Tag Archives: Yakima 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

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

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?

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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Kane Richmond, David Sharpe, and Carey Loftkin, Spy Smasher

 

Though Republic had the best stunt men in the business on hand, with the likes of Carey Loftin and David Sharpe and even Yakima Canutt as the film’s “Ramrod”, star Kane Richmond, who was quite an athlete, often insisted on doing his own stunts as “Spy Smasher” (this was back in the days when insurance issues were a lot more loose on movie sets).spysmahed

Spy Smasher has absolutely fabulous stunts that remind you how fun movies were before CGI came into existence. These knuckleheads go all out in the fight scenes – leaping around, flipping each other, bludgeoning one another with balsa wood chairs, Spy Smasher roars around on a motorcycle like a madman, a wooden tower gets blown up and collapses, a motor boat takes on a submarine, etc.

William C. Cline said in his book, In The Nick of Time, that even though Kane Richmond did a lot of his own stunts, he was still helped out from time-to-time on some of the most spectacular stunts, which were performed by Dave Sharpe who, for example, “rolled from an overturning motorcycle to leap atop a careening auto that plunged from a cliff.” and stuntman Carey Loftin, who “showed what a motorcycle could do in the hands of an expert.”

Spy Smasher was directed by William Witney for Republic Pictures.spyserial

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

Glossary of film terms as defined by the Wikipedia – B movie – is a low-budget commercial motion picture that is not definitively an arthouse or pornographic film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified a film intended for distribution as the less-publicized, bottom half of a double feature. Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continued to be used in the broader sense it maintains today. In its post–Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: on the one hand, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity; on the other, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient. In some cases, both may be true.spy_smasher

In either usage, most B movies represent a particular genre—the Western was a Golden Age B movie staple, while low-budget science-fiction and horror films became more popular in the 1950s. Early B movies were often part of series in which the star repeatedly played the same character. Almost always shorter than the top-billed films they were paired with, many had running times of 70 minutes or less. The term connoted a general perception that B movies were inferior to the more handsomely budgeted headliners; individual B films were often ignored by critics.spystuff

Latter-day B movies still sometimes inspire multiple sequels, but series are less common. As the average running time of top-of-the-line films increased, so did that of B pictures. In its current usage, the term has somewhat contradictory connotations: it may signal an opinion that a certain movie is (a) a genre film with minimal artistic ambitions or (b) a lively, energetic film uninhibited by the constraints imposed on more expensive projects and unburdened by the conventions of putatively “serious” independent film. The term is also now used loosely to refer to some higher budgeted, mainstream films with exploitation-style content, usually in genres traditionally associated with the B movie.Spy_Smasher (1)

From their beginnings to the present day, B movies have provided opportunities both for those coming up in the profession and others whose careers are waning. Celebrated filmmakers such as Anthony Mann and Jonathan Demme learned their craft in B movies. They are where actors such as John Wayne and Jack Nicholson first became established, and they have provided work for former A movie actors, such as Vincent Price and Karen Black. Some actors, such as Béla Lugosi and Pam Grier, worked in B movies for most of their careers. The term B actor is sometimes used to refer to a performer who finds work primarily or exclusively in B pictures.

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

Best Stunts of the Year List 1930-1939

 

The best movie stunts for the decade listed for 1930-1939 as talked about in the book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts:

1930:  Canyon Hawks

Yakima Canutt shows off his guts in this one with a buckboard ride with horses straight down the side of a hill.  Crazy, but I bet it was a whole lot scarier in person.Canyon Hawks stunt

1931:  The Phantom

The prison break at the beginning of this movie is just fantastic and ends with a really great train to plane transfer.  The frustrating aspect is that back then they didn’t record who the stunt man was or who the stunt pilot was.  Many stunts in the movies were uncredited during this time of studio filmmaking.The Phantom Stunt

