The Stunt Man: Limited Edition (DVD)
It took almost 10 years for director Richard Rush to get his adaptation of Paul Brodeur's novel The Stunt Man made, and in spite of successful preview runs, glowing reviews from influential critics, and recognition from festivals and award shows, the film became a well-remembered, little-seen cult item. A new double-disc DVD package of the 1980 film includes Rush's two-hour documentary The Sinister Saga Of Making The Stunt Man (also available separately), which details the filmmaker's joy in creating the movie and his travails in securing its release. What it hints at but doesn't fully explain is how the movie and its director fell into obscurity, becoming a cautionary tale for the mavericks who dominated '70s cinema. The Stunt Man still thrills as a witty, sly, action-packed mind game. Steve Railsback stars as a fugitive who stumbles onto a movie set and is granted sanctuary by egomaniacal director Peter O'Toole, in exchange for Railsback impersonating a stunt man who died in the line of duty. Barbara Hershey plays O'Toole's leading lady, and her feelings for Railsback will most likely mirror those of the audience: She's attracted to his naïve confidence, but uncertain what secrets the Vietnam veteran is harboring. Rush plays with this unknowability, keeping the audience in suspense as to whether Hershey really loves Railsback, whether O'Toole is exploiting Railsback's desperation and risking his new stunt man's life, and whether Railsback is irredeemably shady. Meanwhile, Rush exposes the tricks of the moviemaking trade, raising the question of whether elaborate stunts and camera tricks are still exciting when their artistry is laid bare. The theme of The Stunt Man rests in a similar question; on many levels, the film is about predestination, and whether life is still meaningful when everything operates under the control of a godlike figure. The Sinister Saga opens with Rush offering a version of that theme, explaining that the movie explores divinely inspired paranoia. The documentary has some rough edges, born of its video origins. Rush goes a little overboard with corny optical effects, and his attempts to speed things up by cutting out the pauses in interviews leads to a distracting choppiness. But the minutiae of Rush's post-production woes make for absorbing viewing, as do the excerpts from the string of raves The Stunt Man received, at a time when fewer critics behaved as adjuncts to the marketing divisions of corporate-owned studios. Rush talks openly in The Sinister Saga about the subtle drift of the movie business from reliable greed to unpredictable ego over the course of a turbulent decade. When critics hailed The Stunt Man as the first great movie of the '80s, they had no way of knowing it would actually be the last great movie of the '70s.