Tag Archives: Hal Needham

Cannonball Run is Just Plain Fun

 

So I realized something over the weekend. I examined the topics mentioned the most in this blog and number 1 was a surprise…as I seemed to write about Burt Reynolds more than any other topic! So, here’s another blog about him…

If you haven’t seen the film Cannonball Run (1981), now’s the time to do so…it’s just great fun. The original Cannonball Run race was conceived by car magazine writer and auto racer Brock Yates and fellow Car and Driver editor Steve Smith in the early 1970’s. Cannonball Run, was an unofficial, unsanctioned automobile race run five times in the 1970s from New York City and Darien, Connecticut, on the U.S. Atlantic coast, to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. Brock Yates participated as a driver in all 5 races and began working on a screenplay, to be titled Coast to Coast, but was scooped by two unofficial films in 1976, Cannonball and The Gumball Rally, (both are not that good). Eventually, an “official” Cannonball Run movie was made — The Cannonball Run — starring a slew of great actors including Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise with Yates in a cameo appearance.cannonballrun

Director and veteran stuntman / stunt coordinator Hal Needham joined Brock Yates in one of the races, in fact, the ambulance used in the movie is the actual ambulance that Hal Needham and Brock Yates souped up and raced in the real race. It had been modified with a HEMI engine that made it go up to 145 mph and was equipped with four gas filler holes so that the required 90 gallons could be pumped quickly. Needham and Yates didn’t actually win the race (the transmission blew in Palm Springs) so Needham kept it in storage for several years until the time came to make this film.reynolds cannonball run

The other actors on board for this comedy was Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcet, Jackie Chan, Adrienne Barbeau, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Elam, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bert Convey, Jamie Farr, and Mel Tillis.  Director Hal Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy liked the chemistry of Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis so much that after this film they tried to sell a pilot to ABC featuring their characters. The head of the network loved the idea but the day before the meeting was to be held to discuss it, the head of the network was fired and the project was canceled. I write about that in another blog (click here to read it)…Cannonball Run

In one of the earlier scenes in the movie, Burt Reynolds’s character says “Could get a black Trans Am”, and then answers himself, “Naw, that’s been done.” This is a reference to Smokey and the Bandit (1977) which starred Reynolds, and was directed by Hal Needham, who directed this film. DeLuise co-starred with Reynolds in the 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II (1980).  Jackie Chan makes one of his first US film appearances. Inspired by Hal Needham’s notion of including bloopers during the closing credits, Chan begins a tradition of doing the same in most of his movies from this point onward.

Oscars Need a Stunt Category

 

There’s been only 3 stunt performers that have ever received an Oscar in 100 years. The first one went to Yakima Canutt in 1967 as a special Lifetime award for his years as a stunt performer, stunt coordinator and for creating a variety of safety devices for the Industry. The second to get one was Vic Armstrong in 2001 in Technical Achievement for the development of the Fan Descender, a tool to help Stunt Performers in high falls. The last to be given an Honorary Oscar was Hal Needham in 2012 for his “extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement.”oscars2

To this day, there still is no Stunt Category in the Academy Awards, even though two other major organized awards have now provided for some form of stunt recognition.  The SAG awards provide an Award for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture since 2007 and the Emmy awards have offered  a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Stunt Coordination since 2001.  I would love to see the Academy Awards offer an Oscar for Best Stunt Coordination or Second Unit Direction Award. If they can give awards to the heads of all the other departments on a movie set, why not the Stunt Department?oscar4

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  The Stunt Community has been fighting this battle for decades.  At first they simply fought to be recognized in the credits of the films.  It was regular practice in the early decades to not put them in the credits at all, as the studios were trying very hard to maintain the illusion that actors did all this themselves.  Finally, somewhere in the mid 50’s it started to become regular practice to list Stunt Performers and especially the Second Unit Directors and Action Unit to the films.

