Category Archives: Stunts

We list the best stunts from the best movies for over the last 100 years. We will also discuss the best stunt performers, stunt coordinators, action directors, second unit directors and actors who do their own stunts for over the last 100 years.

Keystone Kops and the Bangville Police

 

One of the few cases where it’s hard to identify just one stunt and one person involved for the Best Movie Stunt, The Bangville Police is a 1913 comedy short starring Mabel Normand and the Keystone Kops (Fred Mace, Raymond Hatton, Edgar Kennedy, Ford Sterling, and Al St. John). The film, notable for being regarded as the seminal Keystone Kops (sometimes known as filmdom’s original “stuntmen”) short, was directed by Henry Lehrman.

I think Mabel Normand looks like Kate Winslet in this, with a very nice dress. Mabel was one of the film industry’s first female screenwriters, producers and directors. Onscreen she co-starred in commercially successful films with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle more than a dozen times each, occasionally writing and directing movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man. At the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Normand had her own movie studio and production company.mabel normand bangville police

The Keystone Kops were a ragtag gang and began as prize fighters, race car drivers, circus acrobats, strongmen, clowns, roustabouts and vaudevillians. They were a wild bunch, up for nearly any stunt the Sennett writers could concoct, and left behind a hilarious legacy of diverse performances. They were doused in oil, tossed off rooftops, launched into the ocean, butted by wild animals and plastered with pie. Their wacky “Kopwagon” was rigged to handle outrageous chases, near misses, collisions and explosions. Through improvisation and experimentation they developed many stunts and stunt techniques that remain popular today.  The Keystone Kops were the first Movie Stunt Team and is a great example of why being a great acrobat is of so importance as a stunt performer.bangville police

The film itself is not very eventful, but I think it stands up as one of the first action-oriented films. In The Bangville Police, a girl wishes they had a baby calf, which her father agrees with but when she enters a room she thinks she hears burglars and calls the police who get out of bed in broad daylight and drive a repeatedly exploding car to girl’s farm where everyone discovers there are no burglars after all. But a baby calf miraculously appears.

The cops bumble about with a pretty cool fall at about 2:32 marker on the film and has a pretty big explosion with the car at 5:04 marker.Bangville Police Stunt

As a side note, Al St. John did stunts his entire life, from daring bike tricks as a child until his last days touring with a western show performing all kinds of gags, still doing falls and trick bicycling. His stunt work in the films were of a wide range and skillfully executed. I am not exaggerating when I say that he was one of the best stunt men in the business. Unfortunately his best work is still considered lost.

The shorts he did when he got his own company, wrote, starred and directed himself under names like Fox and Warner got rave reviews, papers and magazines dubbed him “superhuman”, “nuts”, “eccentric”,”different”…all in all, he stood out, leaving cinema audiences screaming of laughter and awe of his stunts and gags. His work was at the time called thrill comedy…not just comedy.

To see a fantastic youtube channel dedicated to his work, please drop by for some laughs: http://www.youtube.com/AlFuzzyStJohn/

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page or Website):
Keystone Kops

Bangville Police

Mabel Normand

Henry Lehrman

Fred Mace

Raymond Hatton

Edgar Kennedy

Ford Sterling

Al St. John

Charlie Chaplin

Roscoe Arbucklebangville police
Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org):

  1.  Stunt Team – stunt team is a crew of stunt performers that follow the direction of the Stunt coordinator to collectively participate and execute an action sequence for film, television, or theater. I’d like to add that in many cases stunt teams have worked together over the course of years and as such develop their own techniques and often, their own verbal language and sign language.
  1.  Acrobatics – Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility, and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts as well as in many sports. Acrobatics is most often associated with activities that make extensive use of gymnastic elements, such as acro dance, circus, and gymnastics, but many other athletic activities — such as ballet and diving — may also employ acrobatics. Although acrobatics is most commonly associated with human body performance, it may also apply to other types of performance, such as aerobatics.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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The Towering Inferno, Best of Irwin Allen’s Disaster Films

 pposter4 towering inferno irwin allen paul newman

The Towering Inferno is my favorite of Irwin Allen’s disaster film series.  It’s got everything that makes these films so much fun, a great all-star cast, lavish sets, tension, suspense and fantastic stunts! It missed being singled out in my book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts for 1974 simply because of the complexity of Bumps Willard and Raymond McHenry’s incredible mathematical car stunt in The Man With The Golden Gun.  So it gets a mention in our 100 Years Blog!

