What have been the greatest movie gags in the 35-year history of the Stuntmen’s Assn.?
Everybody mentions the late great fall guy Dar Robinson, who still holds the Guinness Book of Records mark for his 311-foot jump into an airbag, but that was for a TV special.
And there is the late Alan Gibbs’ classic two-story tumble out of a window in 1972’s “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” extraordinary because Gibbs had to land in the scant 6-by-4-foot back of a horse-drawn buggy racing down a Western street. “Now that’s timing, because if you miss, you’re wiped out,” declared Ted White, one of the association’s charter members.
There’s Walter Scott’s re-creation of the Great Land Race for “Far and Away” and the awesome fires of Universal’s “Backdraft” in ’91. “We were all experimenting with fire,” Scott recalled. “It was pretty unforgiving.”
When both veteran and younger members are informally polled, these are the stunts and movies from each decade that leap out from the screen of memory.
“Ben Hur” (1959, MGM): The remake was released two years before the founding of the Stuntmen’s Assn., but the chariot race is a classic of U.S. cinema. Legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt was the second-unit director.
“How the West Was Won” (1963, MGM): In the Western epic, Loren Janes robs a speeding train, gets shot off the top of a boxcar, spins around in midair, crashes into a 16-foot-tall Saguaro cactus, and both cactus and Janes tumble over a cliff. What kind of athlete does that require? Janes was a former nationally rated gymnast who also competed in the Olympics twice in the modern pentathlon.
“Bullitt” (1968, Warner Bros.): Veteran Roy Clark insists the film’s great car chase, coordinated by Carey Loftin, is “the absolute classic. After that, they did those kind of car chases almost every week of the year on ‘The A-Team,’ and on ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ they jumped a truck and semi-trailer and four horses on the way to get a malted milk. But (before ‘Bullitt’) nobody had ever seen anything quite like that before.”
“Apocalypse Now” (1979, UA): A helicopter is blown out of the air, Kerry Rossall is blown out the door, the chopper crashes, and Joe Finnigan, Steve Boyum and Terry Leonard tumble out on fire – all in one take. Pic features a monumental fire gag in the time before gel, when sweating in your fire suit in the hot, humid tropics created scalding steam.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981, Paramount): Doubling Harrison Ford, Leonard re-creates Yakima Canutt’s famous over-and-under stagecoach transfers on a speeding truck. “What I did was not so outstanding, but the sequence was laid out for the audience so masterfully by Steven Spielberg,” Leonard said. “Those stunts became well-known and remembered, not because of their difficulty or that they were so unbelievably pulled off by the athlete – I didn’t do anything very spectacular. There are just a lot of great filmmaking techniques in the storytelling. That’s the secret to any great stunt.”
“Romancing the Stone” (1984, Fox): Leonard and Vince Deadrick Jr., doubling Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner respectively, ride a car over a huge waterfall and jump. “One of the great stunts with a car and water that’s ever been done,” insisted veteran White, who worked on the movie. “There were rocks under the falls, and they had to get out X number of feet or hit those rocks. It was a very calculated, hard stunt to do.”
“Another 48 HRS.” (1990, Par): “An awful lot of stunts today are done with effects photography and computer enhancement, but of the old-fashioned, knock-down stunts, the best recently was when Allan Graf rolled the bus in ‘Another 48 HRS.,’ ” said the film’s director, Walter Hill, noted for his action movies. “It was a hellacious stunt for those of us standing there. He cannoned a bus, absolutely something that no one had ever done before.” The technique required precisely blowing two cannons welded to the vehicle’s frame, flipping the bus at 60 mph.
“Alan said he could do it, but I was worried about it,” Hill admitted. “Actually, the truth is that we didn’t know what the hell was going to happen. We thought it was a controllable stunt, but it rolled more than we ever thought was possible.”