I guess the Academy Awards felt like they had made some concessions when they started to accept Second Unit Directors and Stunt Coordinators into their membership a few years ago, but this is still wholly underwhelming when you consider there are only 31 included to this day. Other departments have thousands of members.oscarsunite

This has become a hot topic again this week with the lead-up to the Academy Awards this Sunday with articles having been written in The Huffington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, The LA Times and Vanity Fair.  There’s also a huge out-cry within the ranks of the Entertainment Blogs online if you look at Deadline, The Wrap and Cinemablend.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oscars-refuse-to-recognize-stunts_us_56c48b9ae4b08ffac1271c8e

http://www.forbes.com/sites/judebrennan/2014/02/07/stunt-actors-remain-oscars-forgotten-heroes/#1704102470e3

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/stunt-coordinators-rally-at-academy-868348

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-stuntman-oscar-campaign-20150623-story.html

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/01/stunts-that-deserve-oscars

Stunt Performers Rally For Inclusion At Oscars

Jason Statham Calls for Stunt-Actor Oscar Category

http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Why-Aren-t-Stunt-Performers-Eligible-Oscars-69574.htmloscars

I’m not so sure this would be such a big issue today if the Oscars didn’t include Mad Max: Fury Road in contention for Best Picture this year.  It’s really incredibly hard to look at that film and not see the incredible work done by the Stunt Department.  The film simply could have not been done without them.  It’s about time we start recognizing these people and their hard work, don’t you think?

Terry Bradshaw, The Actor, Singer and Author

 

It’s well known that Terry Bradshaw, was a great NFL Quarterback and a fantastic TV personality for the Fox NFL Sunday.  What is rather unknown, however is his success as an actor, singer and author.

As an actor I first noticed him as a pal of Burt Reynolds in Hooper, Smokey and the Bandit 2 and Cannonball Run (Cannonball Run being his best role). In Cannonball Run, Terry was paired up with Country Singer Mel Tillis, and was so successful Hal Needham (the director of Cannonball Run) directed a spin-off of the film, a TV show pilot for NBC called Stockers, which featured Terry and Mel as two stock car racers trying to outwit and outrun a bill collector named, Crusher.

Now the pilot failed to be picked up, but this is important for two other reasons; Terry followed up with his love for racing over the years by being very active in the NASCAR circles, From 2001-2006, he joined the HighLine Performance Group Racing to form FitzBradshaw Racing. He also appeared on NASCAR on Fox where he interviewed and drove with Dale Earnhardt at Daytona International Speedway the day before Earnhardt was killed in the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Now you would think it was Mel Tillis that may have influenced him into music, but you’d be wrong. Cannonball Run was in 1981 and Terry had already released I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (which reached 17 on the billboard charts) in 1976 and Until You (reaching 73rd) in 1980 and would go on to release 3 more albums after that! I have no idea, when this over-achiever ever had time to write books, but he did! He released his first book, No Easy Game in 1971 and then released, Man of Steel in 1979. He followed those up with Looking Deep in 1991, It’s Only a Game in 2001 and finally Keep It Simple in 2002.

Now with all that work and not including his work as a commentator on TV, he’s continued to act in a slew of TV Shows and had a very nice role in the Matthew McConaughey comedy Failure to Launch (2006) as Matthew’s father and will appear in the movie, Bastards this year along with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms.

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1970-1979

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1970-1979 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1970 – They Call Me Trinitythey_call_me_trinity_poster_02

The Spaghetti Western and Spaghetti Western Comedies were starting to come into their own and a string of “Trinity” films starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer would arise.  They became worldwide stars and did all their own fighting in their films.  These are great fun!

1971 – The Big Bossbig-boss-lobby

Bruce Lee would become a bonafide sensation after his first film and there really was no one quite like him. He had the skills and a way about him that everyone after him tried to copy.  Martial Arts got it’s very own movie genre after this.

1972 – The Poseidon Adventureposeidon-adventure wallpaper

Another new genre, would be this sub-category inside the action genre, that became the disaster film.  This one has a very good fall into a ballroom skylight done by a non-stuntman at the time, Ernie Orsatti.  He would go on to become a stuntman after this, he found he had a knack for it.

1973 – Live and Let DieLive Boat

James Bond would appear this decade a record 4 times!  This is the first on the list with a speedboat jump over land by Jerry Comeaux of 110 feet, which made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

1974 – The Man With The Golden Gunman_with_the_golden_gun_stunt

This one had a great car jump stunt that is a breath-taking, “I can’t believe I saw that” …mathematical stunt devised by Raymond McHenry at Cornell University and performed by Bumps Willard.

1975 – The Man Who Would Be Kingman who would be king

Joe Powell would perform a jump from a rope bridge between two ravines 100 feet into a pile of boxes that would lead legendary Director John Huston to say, ” That’s the damnest stunt I’ve ever seen.”