Based on two novels: “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern, and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. After the success of The Poseidon Adventure(1972)(also mentioned in the book for Best Stunt of 1972), disaster was hot property and Warner Brothers bought the rights to film “The Tower” for $390,000. Eight weeks later Irwin Allen (of 20th Century Fox) discovered “The Glass Inferno” and bought the rights for $400,000. To avoid two similar films competing at the box office the two studios joined forces and pooled their resources, each paying half the production costs. In return, 20th Century Fox got the US box office receipts and Warners the receipts from the rest of the world.

steve mcqueen in towering inferno

Both novels were inspired by the construction of the World Trade Center in the early-1970s, and what could happen in fire in a skyscraper. In Richard Martin Stern’s novel, “The Tower”, the fictional 140-floor building was set next to the north tower of the World Trade Center. The climax of the novel was centered around a rescue mounted from the north tower of the World Trade Center. Sad fact is that the World Trade Center themselves were the setting of a real-life horror, when they were hit by airplanes flown by terrorists in September 11, 2001.  Strangely, the real events far surpassed anything that was imagined on any of these Irwin Allen films as way of unfathomable terrifying disaster.  If he would have gone to the studios with the script of 9/11, they would have laughed him out the door for what seems like pure science fiction.  One strange coincidence regarding The Towering Inferno and it’s close resemblance at times to 9/11 was the last day of film production occurred on September 11th, 1974.

I’m doubtful, a film of this type could ever be made today, as the events would seem too real for most people and not just a fun popcorn blockbuster action film, like it did in the early 70’s.  The audience flooded the theaters back then for films like these and if you can forget about real-life, are still quite enjoyable today.  The stunts are especially nice and are littered throughout the entire film.

paul newman in towering inferno

The expanse of the stunts were so broad that a lot of storyboards were made to visualize what we would be seeing on screen.  Here’s some examples of how big this production really was. These storyboards were created by Joe Musso. Courtesy of The Tom Pennock Collection.

towering_inferno_scene490 towering_inferno_scene488 towering_inferno_scene468 towering_inferno_scene137 towering_inferno_scene9

The thing that is remarkable in a film like this is that the stunts really are endured by everyone, the actors, the crew, and the stunt team.  The danger factor for everyone is extremely high.  You can see a lot of the actors doing the stunts themselves, Paul Newman did most of his own stunts, including climbing up and down the bent stairwell railing.  Steve McQueen did most of his stunts for the film, including having 7,000 gallons of water dumped on him in the climactic final attempt to put out the fire.  Throughout the entire film, as the disaster rages throughout the building, eventually everything gets destroyed.  Of the 57 sets built for the production, only eight remained standing when filming ended.

My favorite scenes have to be the ones with the grand outdoor elevator.  The scenic elevator is actually one of two in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco. This elevator was used in numerous movies including Time After Time (1979), High Anxiety (1977), Telefon (1977), and Freebie and The Bean (1974) (which we mentioned in the blog last week).  Irwin Allen directed all the action sequences in the film himself, including the climactic final explosions to put the fire out. According to Susan Flannery, 20th Century Fox refused Irwin Allen to direct all of The Towering Inferno. Irwin Allen directed all the action sequences and John Guillerman was hired only to direct the actors only for non-action sequences. There were a total of four separate camera crews were utilized in some scenes, a record at the time. The crews were designated with capturing different aspects of the scenes: character filming, action shots, special effects, and aerial shots.

Towering Painting

Producer Irwin Allen as defined by Wikipedia:  Irwin Allen (June 12, 1916 – November 2, 1991) was an American television, documentary and film director and producer with a varied career who became known as the “Master of Disaster” for his work in the disaster film genre. His most successful productions were The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). He also created several popular 1960s science fiction television series, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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The Expendables – And One Tough SOB

 

I have a strict rule that I won’t cite the best movie stunts for any given year to any film that has had any deaths or serious injuries due to stunts. I don’t believe the production can be deemed a success if any of these occur, even though I do know that sometimes accidents do happen regardless of all the safeguards that are put in place to prevent them. With that in mind there are some productions where there are accidents and the stunt team and performers keep pushing on and in many cases without complaint or even without much Hullaballo…just bandage up and move on. Regardless, those productions usually have a key member on the team that sets such a heavy pace and keeps everyone in grand spirits and moving forward. That in my book is the definition of “heart”. That is what Sylvester Stallone shows his team on this production. Just watch the making of this movie and you will see what a truly tough bastard he is. He’s got heart.Syvester Stallone Jet Li dolph lungren faceoff

