Wednesday, September 10, 2008


A fun little diversion about the lives and loves of Hollywood stunt men. William Boyd (better known as Hopalong Cassidy in movies and TV) is Skipper, the friendly, boisterous central figure of a group of stunt men and extras who work together in the day and carouse at night. Boyd insists that stunt work and romance don't go together, but his buddy Slugger (William Bakewell) insists on getting married; on the night of their celebration, a bottle gets broken which is taken as a sign of impending death. Slugger tells his new wife he'll give up the stunt racket, but he doesn't, and, well, the omen of the bottle comes true. In the meantime, Skipper and his roommate Bob (William Gargan) save Fran (Dorothy Wilson), a starving actress, from committing suicide at a party; they take her home, feed her, and help her get back on her feet. Both guys fall for her, but Boyd gets her and, despite his own beliefs, marries her and stays in the business. When Fran's worrying causes her to show up at the set as Skipper is about to perform a particularly dangerous stunt involving tall buildings and fire, he gets nervous, messes up, and almost causes Gargan's death. Skipper is more or less blackballed by the studios and quits the business, but when Fran gets pregnant, Skipper takes a job on a location crew and ends up taking another shot at a very dangerous stunt, falling down a waterfall. An absurdly abrupt and happy ending is the only real misstep.

When the film airs on TCM again, it's worth catching if only for the first five minutes, which features an elaborate bank robbery that we soon realize is part of the filming of a movie. The stunts here, and indeed in most of the rest of the film, are quite well done, though the fire stunt is marred by a bad ending effect. There is a wild car chase scene at the finale that reminded me at times of the great car chase in Quentin Tarentino's half of GRINDHOUSE. Boyd and Gargan have good "buddy chemistry," and the supporting cast includes Bruce Cabot, Lon Chaney Jr. (under the name Creighton Chaney), and Phyllis Fraser, who would retire from films in a few years when she married Random House publisher Bennett Cerf. [TCM]

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