Tag Archives: Joe Canutt

Stunt Families: The Canutts

 

Everyone in the Industry seems to include legendary stuntman and action director, Yakima Canutt as a founding father of the American Stunt System that we have in place today. He helped create the systems, procedures and policies that keep stunt men and women safely working and producing some of the finest moments ever shot on film over the last 100 years.  Republic Pictures director William Witney said of him, “There will probably never be another stuntman who can compare to Yakima Canutt. He had been a world champion cowboy several times and where horses were concerned he could do it all. He invented all the gadgets that made stunt work easier. One of his clever devices was a step that attached to the saddle so that he had leverage to transfer to another moving object, like a wagon or a train. Another was the “shotgun,” a spring-loaded device used to separate the tongue of a running wagon from the horses, thus cutting the horses loose. It also included a shock cord attached to the wagon bed, which caused wheels to cramp and turn the wagon over on the precise spot that was most advantageous for the camera.”Yakima Canutt

In the book, Falling: How Our Greatest Fear Became Our Greatest Thrill, Garrett Soden describes that time like this, “In the five years between 1925 and 1930, fifty-five people were killed making movies, and more than ten thousand injured. By the late 1930s, the maverick stuntman willing to do anything for a buck was disappearing. Now under scrutiny, experienced stunt men began to separate themselves from amateurs by building special equipment, rehearsing stunts, and developing new techniques.” Through the years, Yakima and his fellow stunt performers were hurt and some killed, so several leaders in the Industry, including Yakima started to develop safer ways of doing things and started to create a lot of the new tools of the trade.Tap Canutt

In 1940, he started to direct the action on several pictures and a new role behind the camera was created.  That of the Action Director, which eventually became the Second Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator positions. He trained and organized his own set of stunt performers which he could count on to do the stunts safely and properly and they included his two sons Edward “Tap” Canutt and Harry Joe Canutt. Tap and Joe would become crucial elements in the stunt industry in their own right and would perform stunts in some of the biggest epics and films of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, which included, Ben Hur, El Cid, Ivanhoe, Spartacus, Knights of the Round Table, King Richard and the Crusaders, Swiss Family Robinson, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Khartoum, Where Eagles Dare and so many others.Joe Canutt

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Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1960-1969

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1960-1969 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1960 – Spartacusspartacus_fight

I would argue that this is the best Gladiator movie ever made.  The stunt team on this film was the who’s who in the stunt world at that time including, Yakima, Tap and Joe Canutt, Harvey Parry, Tom Steele, Richard Farnsworth, Buddy Van Horn, Dale Van Sickel, Polly Bursen, Carey Loftkin, Loren James, Cliff Lyons and on and on.

1961 – The Guns of Navaroneguns-of-navarone-original

Alistair MacLane seemed to create a genre all his own that started with this picture and had the feel of a heist film but with a mixture of spies and betrayal mixed in.  Some great stunts appear in this film.

1962 – Lawrence of ArabiaLawrence Of Arabia-21

This film is fantastic, but was a very perilous film shoot.  War films, especially with horses are extremely hard.  But boy does it look great.

1963 – The Great Escapegreat bud eikins

Arguably the best motorcycle stunt ever made, but I would venture to say it’s not the best ever made, just the most famous.  It is a pretty nifty stunt for a VERY heavy bike.

1964 – Circus WorldCircus World Lobby Card

This movie has two stunts that blow the mind.  The first is the real sinking of a large carrier ship sinking, live, and then the second is a huge circus tent fire.  Both staged by Richard Talmadge and front and center is a man with only one lung, John Wayne!

1965 – The Sons of Katie Eldersons-of-katie-elder

John Wayne earns the nod for Best Movie Stunts two years running due to his stunts in this movie.  Remember, he’s got only one lung!

1966 – Grand PrixGrandPrix_garnerglare

James Garner found out that he’s a pretty good driver and gets to show his chops here.  He would go on to race professionally after this in several races and drove the pace car several times as well.