1932:  Air Mail

John Ford directed two films on this list during this decade, this film and Stagecoach.  He was a supporter of good stunts and usually filmed them himself.  Paul Mantz does some nifty flying in this picture, specifically he flies a Stearman plane through an airplane hanger.air-mail

1933:  The Fighter and the Lady

Before they fought for the actual title fight for the Heavyweight belt, they fought in this feature film.  Max Baer and Primo Carnera mix it up on screen here, and Max later said he beat Primo in the real fight by studying his moves for the movie.The Prizefighter and the Lady Stunt

1934:  Murder in the Clouds

This decade is ripe with plane stunts and this film has them in droves.  This one has some fancy aerial tricks and the stunt photographers should get just as much credit for these fantastic shots as the stunt pilots themselves.Murder in the Clouds Stunts

1935:  The Crusades

Cecil B. DeMille is famous for his grand epics, and this film started that process for him.  It has stuntmen and actors fighting in full armor for a huge war on several fronts.demille crusade

1936:  Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin was a very talented skater, and shows off his chops in this movie in a nifty little bit of tension added to the fact that he was doing it right next to a missing railing.  The danger was not real, but the skating sure is.  He’s also got a few nifty bits with a great big machine and a little one attached to the front of his chest.  Fun Stuff.modern

1937:  Wells Fargo

Ray Bunten and Richard Farnsworth, along with a slew of other uncredited stuntmen did a lot of work on this film.  It has a lot of cowboys falling off horses, wagons, rocks and just about anything that moves.  The scene at the end where the Wells Fargo wagon fights Indians have at least two dozens stunts in a ten minute period.Wells Fargo stunts

1938:  The Adventures of Robin Hood

Howard Hill was a world class Archer.  It’s him doing all the fancy bow and arrow stuff in this movie.  A nod also goes out to all the stuntmen that lined up to be shot in the chest by Howard!robinhowardhill2

1939:  Stagecoach

This one is a classic in the stunt world.  Yakima Canutt has a great stunt that he was perfecting in several movies at this time.  This one actually shows the first half of the stunt and was perfected in Zorro’s Fighting Legion the same year.  The nod goes to Stagecoach because it was first but really should be co-presented with the later picture.Yakima Stagecoach

 

To learn more about these films, please read about them and the great trivia behind the scenes in our book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Stunt Team For Raiders of the Lost Ark

 

I’ll be honest, at first I was going to give the nod for 1981 to Dar Robinson for Sharkey’s Machine as his 220 ft fall from the Hyatt Regency was the world’s record for the highest fall from a building for a commercially released film, but only the start of the fall made it into the final film as the rest of the fall is obviously a dummy.  Besides, I had a really hard time not acknowledging a film that has had such a big effect on stunt performers all around the world as Radiers of the Lost Ark has.  It really is viewed as a stunt man’s movie.raiders-of-the-lost-ark

From start to finish, there are layers upon layers of fantastic stunts.  No other series has as many stunts, besides the James Bond series.  Believe it or not you can thank George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s love of the old stunt layered cliffhanger serials of the 30’s and 40’s for creating this movie as well as for their love of Carl Barks.  Carl Barks, you say?  Yes, indeed, it’s their love of the old Uncle Scrooge McDuck adventures that Indiana Jones was born.

The opening scene in the lost South American temple is partly based on a classic Disney Ducks adventure written by the legendary artist Carl Barks, many of whose comic books have inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Exploring a lost temple, Donald Duck, his nephews, and Scrooge McDuck must evade a succession of booby traps, like flying darts, a decapitating blade, a huge boulder, a tunnel flooded with a torrent of gushing water, etc., in the story “The Prize of Pizarro” (“Uncle $crooge” no. 26, June-August 1959), which hit the newsstands when Lucas and Spielberg, both avowed fans of that comic book, were respectively 15 and 12 years old. Another Barks story, “The Seven Cities of Cibola” (“Uncle $crooge” no. 7, September 1954), has a native American lost city and a valuable idol that triggers a giant round rock to smash everything in its way.

