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Case Number 21488

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The Stunt Man (Blu-ray)

Severin Films // 1980 // 131 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // June 6th, 2011

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All Rise...

The silence of Appellate Judge Tom Becker might be overrated, but right now, it's probably for the best.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Stunt Man: Limited Edition, published December 10th, 2001, is also available.

The Charge

"How tall was King Kong?"

Opening Statement

"That goddamn crazy bird! He was trying to kill us!"

"That's your point of view. Should we stop and ask the bird what his was?"

Facts of the Case

On the run from the law, fugitive Cameron (Steve Railsback, Lifeforce) stumbles upon the set of a film presided over by an all-knowing, all-seeing director (Peter O'Toole, The Ruling Class).

Cameron needs a place to hide out, Eli needs a stuntman, and so an arrangement is made. But is this a match made in heaven, or has Cameron just made a deal with the devil?

The Evidence

That's not much of a description, is it? After reading the above, you might go into The Stunt Man knowing very little about it.

Good. That's how it should be for a film in which "nothing is as it seems."

The first time I saw The Stunt Man, I knew almost nothing about it, only that it was kind of a comedy, kind of an action film, kind of a mystery, and that it was full of surprises.

Watching it with such little prior knowledge, I found myself engrossed, tantalized, intrigued, at times annoyed, and at times confused. I was actively involved in the film, like a detective sorting out a mystery. It was not a passive viewing experience at all.

Plot twists begin right after the opening credits and continue throughout. The film is complex without being convoluted, clever without being condescending, its themes of reality versus illusion, the paranoia of uncertainty, and the unreliability of perception presented without a sledgehammer—abstract conceits in a tightly structured package, all pulled together by director Richard Rush like a cool kid performing a complicated skateboard trick while making it look effortless.

It's a fun film, like a carnival adventure attraction designed by someone with a wicked wit. It features a tremendous performance by Peter O'Toole, playing perhaps the largest of his larger-than-life characters, a man who commands the heavens to bend to his will—and the heavens comply. Great work is also turned in by Railsback, our surrogate here, a man who might be naïve, might be simple—or, who might be a dangerous criminal. We watch things unfold through Cameron's eyes, so his discoveries become our discoveries, his uncertainties become our uncertainties—and yet, we're never entirely sure just who Cameron is. He's everyman, but with something darker behind him than most.

That's all I'm going to say about the film. I think if I'd read a detailed plot description and analysis before I saw The Stunt Man the first time, I still would have enjoyed it, but I might have missed out on that exhilaration of the unexpected, the satisfaction of seeing a twist go to a turn and then go to something else again, and the many satisfying surprises that film had to offer.

So in the event that you haven't seen The Stunt Man or read about it, I'll just say that this is a wild, funny, and unique film, one of the finest of the late '70s/early '80s vintage and truly the sort of film that would not be made today, and leave it at that.

Now, about the disc:

Severin's Blu ray is a treat from start to finish. The transfer looks very good, though not pristine, which is actually an advantage. Rather than presenting a sterile, DNR'ed image, the high-def transfer has a fair amount of grain as well as a number of nicks and imperfections that were probably there all along. It looks like film, it feels like film, it is film. Detail is great, though there's not a whole lot of depth, but overall, this is a solid transfer. Audio is a decent DTS-HD 5.1 track.

Two of the supplements have been ported from the 2001 Anchor Bay "Limited Edition" release. Severin could have just gone the way of so many studios and released this Blu with only those supplements, both of which are very good. But the company's gone "the extra mile" here and added some fine, new, and meaningful extras all created specifically for this release.

First up is a commentary track from the earlier release featuring Rush, Railsback, O'Toole, and actors Barbara Hershey, Alex Rocco, Sharon Farrell, and Chuck Bail, with some of the participants having been recorded at different times. It's a fun track, and quite informative, but be warned: Rush's occasionally lofty remarks might come off as a bit pretentious to those not completely enamored of the film.

Also ported is The Sinister Saga: The Making of The Stunt Man, a 114-minute documentary. As Judge Harold Gervais noted in his review of the Anchor Bay release, the words "pretentious," "overbearing," and "self-aggrandizing" might be apt descriptors for Rush based on his appearance here, though The Sinister Saga is ultimately a rewarding and informative watch.

Also from the Anchor Bay release: a couple of deleted scenes and trailers. On to the new stuff:

Peter O'Toole Recounts The Stunt Man: Occasionally rambling, a tad nonlinear, but never less than charming, O'Toole's reminiscences are candid and endearing.

Devil's Squadron: This sit-down with Railsback and Rocco contains a number of fun stories; the actors became "best friends" during the making of The Stunt Man and have remained so.

Barbara Hershey on Nina Franklin: The actress recalls the film and her role.

The Stunt Man at the New Beverly: A panel discussion with Railsback, Hershey, and Rush during a retrospective screening.

Closing Statement

I don't like using the term "definitive," but the supplemental package—combined with the tech—make this package an "as good as it's going to get" deal.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 88
Extras: 99
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Severin Films
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Action
• Blu-ray
• Comedy
• Cult
• Drama
• Fantasy
• Mystery
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies
• Suspense
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Documentary
• Interviews
• Trailers

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