1967 – War and Peacewarandpeace

Russia busts out of the gate with this long masterpiece.  It’s epic in every way and beautifully done.  It took them years to make this movie and was finally released in 1967.

1968 – Bullittbullitt (1)

This film is known for an 11 minute long car chase that appears out of the end of the movie and is very tense and breathtaking.  You can never talk about movie stunts without seeing this chase mentioned.

1969 – Battle of BritainBattle_of_Britain

War movies are incredibly difficult and massive undertakings.  Put that in the air and it doubles all the troubles.  This really is the best of these films.

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Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1950-1959

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1950-1959 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1950:  The Flame and the Arrow

the flame and the arrow

Burt Lancaster met Nick Cravat when they worked in the circus as acrobats, early in their careers.  This movie highlights some great acrobatics from the two of them, along with some great fighting sequences.

1951:  The Thing From Another Worldthing full body burn

I loved this movie and the remake that followed with Kurt Russell, but this one has a very cool fire burn done Tom Steele that just has to be seen to be believed.

1952:  Ivanhoeivanhoe03

Paddy Ryan was in a group of some of the finest stuntmen to ever come out of England.  In this film he does a real gasping fall from a castle, which was held as the highest fall from a castle for many years.

1953:  Code Twocode two

Motorcycles were really starting to come into their own.  This movie was one of the first one to introduce motorcycle stunts and chase scenes, with many movies following after.

1954:  The Seven SamuraiSeven_Samurai_Fight

This film was probably the most mentioned movie to ever influence a slew of filmmakers, before Star Wars.  It’s an incredible film with a great story, great characters and especially great action.  Most of the actors were hired because they could really fight.  Let’s imagine this as the very first Expendables, where some real action masters were at work here.

1955:  To Hell and Backto hell and back tank

The real life story, played by the real person himself, Audie Murphy, the highest decorated soldier of World War II.  Quite a war film!

1956:  Trapezetrapeze1956

So I mentioned Burt Lancaster was in the circus, right?  Well, here is the movie where he really shows his chops!  You just thought he was a great actor, but he was a really accomplished acrobat, that could have had an amazing career as a stuntman!

1957:  The Curse of Frankensteincurseoffrankenstein1

Hammer Films, out of Great Britain were making some of the most interesting genre films ever made with some of the finest actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and with fantastic stuntmen like Jock Easton.  Some really great stuff!

1958:  The VikingsVikings oars

So I fell in love with Vikings movies when I saw this one (another great one is the 13th Warrior!).  With that in mind, Kirk Douglas blows my mind when I see him, “running the oars” with such ease as he does in this film!

1959:  Ben HurBen Joe Canutt Jump

A stunt that goes wrong is not an “accident” when no one gets hurt…I just consider it an improvised stunt.  In this one the results were so cool they added it to the film.

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Joe Canutt and Ben Hur

 

Over the Years, if you like movie stunts, you’ll hear about the rumor about the stuntman who died during the shooting of the chariot scene in this movie.  Well, we’re going to lay that rumor to rest right, now, it’s not from this movie.  There was a stuntman that died during the chariot scene during the filming of the original 1925 version. People will argue and swear that it’s the real man you see in full CinemaScope getting trampled under the chariot…Nope.  Don’t believe it.  There was a stunt “mishap” on this film, but no one died and it should really be called an “unplanned event”, ’cause that’s what occurs sometimes when a stunt doesn’t quite go as planned.ben-hur_blu-ray_5

The Best Movie Stunt for 1959 goes to Joe Canutt and this “unplanned event”.  This one is remarkable as well due to the fact that Yakima Canutt, Joe’s father and Stunt Coordinator on this picture, staged and shot this sequence along with Andrew Marton.  Joe does the stunt work in this legendary chariot race scene.  Father and son appear on the list exactly 20 years apart.

