The Stunt Man (1980) DVD Review: One of the Best Damn Movies Ever. Ever.

Director Richard Rush had a vision. He wanted to adapt The Stunt Man, a novel by Paul Brodeur, into a feature film. Unfortunately, studio executives were, naturally, apprehensive about backing him because they just didn’t know what it was — and it took a good nine years for Rush to get the project underway. Filmed in 1978, but not released until 1980 (chalk up another score for the studio heads, kids), The Stunt Man is an utterly absorbing and fascinating journey into “subjective reality” — one that has so many underlying elements about the human psyche going on, it’s easy to see why the Tinseltown suits were so confused in the first place. After all, what would the beings in Hollywood actually know about being human?

After a young ‘Nam vet (Steve Railsback) wanted by the police eludes the local authorities, he wanders onto an old bridge where — unbeknownst to him — a movie stunt is being filmed with a classic automobile. His appearance results in the stunt going awry, however, and the driver of the vehicle never emerges from the river below; an accident witnessed by several crew members — including egotistical director Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole, in one of his greatest performances ever). Making his way to the beach, the fugitive encounters more movie magic, and soon makes the acquaintance of the very eccentric and powerful Cross. When the sheriff (Alex Rocco) arrives, Cross promptly introduces the lad as the dead stuntman, Burt.

It isn’t long before “Burt” becomes the film’s new stuntman, learning various tricks of the trade from stuntman extraordinaire Chuck Barton (real life stuntman/actor Charles Bail). He also turns a few tricks with stunning young actress Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey). The man’s inherent paranoia, however, runs rampant: he begins to think Eli — who is completely fascinated with every aspect of the escapee, from head to toe — is planning on killing him onscreen. Throughout the duration of the film, Rush subtly (and superbly) captures the entire human mind, from sadness to joy, jealousy to paranoia. The movie-within-a-movie portions of the film are outstanding in their own right, delivering some of the finest stunts ever to be filmed at the Hotel del Coronado.

A terrifically arranged mixture of action, humor and heart. And the bits of nudity and a brief bit by George “Commando Cody” Wallace as Barbara Hershey’s father certainly don’t hurt any. The Stunt Man managed to blow away audiences back in 1980, and its force hasn’t lost an ounce of its strength since then. Rush made his dream come true, achieving the pinnacle of his career in the process and bringing out some of the best performances — not to mention moments — ever captured on film. Severin Films re-releases this cult classic to DVD and Blu-ray (it was previously available from Anchor Bay in the early 2000s) in a marvelous Special Edition that boasts a glorious video transfer and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

Special features for this highly recommended release include several items ported over from the old Anchor Bay release — an audio commentary with director Rush and the film’s main cast, two deleted scenes, and the very excellent documentary The Sinister Saga of the Making of The Stunt Man that Rush made himself in 2000 — as well as several new gems. “Peter O’Toole Recounts The Stunt Man” finds the aged actor (who looks like he has had a few appointments with a plastic surgeon as well as a taxidermist; poor guy) recollecting his experience with the film and the people who made it.

More cast and crew come out to discuss The Stunt Man: “Barbara Hershey on Nina Franklin” is pretty self-explanatory, and “The Devil’s Squadron” finds longtime pals Steve Railsback and Alex Rocco providing several memorable anecdotes. Another new bonus item, “The Maverick Career of Richard Rush,” finds the Freebie and the Bean director recounting high points of his work in the film industry, including the aforementioned 1974 hit, along with the exploitation gems he cranked out at AIP in the ’50s and ’60s. The disc also includes several trailers for the main feature, which were also carried over from the original 2001 Anchor Bay DVD.

Sure, there are a lot of items on this release that have been seen before. But, between the new bonus materials and the beautiful presentation courtesy of Severin Films, this upgrade of The Stunt Man is well worth its weight in cinematic gold. And if you haven’t seen this one before, you’re really missing out.

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Luigi Bastardo

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