This was a production like no other, as for the first time multiple “action stars” came together to join a team. With different backgrounds, styles, training and experience, it was quite a feat to bring all this together for the stunt team. Overseeing all the stunts were David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the well-known team of second unit directors and stunt coordinators behind “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “300” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” To that end, the pair assembled a team of two martial arts choreographers and eight other experts from their action design company 87Eleven, “who then worked with the 80 other stunt guys on the film,” Stahelski explains. “It was a huge job.”sylvester stallone jason stratham randy courture

Stallone and the others “were very involved in their stunts — especially Stallone, who’s the most hands-on of all. He shows up in workout gear, super-motivated, and he’s very practical in his approach. He wants his fans to see it’s really him in a fight scene, so he will rehearse, but he doesn’t rely on doubles and camera tricks. He wants to do it all himself.” By contrast, Statham is “all about prep,” Stahelski notes. “His background is martial arts. So he likes every move to be meticulously choreographed. … Jason’s a rehearsal nut and he likes working with doubles and stunt guys, and there’s no room for improvisation. It’s all very precise.” Li is “somewhere in the middle,” Stahelski adds. “He loves to prep, but also keep it loose on the set, to suit the environment. And true to his Hong Kong style, he’ll come up with an idea and gradually piece it together, and then change it as needed on the day.”sylvester stallone jason stratham giselle itie

Stallone’s penchant for improvising within action scenes frequently gave Stahelski “a faint heart,” he admits. “He’ll change the moves on the day, but he does rehearse them first. He doesn’t just make stuff up oncamera, which isn’t safe to do.” Austin, who plays one of the villains, has a slightly different take on it: “Sly improvised a punch to my groin,” he recalls with a laugh. “He didn’t give me a cup-check question first, and I’m damn glad I had one on.”jasonstratham in the nose of a plane

Stahelski says Stallone “took quite a beating” during production, and suffered multiple injuries, including damaging his neck, head and ankle when he was thrown against a brick wall in a climactic fight scene with Austin. “We shot the scene in an old underground tunnel in New Orleans, and it was very carefully choreographed,” Austin says. “I spent three weeks rehearsing it with Chad and the guys. But on the day, when the fight started off being very technical, Sly just changed it on the spot. He wanted it to be far more brutal and kick-ass, and he kept amping it up, and when the director tells you to kick his ass, you gotta kick his ass.”jason strantham

The result? “We did a vicious headbutt the moment we started,” Austin says, “and he was bleeding and I had a huge bump on my forehead. And it’s not a good thing to bump heads with your star, as it tends to be your fault. So Chad had to change a few things, and much later, I found out that Stallone had also hurt his neck badly, but he never complained or stopped, and we fought all-out for two days.” The body count escalated from there. “A couple of stunt guys got broken ribs from being thrown into poles, a few had black eyes, there were tons of bruises and ripped skin from rolling around on cement with sand everywhere. And Randy Couture smoked a few guys,” recalls Austin. “It was pretty crazy, as everyone wanted their fight scenes to be the best. When you get a bunch of macho tough guys like this together, no one’s holding back.”

The Expendables was directed by Sylvester Stallone for Millennium Films.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page or Website):

Sylvester Stallone

Randy Couture

Steve Austin

David Leitch

Chad Stahelski

Jet Li

Jason Statham

Millennium Films

Mexican Standoff as defined by Wikipedia:

A Mexican standoff is a confrontation between at least two parties in which neither party can proceed nor retreat without being exposed to danger. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it. Mexican standoffs need not have only two participants, however. If a standoff involves three or more parties, the tactics for resolving it will be substantially different from those for a duel, where the first to shoot has the advantage. In a confrontation among three mutually hostile participants, the first to shoot is at a tactical disadvantage. If opponent A shoots opponent B, then while so occupied, opponent C can shoot A, thus winning the conflict. Since it is the second opponent to shoot that has the advantage, no one wants to go first. The situation further changes with the degree and type of armament each party possesses; a 3-person Mexican standoff with dual wielded pistols for each party skews the outcome in favor of whomever shoots first, with the presumption that both shots are fired simultaneously, as both opposing parties are eliminated.

