to be".[10] Jay Scott called it "[t]he best movie about making a movie ever made, but the achievement merely begins there. ... Imagine a picture an eight-year-old and Wittgenstein could enjoy with equal fervor."[11] Pauline Kael considered it "a virtuoso piece of kinetic moviemaking" and rated it one of year's best films; she called O'Toole's comic performance "peerless".[12]

As of November 2023, the comedy drama film[13] held a 91% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 43 reviews. The critics consensus states, "The Stunt Man is a preposterously entertaining thriller with a clever narrative and Oscar-worthy (nomination, at least!) Peter O'Toole performance."[14]



The Stunt Man received three Oscar nominations:

Home media[edit]

The Stunt Man was released on DVD on November 20, 2001 in two versions by Anchor Bay Entertainment. The first version is a standard release featuring two deleted scenes and a commentary by director Richard Rush. The second version is a limited edition (100,000 copies) containing everything from the standard release as well as the 2000 documentary The Sinister Saga of Making "The Stunt Man".

The film's theme song "Bits & Pieces" is sung by Dusty Springfield.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Stunt Man at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Variety film review;June 11, 1980 page 20
  3. ^ a b c Paul Tatara. "The Stunt Man: Overview Article". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  4. ^ Almar Haflidason. "The Stunt Man DVD (1980)". Retrieved 2007-10-28.
  5. ^ "The Sinister Saga of Making 'The Stunt Man'".
  6. ^ a b c d e "The Stunt Man". AFI Catalog. Retrieved 2024-01-18.
  7. ^ ROAD TO CINEMA - RICHARD RUSH - Director/Screenwriter PART 2. Jog Road Productions.
  8. ^ 'Stunt Man' Next for Castle Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 3 July 1971: a9.
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (November 7, 1980). "The Stunt Man". Retrieved 2007-10-28.
  10. ^ Janet Maslin (1980-10-17). "Movie Review - The Stunt Man - O'Toole in 'Stunt Man'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on Dec 25, 2013. Retrieved 2007-11-03.
  11. ^ Scott, Jay (1980-11-22). "Movies". The Globe and Mail. p. C7.
  12. ^ Kael, Pauline (1984). Taking It All In. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 64–65.
  13. ^ "The Stunt Man". Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  14. ^ Rotten Tomatoes, "[ The Stunt Man (1980)". Accessed January 2, 2019.

External links[edit]