Thursday, May 16, 2024

No Stuntmen Were Harmed in the Making of this Movie?: “The Fall Guy”

Back during my Roger Corman years, I went on location to help with the making of an Angie Dickinson flick, 1974’s Big Bad Mama. Somewhat inspired by the success of Bonnie and Clyde, it’s about a mother/daughter Depression-era crime spree in the rural Southwest. As the story unfolds, a very game Angie gets up close and personal with both William Shatner and Tom Skerritt, and a good time is had by all.

 Though most of my days were spent at my desk, I was very much present for the stunt team’s biggest moment on that film. Set on a quaint local street in the then-sleepy town of Temecula, California, it involved a car chase that results in the dramatic flipping over of a vintage !930s-era auto. Of course we all wanted to see our stunt guy roll that car, and so New World Pictures personnel were present in force for the big moment. With a stunt such as this one, you don’t get more than one chance to do it right. And so we all held our breaths when the big moment came. Fortunately, the movie gods smiled down, and it all went beautifully. And so the successful driver unbuckled his safety gear and sauntered off to the local bar.

 I thought of that experience while watching the new and delightful Ryan Gosling/Emily Blunt film, The Fall Guy. It certainly makes the case that there’s no business like show business, and that stuntmen are a breed apart. I defy anyone to make sense of the plot of The Fall Guy. But why let a little thing like credibility stand in the way of enjoying a wild and crazy story that includes every kind of stunt you can think of, all of them taking place in and around beautiful Sydney harbor? 

 The Fall Guy, loosely based on a TV series that ran from 1981 to 1986, stars the ubiquitous Ryan Gosling as a stuntman named Colt Seavers, whose career threatens to be cut short by a serious miscue while he’s shooting a dramatic fall. Holing up to heal in solitude, he alienates his Own True Love, a would-be director named Jody, played with sass by Emily Blunt. But, while Colt is parking cars to make ends meet, he gets a mysterious summons to take part in Jody’s directorial debut, a SFX-heavy space opera called Metalstorm. His job (natch!) will be to double for star Tom Ryder, an arrogant macho-man type who likes to publicize the fact that he performs all his own stunts. (Yeah, right!) 

 Suffice it to say that there are chases, and murders, and an evil plot to pin some dastardly doings on poor Colt. And there are also loads of extras milling around in kooky outer-space costumes. The whole thing reminds me of a different Corman flick, Battle Beyond the Stars, for which Roger actually built a ramshackle studio to try making his own threadbare Star Wars clone. (Both Battle Beyond and The Fall Guy actually boast a Space Cowboy character, which I choose to think is someone’s personal Corman homage. Probably not, though director David Leitch has graduated into directing from a long Hollywood career as a stuntman.) 

 One big difference between the life of a stuntman today and in the Corman era: though we all love watching “practical” stunts that require athletic skill, not simply CGI trickery, these days it’s easy enough in post-production to paste a famous actor’s face on a stuntman’s body. So stuntmen get no respect? Well, some in the Academy are now campaigning for a stuntman category at the Oscars. 

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