Legends aren’t supposed to die.
Legends should fade away, but always be there… a constant shadow you can always count on, comforted in the knowledge they are there.
But they do die, because time is a hungry beast that devours even the best of us. And the best at what he did – acting, drinking, living – was Peter O’Toole. He died this past weekend, at 81 years of age. I won’t spend any words describing his triumphant performance in Lawrence of Arabia, because there are scores of appreciations who have done a better job at that than I ever could. But I will spend my time and attention on some of his lesser known work… because there are some real gems there.
I’ve already rewatched and showcased My Favorite Year and The Ruling Class, and before the new year I will be revisiting some of his other neglected classics… movies that were elevated by his presence, films that were markedly better because he was in them.
I started with The Stunt Man.
While Peter O’Toole was the supposed star of the film, it is really Steve Railsbeck who is the lead… he plays the title character, who becomes a stunt man because he has nowhere else to go. Peter O’Toole had “above the title” billing because… well, he’s Peter O’Toole.
And boy, is he good here. Which is what you’d expect, isn’t it?
Peter O’Toole often said that it was his performance in The Stunt Man that was the work he’s most proud of, and you can see why… he’s taking full advantage of a fantastic script and a great role. When they make movies, directors are God… and Peter plays the director in The Stunt Man precisely like God. We don’t see him in full until almost 16 minutes into the film, and from the moment he appears he is mesmerizing. Especially wonderful are the scenes when he is seated in his elevated seat that, attached to a camera crane, allows him to hover above the rest of the crew.
Other highlights: Barbara Hershey is also quite good, beautiful and at the peak of her talent and powers. She make the most of her role, as does Railsbeck, though he tends to play the same “man on the edge” part in every movie.
The movie is hampered by a very bad music score which doesn’t really suit the action. It’s annoying and distracting, as if the filmmakers had no confidence in the material they were making so they overplay things. The core premise of the film is highly implausible… but it’s a fantasy about moviemaking, so it can be given some liberties. And the chemistry between Railsbeck and Hershey is… well, there’s not of it.
But the dialogue… wow, the dialogue. It’s just great.
“I just listened”
“There are few actors in the world who have developed that talent.”
“If God could do the tricks that we could do he’d be a happy man!”
The Stunt Man is worth a watch just for those quotes and O’Toole’s performance. I’m tempted to rain even more platitudes on O’Toole, but I’ll hold off… I have two more of his movies I will be revisiting soon, and I don’t want to empty my full clip all at once. So I’ll wrap up by saying that The Stunt Man is a wonderful example of the work of a master actor, a man who was eccentric, brilliant, and courageous.
Another quote, a line from the movie that O’Toole brilliantly delivered, strikes me as an appropriate one to close with.
“All we know is that we shall die… of nothing more important than wrinkles. And it makes us so scared, so crazy… we’ll do anything. Go off bridges… Fight windmills… Wars… anything.”
He did. Anything. Everything.
And, I hope, so will I.