1976 – Gatorgator car

This would be the start of a great collaboration between Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds.  Hal Needham would body double Burt in this film and there’s a nifty car flip at the end of the movie with Hal in the truck bed.

1977 – The Spy Who Loved MeSPY-WHO-LOVED-SKI-1

This is a bond film with one of the most extensive pre-credit sequences than all the previous films and right before they go to the opening song and credits, they have a fantastic ski-stunt by Rick Sylvester right off a mountain and then slowly fall until finally has a parachute open. Really great opening.

1978 – HooperHooper3

Hal Needham directed Burt Reynolds this time in a movie inspired by and about stuntmen! Can’t name just one stunt to highlight in this film as it’s just chocked full of them, but if I had to, A. J. Bakunas has a world record breaking jump from a helicopter into an airbag (232 feet!).

1979 – MoonrakerMoonsky7

BJ Worth and Jake Lombard fight over a parachute in this Bond entry and it’s fun to watch.  I would definitely include all the camera men who had to jump and film the sequence which included 88 jumps over all.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Hal Needham and Gator

 

Hal, having been a stuntman for years and for having doubled Burt Reynolds for 18 years had a great rapport with his cast and crew.  He had a stunt coordinator’s abilities and a stunt director’s eye that made for a match made in heaven.  This film’s car chase scenes had the most effect on Hollywood than any other film other than Bullet.gator car

Hal Needham, went on to direct Smokey and the Bandit the very next year, which was 2nd at the box office to Star Wars. All of Hal’s movies were centered around several stunts, and can be seen as the genesis to the Hollywood Blockbuster Tentpole movie which, in general, has a 3 act “stunt” or “action sequence” as its primary structure.  Hal, along with Glenn Wilder and Ronnie Rondell Jr. started the legendary Stunts Unlimited.

Hal mentions in his autobiography, Stuntman, that the boat stunt he performs in this movie breaks a world record. Gator was directed by Burt Reynolds for Levy-Garner-Laven Productions and is a sequel to his film White Lightning.gator (1)

Things to look up ( go to IMDB ):

  • Hal Needham
  • Gator
  • Burt Reynolds
  • Levy-Garner-Laven Productions

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions was an American film production company based in Beverly Hills, California.

The principals, Jules V. Levy, Arthur Gardner, and Arnold Laven, met while serving in the Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit during World War II. While serving, they decided to form their own production company after the war ended. The three men formed Levy-Gardner-Laven in 1951.

Laven produced both films and television shows, and he directed many popular American television shows, including episodes of The A-TeamCHiPsMannixThe Big ValleyThe Greatest American Hero and Hill Street Blues. Gardner was an actor prior to World War II, but chose to produce after the company was formed. Along with Levy, who was a script supervisor prior to the war, Gardner wrote the story for a 1982 movie called Safari 3000. Levy-Gardner-Laven also produced classic T.V. series for Four Star Productions such as The RiflemanThe Big Valley, and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, all for ABC.

Levy-Gardner-Laven maintains an office in Beverly Hills, but their last production credit was in 1982.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Paddy Ryan and Ivanhoe

 

I saw this movie as a child, and it was enthralling.  One of my favorites when it came to the big mounted “epic”.  This is when I started to realize that the classics could be cool.  Although there are a lot of stunts in this film, there’s one that stands out for me and that is Paddy Ryan’s fall from the castle.  This was reported to be the highest fall from a castle when he performed the stunt.Ivanhoe PaddyRyan

Paddy Ryan (born Frank Singletary) was one of the leading worldwide stunt men to come out of England.  The men who thrived in the early European epics, war films and bond films.  Stunt men the likes of Jock Easton, Joe Powell, George Leech, Ken Buckle and Vic Armstrong. They would travel far and wide, often on their own dime and stay on location for weeks, sometimes months at a time, competing for the one small “stunt adjustment”, as they called it.

Information on these stunt performers are rare and very hard to come by.  A lot of these early stuntmen and women have died and taken their legacy with them, but there are a few members of the stunt crusade that are shouting their names from the rooftops.  Recent autobiographies by Hal Needham and Vic Armstrong are helping to shine the light on some of these fantastic stories and the people who truly lived them.ivanhoe03Ivanhoe was directed by Richard Thorpe for MGM.

