The Stunt Man (1980)

“Do you not know that King Kong the first was just three foot six 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!” The first thing I thought of when I started watching The Stunt Man was that the main character, Cameron (Steve Railsback), looked like a refugee from a Charles Manson look-alike contest. After a little research, I discovered that Railsback had actually portrayed Manson in the critically acclaimed 1976 TV mini-series Helter Skelter. The dude definitely gives off a creepy vibe even after he shaves off his beard. Through a series of bizarre events, fugitive Cameron ends up hiding out as a stunt man on the set of a seemingly mediocre World War I movie, Devil’s Squadron, directed by the obsessive, eccentric and manipulative Eli Cross (brilliantly portrayed by Peter O’Toole), who keeps swooping down from nowhere, godlike, in his director’s crane. Cameron also hooks up with one of the film’s stars, Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey), who had a previous relationship with Cross. As the stunts become progressively more dangerous, Cameron starts to believe that Cross is out to kill him. Where does the illusion end and reality begin? Based on a 1970 novel of the same name by Paul Brodeur, The Stunt Man was directed by Richard Rush (Hells Angels on Wheels) and died at the box office (according to O’Toole, “The film wasn’t released, it escaped”). Look for Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in The Godfather) as a pissed-off local police chief. O’Toole, who reportedly based his performance on director David Lean, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor but lost out to Robert De Niro (Raging Bull). In addition, Rush was nominated for Best Director but lost out to Robert Redford (Ordinary People).

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