On the run from the law, a Vietnam war veteran (Steve Railsback) unwittingly causes the death of a movie stuntman. The movie's director (Peter O'Toole) agrees to let him take the place of the deceased stuntman, but pushes Railsback into exceedingly dangerous stunts, leading him to believe O'Toole wants to kill him onscreen for the sake of the movie.
Writer/director Richard Rush's film was a real labour of love, taking the best part of a decade to bring to the screen. It's playful and deliberately confusing; you, like the title character, will have trouble separating reality from fiction - there are many scenes which blur the lines between them both.
Peter O'Toole gives a brilliant performance as the egotistical director, but he's not in the film enough: the only thing you wonder about Railsback's stunt man is why he's on the run, whereas O'Toole's director throws up a host of questions. He's like a general sending a soldier on an unexplained suicide mission, or (more pretentiously) God forcing Man into a chaotic world only He knows the reasons behind.
Everyone in the film ranges between slightly eccentric and completely barmy. The dialogue is witty, the detail is excellent (check out the weird TV commercial or the Victorian toy!), and the action sequences are spectacular, especially the rooftop chase. Mind you, it's never explained why the director needs them all to be performed in one take - surely a control freak like he is wouldn't take a chance on one thing going wrong to screw up the whole scene? All in all, it's not perfect, it's too long, but O'Toole makes this film required viewing. I always watch it when it's on TV. Listen for: the seriously catchy score from Dominic Frontiere.
Cult American director who never quite made the most of his talents, mainly due to circumstances beyond his control. He spent the 1960s working on exploitation films of increasing stature, some of which have become cult favourites, such as Hell's Angels on Wheels, Psych-Out and The Savage Seven, until he gained recognition with counterculture drama Getting Straight. The 1970s followed with one other film, buddy cop comedy Freebie and the Bean, until in 1980 The Stunt Man, which many consider his best work, was released. After that he had just one more credit, for unintentional laugh fest thriller The Color of Night. His fans wish Rush had enjoyed more creative opportunities.