Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1920-1929 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!
1920: The Mark of Zorro
First time on the list for Zorro (not the last), and for Douglas Fairbanks. The Mark of Zorro represents the first in a line of Adventure films and Douglas Fairbanks was technically the first swashbuckler, an adventure actor that does a lot of the stunts himself. He was an incredible athlete, by all accounts, and this film showcases that ability very nicely.
1921: Never Weaken
Harvey Parry admitted on his death bed that he doubled Harold Lloyd on some of the stunts in this movie. This comedy movie would make way for all the dangerous slapstick comedies to come by Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.
1922: Robin Hood
Great example of Douglas Fairbanks at the top of his game, but in this case he’s helped out by his stunt double, Charles Lewis in several stunts. This is also the first time Robin Hood makes the list (also, not the last) and it’s interesting to me that several movies hit the list multiple times. You’d expect that with movie series like James Bond, being highly stunt driven, but still seems like a surprise when it’s just different versions of the same movie, like Robin Hood and Zorro.
1923: Safety Last!
The second half of this film, where he is climbing up each floor of a building is sheer brilliance. It’s nerve-wracking! The final few moments hanging from the clock is as iconic a film moment as you get. It’s a single-solitary slice of film that represents everything that being a stunt performer is all about. This would be the poster boy for the stunt movement. In fact, this should be the award they give out at the Academy Awards for Stunts, a Golden Statue of Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock tower.
1924: Sherlock, Jr.
This is the period where Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton keep out-doing each other every film. But, I will add, that this particular film is just about my favorite stunt film of all time. It would definitely be in the top ten for best stunts of all time, it’s that great. Buster Keaton not only blows your mind with the stunts in this film, but it’s also an incredible film cinematically and some of the techniques he develops with this film are revolutionary.
1925: The Prince of Pep
This was where Richard Talmadge was trying to be an actor, but he soon found out that his talents lay with Stunt work. He goes on to be a fantastic Stunt Man and Stunt Coordinator in the years to come. In this one, he has a nifty gag where he jumps from the rooftop of one building through the window of the next building. He makes it look easy.
1926: The Devil Horse
Yakima Canutt is generally thought of as the grand-daddy of all stuntmen…not that he actually gave birth to all of them, just that he was a big reason why stunt work has legitimized as much as it is right now. He developed techniques for safety and paved the way for most of the stunt men to work behind the camera as an action director or second unit director and as a stunt coordinator. In this film he shows his early chops as a rodeo star as he rides the devil horse, Rex.
This film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture, but thanks to Dick Grace, has some great flying stunts in it as well. No-one crashed a plane on cue better than he did.
1928: Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Another great film from Buster Keaton. This one is another one of those iconic images that help to propel the whole stunt world forward, an amazing stunt, where Buster just stands in one spot as the whole front of the building falls around him. Could have easily killed him if he was just a little bit off his mark. Great stunt.
1929: Tarzan the Tiger
Every wonder where Tarzan got his signature yell and signature swing from tree to tree from? Yep, from this movie. They used it in every Tarzan movie after that. Frank Merrill was very athletic and did all his stunts in a skimpy loin-cloth.
For more information about these stunt performers and these movies, including a lot of great trivia, please look for their chapters in the new movie stunt book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!