In popular usage, the term “Mexican standoff” is sometimes used in reference to confrontations in which neither opponent appears to have a measurable advantage. Historically, commentators have used the term to reference the Soviet Union – United States nuclear confrontation during the Cold War, specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The key element that makes such situations “Mexican standoffs” is the equality of power exercised among the involved parties. The inability of any particular party to advance its position safely is a condition common among all standoffs; in a “Mexican standoff,” however, there is an additional disadvantage: no party has a safe way towithdraw from its position, thus making the standoff effectively permanent.

In financial circles, the Mexican standoff is typically used to connote a situation where one side wants something, a concession of some sort, and is offering nothing of value. When the other side sees no value in agreeing to any changes, they refuse to negotiate. Although both sides may benefit from the change, neither side can agree to adequate compensation for agreeing to the change, and nothing is accomplished.

The Mexican standoff is now considered a movie cliché stemming from its frequent use as a plot device in cinema.

The Big Boss (AKA: Fists Of Fury)

 

Bruce Lee was the first worldwide asian superstar and this was the film that put him in the spotlight.  The highest grossing film in China up to this time, it was also a sensation in the US and all over the world.  Martial Arts became a phenomenon.  Lee didn’t know it, but when he went to China to make this movie, he was already a star because The Green Hornet was released in China as The Kato Show.Bruce Lee Big Boss Fists of Fury

This is somewhat of a surprise as it was another TV show that forced Lee to make Fists of Fury in China.  In 1971 Lee went to Warner Bros. with an idea for a TV Show he called The Warrior about an asian martial arts expert in the wild wild west.  Warner Bros. went forward with the show but without Lee and they hired a caucasian to play the asian in the show and named it Kung Fu.big-boss-03

He was so upset that they went with a caucasian for the role that he went to make a real martial arts film to show Warner Bros what he was capable of.  The rest is cinema history and in the end, Bruce Lee became a worldwide sensation.  Lee also paved the way for the asian stars to come later, like Jackie Chan and many others.

In this film, the martial arts was really revolutionary for the day, although, Lee doesn’t have a fight scene until 45 minutes into the film.  You can definitely see a difference between him and all the other fighters…Bruce Lee sizzles.  He really is electric.  I especially liked the fight scene in front of the icehouse (which is hilarious by the way – unintentionally – when he punches a bad guy in the chest and he flies back through the icehouse wall leaving an exact shape of his body in the wall of wood slats) and the fight scene at the end.  Although, the Big Boss at the end, just doesn’t seem to have even a fraction of the power and strength that Bruce Lee does, but manages to catch Lee off guard several times and slice him up a bit.

Big Boss StuntsFists of Fury (The Big Boss) was directed by Wei Lo for Golden Harvest.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page or Website):

Bruce Lee
Fists of Fury
Wei Lo
Golden Harvest

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia:  Orange Sky Golden Harvest is a film production, distribution, and exhibition company based in Hong Kong. It played a major role in becoming the first Chinese film company to successfully enter the western market for an extended period of time, especially with the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. At the same time, it dominated HK box office sales from the 1970s to 1980s. 

Notable names in the company include its founders, the veteran film producers Raymond Chow (鄒文懐) and Leonard Ho (何冠昌). Chow and Ho were executives with Hong Kong’s top studio Shaw Brothers, but left in 1970 to form their own studio. They succeeded by taking a different approach from the highly centralized Shaws model. Golden Harvest contracted with independent producers and gave talent more generous pay and greater creative freedom. Some filmmakers and actors from Shaws defected. But what really put the company on the map was a 1971 deal with soon-to-be martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, after he had turned down the low-paying, standard contract offered him by the Shaws.

Freebie and the Bean

 

Alan Arkin has gone on record to say that he only did this movie for the paycheck and that he hated the movie, but I find it very entertaining. As an artist this film probably went against his sensibilities, because it is sheer frivolity.  I have to admit, my favorite thing about the movie is Alan Arkin and James Caan’s constant bickering.  They seem like a 40 year old married couple and it’s just fun all the way.  The comedy works very well.