The original screenwriter, Karl Tunberg, had written just three words (“the chariot race”) to describe the now-famous sequence, and no other writer had enlarged on his description. To fill that gap, the director of the film, William Wyler relied on Andrew Marton and Yakima Canutt to come up with the sequence. Marton and Canutt wrote 38 pages of script which outlined every aspect of the race, including action, stunts, and camera shots and angles. According to editor John Dunning, producer Sam Zimbalist was deeply involved in the planning and shooting of the chariot sequence, and the construction of the arena. The chariot race ended up having a 263-to-1 cutting ratio (263 feet of film for every one foot kept), probably the highest for any 65mm sequence ever filmed.  After the sequence was shot and edited together, Marton and Canutt showed it to Wyler who remarked that it was “one of the greatest cinematic achievements” he’d ever seen.ben-hur_blu-ray_4

Now as for the “unplanned event”, in a very specific shot, Joe Canutt was stunt doubling for Charlton Heston as Ben Hur. The stunt called for Joe Canutt to drive his chariot over the wreckage of two others — actually a short ramp placed in his path and blocked from camera sight by one pile of debris. In concept it was a pretty simple stunt, not particularly designed to stand out in the mayhem but in the movie what really happens when Judah Ben-Hur’s chariot jumps over the wreckage of a chariot in its path, Ben-Hur is almost thrown out of his chariot. He hangs on and climbs back aboard to continue the race. While the jump was planned, Joe’s propulsion up and over the chariot front was not.Ben Joe Canutt Jump

Marton wanted to keep the shot, but Zimbalist felt the footage was unusable. Marton conceived the idea of showing that Ben-Hur was able to land on and cling to the front of his chariot, then scramble back into the quadriga while the horses kept going. The long shot of Canutt’s accident was cut together with a close-up of Heston climbing back aboard and it now constitutes one of the race’s most memorable moments in the final film.Ben Hur The Tale of Christ

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

  • Ben Hur
  • Joe Canutt
  • Yakima Canutt
  • William Wyler
  • Andrew Marton
  • MGM
  • Sam Zimbalist
  • John Dunning

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Stunt Team For Spartacus

 

To say that Spartacus has a very loyal and dedicated following is an understatement.  Looking back, Spartacus has it’s own sub-genre, the Swords and Sandals Spectacle.  It’s spawned multiple look-a-likes and many made-for-television sequels and TV shows.  I’ve always been a fan of a good gladiator story and this is the best.  It gets the nod for Best Movie Stunt over the Alamo for 1960 because of influence and it’s simply harder to perform stunts in what constitutes as a skimpy Speedo.spartacus-original-lobby-card-4-kirk-douglas-tony-curtis-68-3775-p

The stuntmen who worked on this film is a venerable who’s-who of the elite, top stuntmen of the time, including Yakima Canutt and his two sons, Tap and Joe, Richard Farnsworth, Harvey Parry, Tom Steele, Buddy Van Horn, Dale Van Sickel, Polly Burson, Carey Loftkin, Loren Janes, Cliff Lyons, and so, so many more.  The film is really a tribute to all the men and women who worked on it and should be required viewing for anyone wanting a career in the stunt industry.spartacus_fight

The interesting story behind the making of the film is that it wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for Ben Hur the year before.  Kirk Douglas was so upset that he lost the role of Ben Hur to Charlton Heston that he set out to prove to William Wyler that he made the wrong decision.  It’s by the sheer will of Douglas alone that this film got made.  He searched for it, bought the rights to it, financed it and hired everyone to work on it.  The first director he hired, he even fired a week into production.  He replaced that director with Stanley Kubrick, but even Kubrick admitted years later that the film is really Douglas’s and not his.  Kubrick did not have say in script and many of the elements that Douglas put in place.spartacus_550w

Kubrick denounced the film later as his worst, but in the end it won four Academy Awards and was nominated for two others.  It’s kind of hard to argue with that kind of a record.  By most people I know, it is regarded as the best gladiator movie of all time and the father of the genre.  Spartacus was directed by Stanley Kubrick for Bryna Productions.Spartacus -douglas

Things to look up (go to IMDB ):

  • Kirk Douglas
  • Spartacus
  • STanley Kubrick
  • Bryna Productions

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: Bryna Productions was a film production company established by Kirk Douglas, inspired by the success of Burt Lancaster in moving into production.

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