Released by: Severin Films Released on: 6/8/2011 Director: Richard Rush Cast: Steve Railsback, Peter O’Toole, Barbara Hershey, Alex Rocco Year: 1980 Purchase From Amazon
Richard Rush’s three time Oscar nominated film The Stunt Man follows a Vietnam veteran named Cameron (played by Steve Railsback) who is being chased by the cops (Alex Rocco plays the chief) for a crime we’re never really let in on. While he’s on the run, he zips across a bridge unaware that a movie is being filmed there – the stunt driver behind the wheel of the car swerves to avoid hitting Cameron and winds up dead in a car accident. This causes a problem for the film’s director, Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), who would very much like to not draw any attention to this sort of matter lest it hurt his career. His solution? To get Cameron to basically play the part of his dead stuntman.
Cameron, seeing this as a good chance to ‘hide in plain sight’ agrees and before you know it Cross has him involved in all manner of death defying stunts, which brings him to the attention to the film’s sexy starlet, Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey), and the pair soon fall for each other. As Nina and Cameron begin a torrid affair, Cross keeps pushing Cameron and eventually the pair wind up in the rather difficult position of having to recreate the stunt that brought Cameron on board with the production in the first place. But is Nina really all she claims to be? And what’s Cross’ real motive with this production?
A strikingly clever film that works on a few different levels, The Stunt Man has maintained a loyal cult audience over the years, though by all rights its good enough that it should have been a bigger and better known picture than it turned out to be. Rush got nominated for Best Director and O’Toole for best actor but the film seems to have gone over the heads of a lot of people, or at least swerved far enough left of center to have not quite received its due. In hindsight, this seems odd as it’s a very smart film with an interesting and subversive story that features some great acting, some exciting action set pieces, and some very effective comedy – all generally traits that do well at the box office.
O’Toole’s performance in particular is of note as he plays his ‘director’ character with such over the top bravado that he steals almost every scene he’s in, while his character’s penchant for pushing and pushing his cast and crew makes an interesting statement about the movie industry and its treatment of certain portions thereof. Some clever editing techniques are employed throughout the movie, shifting the story, and in turn the audience, from the movie within the movie to the standard storyline and back again with nice effect. This keeps us paying attention and holds our interest, while the stunts that are on display in the film and the romantic subplot give us all the drama and action we could want from the picture. The end result is a very enjoyable, smart, well made film that still plays very well and which will hopefully continue to grow its cult audience.
Severin’s brand new AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer, supervised by the film’s director, is as close to perfect as it’s probably going to get. The film shows an expected amount of grain but no serious print damage and the increase in detail and improved texture and clarity over the previous Anchor Bay DVD release (which, to its credit, was great for its time) is noticeable instantly. A very film like presentation, the colors are completely natural looking through and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about nor are there any obvious noise reduction issues. The film looks awesome, plain and simple.
Also a big improvement over the previous DVD release is this disc’s English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. Frontiere’s score sounds nice and natural here with a lot of depth and range to it, while surround usage, which occurs quite regularly throughout, always shows good directionality. Levels are properly balanced and bass response is nice and strong with plenty of low end punch to make the action scenes kick. An optional English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also included, but the lossless option is the one to go for.
Carried over from the Anchor Bay special edition is the commentary track with Richard Rush and cast members Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey, Alex Rocco, Sharon Farrell, and Chuck Bail. This is a lively track with Railsback keeping the flow strong throughout and covering a whole lot of ground. Fans of the film will want to spend the time with this one as it’s a pretty thorough look back at the making of the picture.
Just as interesting as the commentary is the feature length documentary, The Sinister Saga: The Making of The Stunt Man. At just shy of two hours in length, this is an interesting, if remarkably long, documentary that covers the making of the film, its distribution problems, some of the controversy surrounding it and much more. While it does drag a bit in spots, anyone who even remotely enjoyed the movie would be making a big mistake by not taking the time out to watch this as it’s very informative.
The Maverick Career of Richard Rush is a thirty-four minute piece of The Stunt Man’s enigmatic director that takes a look at his career in film and at different movies he’s made over the years, while the eighteen minute Peter O'Toole Recounts The Stunt Man is exactly what it sounds like, an interesting interview with the distinguished British actor who stars in the film. O’Toole’s always an interesting and amusing guy and this interview is no exception. The Devil's Squadron is an interview with Steve Railsback and Alex Rocco about their work on the film while Barbra Hershey on Nina Franklin is a fourteen minute segment in which Ms. Hershey talks about her character in the film and her work on the movie. The last featurette is The Stunt Man At The New Beverley, a seventeen minute piece that captures a retrospective screening of the film at the Los Angeles theater. Rush, Railsback and Hershey were in attendance and indulge in a Q&A session with the audience.
Rounding out the extras are two deleted scenes (Sandpile and Police Station – roughly five minutes combined), a teaser, English and Spanish language theatrical trailers, trailers for a few unrelated Severin releases, menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are in high definition (except for The Sinister Saga which was shot on SD in 2000), which is a nice touch.
The Final Word:
Severin Films really roles out the red carpet for The Stunt Man’s high definition debut, offering an insanely comprehensive selection of extra features and an impressive upgrade in both the audio and video departments. The movie itself remains as interesting as it is entertaining, and the story behind it even more so. Overall, this is an excellent releases and pretty much an essential purchase.