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

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by www.RichmondStunts.com – Stunt Adjustment:  stunt adjustments are an additional fee paid to the stunt performer in addition to the minimum daily rate to compensate for more dangerous stunts or when the stunt performer exceeds expectations of the daily rate and the budget allows for extra monies to be paid. Performing utility (basic) stunts such as playing a bad guy that takes a couple punches or falling down are usually covered by the daily rate. But for the fun stuff like being set on fire or falling off a roof, a negotiation between the stunt coordinator, stunt performer and production will take place.  (typically the coordinator does this on larger shows). The factors used when determining the justified amount of adjustment will be based on technical difficulty, level of danger, etc.

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

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Stunt Performers for Hooper

 

The film is lightly based on Hal Needham’s (director) experiences as a stuntman, but the film’s main character is modeled after stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker, who just happens to do many of the stunts in the film himself.  This film is also a tribute to Jock Mahoney (who Brian Keith’s character, Jocko Doyle, is modeled after), who really is Sally Field’s stepfather in real life. hooper

The film is also notable for the fact that it inspired a successful television series, The Fall Guy which starred Lee Majors. The show’s theme song’s, “The Unknown Stuntman” lyrics including references to both Reynolds (the star of Hooper) and Farrah Fawcett (who worked with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run), Majors’ ex-wife. hooper-1978 (1)

As a side note, Hal Needham also started using bloopers during the end credits of his films, and this one presented many of the outtakes from several of the stunts. Another “winner of my Best Stunt Awards”, Jackie Chan, saw this technique used when he worked with Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run 2 and has used the technique ever since to highlight the stunts by him and the Jackie Chan Stunt Team in his movies. hooper_el_increible_1978_1

In one climactic scene, stuntman A.J. Bakunas jumped from a helicopter at a whopping, world-record-breaking 232 feet onto an air bag. If you take into account that the old-school air bags would lift you 30 feet into the air if not precisely hit, it makes the feat all the more impressive. Hooper was directed by Hal Needham for Warner Bros.Hooper3

Things to look up ( go to IMDB ):

  • Hal Needham
  • Hooper
  • Burt Reynolds
  • Warner Bros.
  • Buddy Joe Hooker
  • Jock Mahoney
  • AJ Bakunas
Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

 

Burt Reynolds is Gator McKluskey

 

Burt Reynolds played Gator McKluskey in White Lightning (1973) and again in Gator (1976). These are two fantastic films about a moonshine-running King of the Bayou, with high octane, super-charged, double-barreled action, mystery, murder and adventure.  I loved these films and really wished they made more of them.1973-white-lightning-movie-poster

The fun starts with White Lightning, that was supposed to be Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film, as he spent months on the pre-production, but was eventually replaced with Joseph Sargent, who himself was fired from Buck and the Preacher and replaced by Sidney Poitier the year before.   Joseph would go on to make the very successful The Taking of Pelham One Two Three the year after.  Burt Reynolds met the writer, William W. Norton on Sam Whiskey (which he wrote) and Burt loved the idea of this ex-con character that gets drawn into working with the feds to catch a moonshine ring.

Burt’s good friend, Hal Needham, did the stunts in this movie and would eventually direct Burt in several films including Hooper (a film about a legendary stunt man) and the Smokey and the Bandit films. There was a scary moment in the chase sequence that ends with Gator’s car sailing from a river bank onto a barge that went seriously wrong. The plan was for the car (driven by Hal) to land squarely on the mound of soft earth in the barge, on the take he fell short and landed on the rear of the barge with the rear of the car hanging into the water. Hal was hurt and stunned, Burt watching the scene from behind the camera, dove into the water, swam to the barge and helped pull Hal out of the car. Needham recovered from his injuries and would go on to do the stunts in Gator three years later.gator posters

The film was so successful that Burt decided he wanted to do another film with the character and decided to direct the sequel himself. Up until this point he had only directed one episode of the TV Show, Hawk (which only lasted for 1 season) 10 years before, but managed to get the studio to agree to let him direct the film.  Burt got William to write the sequel and also had Hal doing the stunts again.

Hal Needham’s luck didn’t change on this film as he was hurt again on a stunt at the end of the final chase scene.  The truck that Gator (Hal doubling for Burt) gets thrown from flips over and it broke Hal’s back in the process.  He was a very good stunt man, by all accounts, but this does make sense why he turned to directing in the subsequent years.

Great films, both of them are a lot of fun to watch.  Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM