DATELINE: Mad Director Meets Madder Stunt Man
If you ever wondered what it might’ve been like to walk onto the set of legendary superstar Peter O’Toole during filming, your chance came in 1980 with the movie The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush.
The title is two words because Burt Reynolds sued director Rush over the title, wanting it for his movie tribute to stuntmen. They split the difference.
It’s a comedy action thriller drama Hollywood insider movie about the making of an out-of-control World War I epic anti-war movie with more explosions and killings than supports its so-called plot of the movie-within-a-movie.
It also costars Steve Railsback, in a rare heroic role as a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Fleeing from police, he wanders onto the set of O’Toole’s Eli Cross production and is immediately sucked into the ruse of taking up the role of a stunt man who was killed accidentally that day.
O’Toole knows he has a fugitive on his hands, but needs to prevent an investigation into his botched movie stunt.
Railsback was fresh off playing Charles Manson in Helter-Skelter for a movie mini-series. Peter O’Toole based his wacky director on his work with David Lean during the making of Lawrence of Arabia.
Flying around the set on a crane, O’Toole’s ego-maniacal director will risk anything to get his movie on film, including the accidental death of crew-members. Yes, this is a comedy, but not quite like you expect.
This movie probably would never be made today, even with rogue directors and winking cable studios financing the project. Then, again, we admit that Twin Peaks was given a green-light.
When Railsback asks O’Toole why he is protecting the fugitive, O’Toole answers: “Because I’m in love with your dark side.” It makes perfect sense.
Railsback was never so handsome, and O’Toole was never quite so cuckoo. It makes for a delicious movie, though it is about a half-hour too long.
In its earlier incarnation, it was given little publicity in its release. O’Toole commented the film was not released, “It escaped.”