But how can you have a movie like this with so many stunts and not pay tribute to some of the old time legendary stunt men? You can’t! When Indy is dragged under and then out behind a moving truck, it’s a tribute toYakima Canutt’s similar famous stunt in John Ford’s Stagecoach. In fact, it was a stunt that stuntman Terry Leonard had tried to pull off the year before, and failed to do so, on The Legend of the Lone Ranger. He was thrilled at the chance of having another shot at it, but only agreed to do it if his friend & colleague Glenn Randall Jr. was driving. The truck was specially constructed to be higher above the ground than normal so as to allow clearance for Indiana Jones to pass underneath safely. The center of the road was also dug out to allow more clearance. In Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark we see, on the camera slate, that the camera was set at 20 frames per second instead of the traditional 24 fps; in other words, the shots were done in “fast motion,” so the truck was not really moving as fast as depicted on screen.raiders truck drag

Harrison Ford was actually dragged behind the truck for some of the shots, badly bruising his ribs. When asked if he was worried, Ford quipped: “No. If it really was dangerous, they would have filmed more of the movie first.” During the chase, Harrison Ford dispatches all three of his stunt doubles, all of which are playing German soldiers. Terry Leonard plays the driver of the truck, who gets punched out of the cab by Harrison. Vic Armstrong and Martin Grace play soldiers hanging onto the side of the truck before being knocked off. The truck chase took approximately eight weeks to film.  It’s interesting to note that it was also these three stunt men to double Harrison Ford throughout the film: Vic Armstrong when riding the horse; Martin Grace at the falling statue and Terry Leonard when pulled behind the truck.

A few interesting notes, renowned British wrestler Pat Roach gets killed twice in this film – once as a giant Sherpa left in the burning Nepalese bar and once as the German mechanic chewed up by the plane’s propeller.  Also, Director Steven Spielberg admitted in the “Making of” DVD that watching the stage hands preparing the Well of Souls set by laying out the thousands of snakes for the scene really made him nauseous–even to the point where he nearly wanted to puke a few times. raiders-of-the-lost-ark-imaxRaiders of the Lost Ark is directed by Steven Spielberg for LucasFilm.

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

  • Raiders of the lost Ark
  • Steven Spielberg
  • LucasFilm
  • Harrison Ford
  • Vic Armstrong
  • Terry Leonard
  • Martin Grace

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia:  Lucasfilm Ltd., LLC is an American film and television production company that is best known and responsible for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Lucasfilm was founded by filmmaker George Lucas in 1971. Originally founded in San Rafael, CA a number of operations were moved to San Francisco in 2005 where Lucasfilm has continued as a leader in developing new film technology inspecial effects, sound, and computer animation, and because of their expertise its subsidiaries often help produce non-Lucasfilm pictures. Lucasfilm was acquired in 2012 by The Walt Disney Company for $4.05 billion.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PMhttp://brothers-ink.com/books/100-years-of-the-best-movie-stunts/

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

Best Stunts of the Year List 1920-1929

 

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.zorro 2

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.never tumblr_njqmx6K3Gr1rdfgw4o1_500

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.robin-hood

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.safety last

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.sherlock buster

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.pep2

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.yakima captured

1927:  Wings

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.

