The Austin Chronicle

New on DVD: "The Stunt Man"

By Jason Henderson, January 18, 2002, Screens

The Stunt Man (1980)

The Sinister Saga of Making 'The Stunt Man' (2001)

Anchor Bay Entertainment The new, limited edition The Stunt Man DVD offers a glimpse into Development Hell, presenting Richard Rush's strange existential action movie with a documentary, The Sinister Saga of Making 'The Stunt Man,' that explains why almost no one ever saw it. Presented in widescreen format with commentary from Rush, Oscar-nominated star Peter O'Toole, Texan actor Steve Railsback, and Barbara Hershey, the movie tells the story of a Vietnam vet (Railsback) who wanders into a World War I movie set that O'Toole runs like de Sade at Charenton Asylum. O'Toole is the marvelously fey and sinister Eli Cross (a role nearly every magazine in the country called the greatest of O'Toole's career). Cross offers to protect Railsback's character from his pursuers if the convict will become his head stuntman. As Cross swoops about on an enormous crane, everywhere at once, the new stuntman has to perform stunts that grow increasingly strange and deadly. Is Cross trying to kill him? Or is he just trying to make the most stirring anti-war war picture ever? O'Toole plays his seductive, grand, and dangerous director part as if this might be the role he wants to be remembered for. The movie earned Rush his place as François Truffaut's favorite American director, but the studio took one look at the piece and practically refused to release it. (They wanted a simple action movie.) In the companion DVD, the 2001 documentary The Sinister Saga of Making 'The Stunt Man,' Rush, cast, and crew tell us why a movie can sell out test markets, gain rave reviews nationwide, win six Golden Globes and receive three Oscar nominations, and still never receive a wide release. Why? Because it looked "hard to sell." This cautionary tale is a queasy one for anyone who wants to make movies (and a little self-indulgent on Rush's part, as he reads us snippets from every rave review), but it's a must-see for voyeurs of Hollywood.

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