The second reason to love this movie is for the incredible car chases!  There are so many chases in fact that Arkin and Caan threatened to quit the production because they felt the director Richard Rush unwisely prioritized stunts over their relationship, and I’m so glad he did.  Rush said the film contained “four major chase scenes and over 100 car crashes” and that it was comprised of many short scenes which required constant changing of filming locations throughout the day, which makes it understandable why Caan and Arkin would feel that he prioritized stunts over them.Car in Freebie and the Bean

Richard Rush would be the big reason I think this film is so entertaining…he simply made a film he would like to go see, and you can tell.  Ironically enough he would go on to make “The Stunt Man”.  In that movie, the amiable stunt coordinator character Chuck Barton was played by actor-director-stuntman Charles Bail…who just so happened to be the actual stunt coordinator on Freebie and the Bean!  It’s crazy how these things come full circle!

In my book, “100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts”, Freebie and the Bean missed out on being listed for 1974 due to an amazing car stunt in The Man With The Golden Gun, and in 1980, The Stunt Man missed out due to the amazing car chases in The Blues Brothers, but I still think that these films are fantastic in their own right and deserve to be mentioned in the blog.Freebie and the Bean Car Crash

There is a very good interview with Richard Rush at the website Spectacular Optical: http://www.spectacularoptical.ca/2011/10/cunning-stunts/

Things to look up on IMDB:

  • Alan Arkin
  • James Caan
  • Richard Rush
  • Charles Bail
  • Freebie and the Bean
  • The Stuntman
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • The Blues Brothers

What Will Be The Best Movie Stunt of 2015?

 

There are several movies coming out in 2015 that have impressive stunt sequences.  Here are a few of my favorites:

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

George Miller has brought Mad Max back to the big screen and it’s incredible! It’s a visual action feast! In this day and age of technology, most movies like this made today would be done so with millions and millions of dollars in special effects. Over 80% of the effects seen in the film are real practical effects, stunts, make-up and sets. CGI was used sparingly mainly to enhance the Namibian landscape, remove stunt rigging and for Charlize Theron’s left hand which in the film is a prosthetic arm.Mad Max Fury Road StuntsAs an example of some practical effects, the flame-shooting guitarist is Australian artist/musician Sean Hape, better known as Iota. In an interview on Vice (2013), he said the guitar weighed 132 pounds, and shot real gas-powered flames, which he controlled using the whammy bar.mad-max-fury-road-new-trailer-has-epic-car-stunts-video-89920_1

This film series has a long established relationship within the stunt community. There are so many stunt performers on this film, it’s staggering. It’s interesting to note, while on location in Africa filming this movie in June 2012, Dayna Porter, the  stunt double for Charlize Theron, and Dane Grant, the rehearsal double for Tom Hardy, met, fell in love, and, in March 2013, got married. In February 2014, they had their first child, a son named Ryder. Dayna, who changed her last name to Grant after the marriage, founded a school in New Zealand for training stunt performers, and has performed stunts in other projects based in New Zealand, such as Xena: Warrior Princess (1995) and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995). Another stunt performer in the film also met his spouse on the set: in February 2015, stuntman Ben Smith-Petersen married actress Riley Keough, who played Capable.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATIONtom-cruise-mission-impossible-5-rogue-nation-2015-bmw-s1000rr-motorbike-wallpaper

Tom Cruise has done it again with fantastic stunts in this film. At the beginning of the film, Tom Cruise performed the sequence where Ethan Hunt climbs on the outside of a flying airplane (an Airbus A400M) without the use of special effects or a stunt double. At times he was suspended on the aircraft 5000 feet in the air (1.5 kilometers).Screen-Shot-2015-03-22-at-1.05.12-PM-1748x984

Tom Cruise stated in an interview that it was his intention to do the stunt hanging onto the Airbus A400M in a way to outdo himself after the Burj Khalifa climb stunt in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. However, his idea raised objections due to safety by the crew. Being a certified pilot himself, he wanted to get the feel of being out on the wing or on the side of the airplane. A major obstacle to filming would be bird strikes and wind resistance on the runaway. To capture the action, a wind-resistant custom frame for the camera was built and mounted onto the left wing of the plane. The other major problem would be keeping Cruise’s eyes open in the presence of fast wind and runway particles, so his eye specialist designed a special lens that can cover the entire eyeball. Eight takes of the stunt were filmed. Christopher McQuarrie was very concerned that the actor might panic suddenly, but was assured by Cruise to not stop filming until the stunt had been finished. It took 10 days to actually film the aeroplane sequence involving Tom Cruise suspended on the plane, however it is only in fact a 90 second scene.

