The Stunt Man

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The Stunt Man
Theatrical poster
Directed byRichard Rush
Produced byRichard Rush
Screenplay byLawrence B. Marcus
Richard Rush
Based onThe Stunt Man
by Paul Brodeur
StarringPeter O'Toole
Steve Railsback
Barbara Hershey
Music byDominic Frontiere
CinematographyMario Tosi
Edited byCaroline Biggerstaff
Jack Hofstra
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 action comedy film directed by Richard Rush, starring Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, and Barbara Hershey.[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.

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]


Cameron (Steve Railsback), a Vietnam vet who's wanted for attempted murder, is caught by the police but escapes. Crossing a bridge, he dodges an antique car that seems to be trying to run him down; when he turns around, the car has disappeared. While he wonders whether it went into the river, a helicopter flies close to the bridge and a man inside looks intently at Cameron. Later, Cameron is attracted to a movie shoot -- a World War I battle scene -- on the beach. After the scene, he notices an old 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's not an old woman, but the movie's leading lady, Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey), testing the costume and make-up for the scenes set late in her character's life.

The director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole), descends from the sky on his camera crane. This is his second entrance from on high; Eli is the same man who stared at Cameron from the helicopter. 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 that will result if the police get involved. The local police chief is aware of the accident on the bridge and Eli has to do some fast talking to convince him that Cameron is Burt, the stunt man who went off the bridge into the river. (Eli claims divers pulled him out of the car, and Cameron is convincingly damp, having just pulled Nina out of the ocean.) Cameron's job is to pretend to be Burt and do his stunts -- a role within a role that allows both Eli and Cameron to avoid entanglements with the police.

Cameron is rechristened "Lucky." Denise (Sharon Farrell), the film's hair stylist, dyes his hair and makes a pass at him. Ostensibly the color change is to make him resemble the blond leading man, Raymond Bailey (Adam Roarke) -- Lucky is Ray's stunt double -- but of course it also, conveniently, makes him harder to recognize. There's a running theme about how the movies are all about making things look like what they're not. When Cameron is convinced Eli's selling him out by showing the cops the film shot when Burt ran off the bridge -- because Cameron's in it -- Eli reassures him by telling him that the original King Kong from the 1933 movie "was just 3 foot 6 inches tall -- he only came up to Fay Wray's belly button. If God could do the tricks that we can do, he'd be a happy man." "How tall was King Kong?" becomes their catchphrase.

Lucky learns stunt work under the tutelage of Chuck (Charles Bail), the stunt coordinator; there's some cool detail about how stunts are pulled off. (To film part of the wing-walking scene, they tether the plane to the ground and fly in circles at an altitude of about 6 feet.) There's an elaborate scene where Lucky, standing in for the leading man, is chased up and down the sloping red roofs of a large building (in real life, the Hotel del Coronado near San Diego, California), shot at, and falls through a skylight into a bordello. Lucky is thrilled to learn he'll be paid $600 for the scene. At the same time, Lucky/Cameron's getting involved with Nina -- who, it turns out, once had a romance with Eli and still admires him tremendously. Eli admits to her that he's jealous of Lucky.

The last shoot at the current location involves Lucky's most difficult stunt, driving a Duesenberg off a bridge and escaping under water -- the same scene Burt was shooting when he died. Lucky believes Eli is trying to kill him, and will use the stunt to make it look like an accident. It's plausible; killing Lucky would get him out of Nina's life and remove the most unreliable witness to the cover-up of Burt's death.

In the wee hours of the morning before the shoot, Lucky and Nina have a heart-to-heart in the set shop and Lucky finally tells his story. He'd planned to open an ice cream shop with a friend when he got home from Vietnam, but the friend backed out -- he didn't want Cameron around because, Cameron realized, the friend was the guy Cameron's girlfriend had left him for. Cameron took out his fury one night on the ice cream shop (which he reenacts by trashing the set shop). When a cop turned up to see what was going on, Cameron threw a big tub of ice cream at him and fled. The cop was knocked out and spent several hours with his head in the ice cream, which didn't kill him but resulted in frostbite damage to his nose and ear and an attempted murder charge for Cameron, who's been on the run ever since. After Nina stops laughing, the couple plans to escape together: Nina hides in the trunk of the stunt car, which Cameron will drive away in the morning instead of driving off the bridge.

Unbeknownst to Lucky, Chuck has planted an explosive in one of the Duesenberg's front tires to make the car's tumble off the bridge look more realistic. Lucky panics everyone by starting the scene too early. (He's in the Duesenberg with the windows rolled up and mistakes a question about the on-board camera for his cue.) The car goes into the water when Chuck triggers the exploding tire, and Lucky scrambles to reach Nina in the trunk -- until he happens to look up out of the sinking car's rear window to see Nina with Eli on the bridge. Lucky emerges, gasping, from the river and notices that 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 that Lucky had changed his mind and decided to do the stunt. Lucky, of course, had done no such thing, but Nina's so pleased that he and Eli have made up that he doesn't set her straight. Eli, descending as usual from heaven on his crane, explains that he wouldn't let Lucky run off thinking that Eli was trying to kill him (and not incidentally leaving the film incomplete). The best way to convince Lucky of Eli's good will, Eli felt, was to make sure Lucky got through the stunt in one piece. Lucky, though furious -- not for the first time -- at Eli's high-handed manipulations, is amused in spite of himself and giddy with relief at surviving. As the movie ends, Cameron and Eli are bickering over Cameron's pay for the stunt and planning to catch a plane to the production's next location.



During the early 1970s, Columbia Pictures owned film rights to the novel, with Arthur Penn and François Truffaut considered for directing it. Columbia offered the film to Richard Rush on the strength of the success of his previous film, Getting Straight.[5] 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.[6]

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 and shopped the film to other studios, to no avail. Funding for the picture finally came from Melvin Simon who had made a fortune in real estate.[3]

Production took place in 1978. Opening scenes were filmed at Mary Etta's Cafe, Flinn Springs, California. Many scenes were filmed in and around the historic Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California.

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


As of March 2021, the comedy drama film[7] held a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 40 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."[8]

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] Critic Pauline Kael considered it "a virtuoso piece of kinetic moviemaking" and rated it one of year's best films.[12] She called O'Toole's comic performance "peerless".



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.

The soundtrack was mastered by Greg Fulginiti.

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. ^ ROAD TO CINEMA - RICHARD RUSH - Director/Screenwriter PART 2. Jog Road Productions.
  6. ^ 'Stunt Man' Next for Castle Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 3 July 1971: a9.
  7. ^ "The Stunt Man". Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  8. ^ Rotten Tomatoes, "[ The Stunt Man (1980)". Accessed January 2, 2019.
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (November 7, 1980). "The Stunt Man". Retrieved 2007-10-28.
  10. ^ Janet Maslin (1980-10-17). "The Stunt Man". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-03.
  11. ^ Scott, Jay (1980-11-22). "Movies". The Globe and Mail. p. C7.
  12. ^ Pauline Kael. "The Stunt Man". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2007-10-28.

External links[edit]