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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.Steamboat bill Jr

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.tarzan07

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!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Yakima Canutt and Canyon Hawks

 

There’s a scene in this one where Yak drives an open wagon driven by two horses straight down a precipitous hill that just blows the mind! The scene is shot with a group of men on horses watching from the top, obviously afraid of riding their own single horses down the hill – let alone a wagon with two horses attached – and Yak sitting in the seat in the middle at the front! Also, just watching Yak handle his six-shooters is like watching a Wild West Show.canyon hawkes storyboard

When rodeo riders invaded Hollywood, they brought a battery of rodeo techniques that Canutt would expand and improve, including horse falls and wagon wrecks, along with the harnesses and cable rigs to make the stunts foolproof and safe. Among the new safety devices was the ‘L’ stirrup, which allowed a man to fall off a horse without getting hung in the stirrup. Canutt also developed cabling and equipment to cause spectacular wagon crashes, while releasing the team, all on the same spot every time. Safety methods such as these saved film-makers time and money and prevented accidents and injury to performers.Canyon Hawks stunt

It was these early movies where Yakima met John Wayne. Canutt taught Wayne how to fall off a horse. Canutt and Wayne pioneered stunt and screen fighting techniques still in use. The two worked together to create a technique that made on-screen fight scenes more realistic. Wayne and Canutt found if they stood at a certain angle in front of the camera, they could throw a punch at an actor’s face and make it look as if actual contact had been made. Much of Wayne’s on-screen persona was from Canutt. The characterizations associated with Wayne – the drawling, hesitant speech and the hip-rolling walk – were pure Canutt. Said Wayne, “I spent weeks studying the way Yakima Canutt walked and talked. He was a real cowhand.”

Canyon Hawks (1930) was directed by Alan James (as Alvin J. Neitz) and J.P. McGowan for National Players.canyon Yakima Rodeo

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

Glossary of film terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1. Gunspinning – This refers to the old west tradition and Hollywood legend of a cowboy gunslinger twirling his pistol around his trigger finger. Gunspinning is a western art such as trick roping, and is sometimes referred as gunplay, gun artistry, and gun twirling. Gunspinning is seen in many classic TV and film Westerns, such as Shane and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The majority of gunspinning is seen as a precursor to putting the gun back in its holster. It may be used as a fancy ending to a trick shot, or just to impress or intimidate an opponent.  Watch Kirk Douglas in Man Without a Star if you want to see someone really good at it.  Douglas said later in one of his autobiography’s, “In my favorite scene, I twirled a gun; flipped it into the air, from side to side, behind my back, and fired it. This was basically juggling, with some additions. We filmed it in one take, no cuts, so you could see that there was no magic, no special effects, to it.”

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Richard Farnsworth, Ray Bunten and Wells Fargo

 

This is the era of film where it gets really hard to identify the stunt performers unless they were highly documented in autobiographies and biographies later on.  In this case, I was able to identify two of the many stuntmen that performed horse and wagon falls, from this picture.  The way that these directors worked is that they would set up a shot and then let the extras know that they needed a man to fall off the back of the wagon and then someone would volunteer and they would shoot the scene.  They only documentation being a witness or the stuntman himself writing it in a book later or telling the story in an interview.wells fargo rko

Ray Bunten just happened to give an interview a few years back that detailed the falls he took for Wells Fargo.  Now during the scene where the Wells Fargo wagons are fighting Indians, I took a look at the scene to see how many stunts would be present.  Just to be accurate, I counted 12 falls off horses and wagons and by Ray’s account, he does two of these falls, that leaves 10 falls unaccounted for, although, Richard Farnsworth has been attributed to a few of them.  You can still see how many left there are, just in a small section of the film I looked at, that are performed by unnamed stuntmen.  I will say it again, unsung heroes.  I saw Ray Bunten do at least two “stagecoach fall” stunts during this section of the film.wells fargo storyboard

Richard Farnsworth is an interesting case as he was a rodeo guy, just like Yakima Canutt and Ray here, and then a stuntman most of his life. His son even became a well known stuntman in his own right, so he passed that on. But then something wonderful happened. He was asked to act in a role in Comes A Horseman in 1978 when he was 58 and was promptly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar!  It was a surprise to many, but he followed this up with many great performances thereafter in such films as Anne of Green Gables, The Natural, The Grey Fox and The Straight Story.Wells Fargo stunts

Wells Fargo was directed by Frank Lloyd for Paramount Pictures.

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

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