SPECTRE

1$_V?_Job Name

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.The-Man-from-U.N.C.L.E

EVERESTEverest1

LONDON HAS FALLENlondon_has_fallen_ver2_xlg

Buster Keaton In Oh, Doctor!

 

Now here’s stunt you just have to see to believe! It’s just that cool.

Sometimes simplicity and finesse are all that’s needed for a very effective and very cool stunt. For my example of this, I present the Best Movie Stunt for 1917, which features Keaton in Oh, Doctor!, where he plays Fatty Arbuckle’s little boy, a reprise of the sort of comedy Keaton and his father Joe had done for years on stage, and pulls off a stunt you have to see to believe—Arbuckle smacks him, Keaton tumbles backwards over a table, picks up a book as he falls, and lands upright in a chair, with the book on his lap as if he’s been there all along, reading comfortably.
 Oh doctor movie storyboard
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle directs this short movie for Comique Film Company (a company Arbuckle started with Joseph Schenck, and on another note – when Arbuckle was promoted to feature films, Keaton inherited Arbuckle’s controlling interest in Comique, which launched his own separate career as a comedy star) and Buster Keaton plays his son in the film. It’s a great comedy short just stocked full of funny stunts and gags. Al St. John, from the Keystone Kops (and Arbuckle’s nephew) even plays into the mix as the gambler and has some fun gags on his own.
It’s also interesting to note that not only did Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle give a start and mentor two of the greatest screen comedians of all time, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but he also gave a start to Bob Hope in 1927, when Arbuckle hired Hope to be the opening act in his comedy show in Cleveland. Roscoe then gave Hope the names and numbers of his friends in Hollywood, telling him to “go west”. He had a great eye for talent.
Still from Oh Doctor movie Roscoe Arbuckle

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Buster Keaton

Al St. John

Joseph Schenck

Bob Hope

Comique Film Company

Oh, Doctor

Glossary of film terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1.  Gag – In comedy, a visual gagor sight gagis anything which conveys its humor visually, often without words being used at all. The gag may involve a physical impossibility or an unexpected occurrence. The humor is caused by alternative interpretations of the going-ons. Visual gags are used in magic, plays, and acting on television / movies.

Oh, Doctor 1917

Stagecoach And Zorro’s Fighting Legion

 

There’s been a perpetual myth that the truck stunt in Raiders of the Lost Ark  (1981) by Terry Leonard was influenced by a stunt by Yakima Canutt in the movie Stagecoach (1939), but that is not entirely true.  Yakima Canutt is definitely the original creator and performer on the stunt, but I think the original idea for the stunt germinated in Stagecoach, then he modified and improved on the stunt in a film series the same year, called Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939).  You can definitely see the progression throughout both movies, and Terry Leonard always wanted to tip his hat by recreating the stunt, first in a botched version in The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) and then perfecting it for the truck scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In Stagecoach, Yakima Canutt does two stunts that are of particular note. In the first one, as an Indian, Canutt rides up to the lead horses of the stagecoach, he jumps off his horse and lands between the two horses.  There he gets shot by an actor on the stagecoach twice, slips between the two horses and holds on for a bit as he is dragged on his back.  When he gets the chance he lets go and lets the other 4 horses and the stagecoach itself pass over him, then he turns over and gets up and runs off.  In the second stunt, Yakima Canutt doubles John Wayne and performed the stunt where John Wayne’s character jumps from the stagecoach onto the runaway team. He then jumps from that set of horses to the middle set and then to the two lead horse, while the stagecoach races at top speed.  Once on the lead horse he jumps on the saddle and slows the stagecoach down.

Yakima Canutt Stagecoach

Now, for the Zorro’s Fighting Legion stunts, Yakima Canutt, was working with Repubic Pictures, where he performed many stunts for their movie serials over the years. This particular stunt appears in Chapter 7 of Zorro’s Fighting Legion, where Canutt (standing in for Reed Hadley as Zorro) attempts to stop a stagecoach. He rides alongside the horses pulling the stage and jumps onto the back of the lead horse. Then, with bullets whizzing past his head, he swings between the horses and begins to work his way back to the stagecoach. He slides under the stagecoach doing a nifty flip tumble then grabs hold of the back of the stagecoach (I have no idea how he was able to hold on!), climbs up the back, crawls over the top and then punches out the driver. Except for the flip tumble it’s almost exactly like the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

yakima canutt stunt zeros fighting legion

Yakima is considered by many to be the first legendary stuntman.  He was the first one to be recognized by the Academy of Arts and Sciences for his work as a stuntman.  In 1967, he was given an Honorary Academy Award for “achievements as a stunt man and for developing safety devices to protect stunt men everywhere”.

Stagecoach was directed by John Ford for Walter Wanger Productions.  Zorro’s Fighting Legion was directed by William Witley and John English.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

Yakima Canutt

John Wayne

Stagecoach

John Ford

Walter Wanger Productions

Terry Leonard

Raiders of the Lost Ark

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: Walter Wanger Productions – In 1923, Walter Wanger was appointed head of Paramount’s Long Island Studio. Shortly after, he was made chief of production, holding that position until 1931. After leaving the company due to personality clashes with new senior management, he had brief spells with Columbia and MGM, producing several big hits, such as The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and Queen Christina (1933). Nonetheless, he didn’t get on particularly well with either Harry Cohn or L.B. Mayer and decided to turn independent, releasing his films through Paramount and United Artists. By 1936, Walter Wanger’s own production company had the most substantial star roster of any independent filmmaker in Hollywood, including Madeleine Carroll, Charles Boyer, Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney.

Wanger’s first major success as an independent was The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), the first Technicolor feature for Paramount, and also the first to be shot primarily outdoors. In between solid black & white action films and dramas like You Only Live Once (1937) and Algiers(1938), Wanger also produced several expensive all-colour extravaganzas, not all of which paid off at the box office (point in case, Vogues of 1938 (1937), which failed to recoup its cost of $1.4 million). This rather forced United Artists to keep a closer reign on his future expenditure. However, by the end of the decade, Wanger’s reputation increased, with films like Stagecoach (1939) and The Long Voyage Home (1940) (forJohn Ford) and Foreign Correspondent (1940) (for Alfred Hitchcock). Between 1946 and 1949, Wanger succeeded both in strengthening his own production company and in establishing a distribution network (in conjunction with the independent owners of Film Classics), the Wanger-Nassour Releasing Organisation.

Inevitably, the financial vagaries of independent production were beginning to take their toll. Already hamstrung by the financial woes of one of his subsidiaries, Diana Productions (formed in partnership with his wife Joan Bennett, screenwriter Dudley Nichols and director Fritz Lang),Wanger badly overextended himself in his financing of the 145-minute studio-bound Technicolor epic Joan of Arc (1948), starring Ingrid Bergman. The venture effectively bankrupted another of his production companies (Sierra Pictures), set up with Bergman exclusively for the making of the expensive fiasco. “Joan of Arc” ended up being shunned by audiences (who found it long and boring) and critics (who thought it naïve and altogether missing its spiritual mark) alike. Wanger’s financial miscalculation was further compounded in 1951, by his shooting of his wife’s paramour. It landed him in jail for four months for attempted murder.

100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts

 

Unsung heroes. The job of the stunt performers are to go unnoticed. They do their jobs correctly if the audience doesn’t notice that it’s the stunt performer doing the stunt and not the actor or actress. Because of this, they have become the unsung heroes of the movie industry.

It was regular practice in the early films to not give credit to stunt performers, so as to perpetuate the illusion that stunt doubles weren’t used in the films at all, to give the impression that the actors and actresses did all their own stunts. Only later did films start to list the stunt performers in films. “Stunt Coordinators” were called “Ramrods” and “Second Unit Directors” were called “Action Directors” in the early days of film.

An explosive crash from Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (Grind House).
An explosive crash from Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (Grind House).

Wikipedia states, “…But the status of stuntmen in Hollywood is still low; despite the fact that few films of any genre or type could be made without them, stunt performers are still seen as working mainly in action movies. Repeated campaigns for a “Best Stunts” Academy Award have been rejected…”.

Yakima Stagecoach

First ever Oscar presented to a stunt performer was given to Yakima Canutt in 1966 for his achievements as a stunt man and for developing safety devices to protect stunt men everywhere.

In honor of these unsung heroes of motion pictures, we have written and compiled information about the Best Movie Stunts over the years and the men and women who have performed them and the stunt coordinators and second unit directors who have created some of the best movie moments of all time.