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Homage: Respect or Reverence Paid
by Jon Schuller

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Current news cycles don't seem to show anything lately but angry people and angrier words. Lack of even simple respect for others in words or deeds regardless of their situations appears to be the norm and that is truly upsetting in my opinion. We do depend on basic things to help everyone weather their own personal storms and, when necessary, reaching out to help someone in distress. This storm, too, shall pass. I like to think that films are an accessible antidote to all of the anger and distorted viewpoints being thrown around. Showing respect for the words and deeds of people past and present has been a movie staple for many decades. Whether a true biographic picture (or a Hollywood version of that), a flight of fancy about a real person in a fictional pose or some combination of fact and fiction, biographies are always interesting. Sometimes a movie will bring someone or a group of people out of the shadows and tell their story. 2016's Hidden Figures told the true story of a group of African-American women who worked on the United States Mercury astronaut program from its inception. It took more than 50 years for the true tale to emerge. In 1978 Burt Reynolds starred in Hooper, his respectful
and funny movie dedicated to all of the hardworking men and women who risked their lives performing "gags" (stunts) and going virtually unnoticed for decades. His co-stars on this picture were Jan-Michael Vincent, Sally Field, Brian Keith, John Marley, Robert Klein and James Best. It was directed byHal Needham. Reynolds dedicated the film to Dar Robinson, whom he considered the greatest stuntman alive. Robinson later worked on Sharkey's Machine (1981) in which Reynolds starred and directed.

Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) is a Hollywood legend known as "The Greatest Stuntman Alive." But the years of doing virtually impossible and painful gags are catching up as we see him working as the coordinator on The Spy Who Laughed at Danger, directed by the snobby Roger Deal (Klein), assisted by the always annoying Tony (Alfie Wise). Hooper loves to make fun and have fun on and off the set which drives Deal crazy. Sonny has a girlfriend, Gwen Doyle ( Field) and her father, Jocko (Keith), a retired, legendary stuntman himself, lives with them.

Hooper's become friends with a novice stuntman, Delmore "Ski" Shidski (Vincent), after they share a brawl with some drunken policemen. Hooper invites Ski to join him on the spy film. A friendly rivalry begins as Ski and Hooper compete with
each other and start to raise the danger levels each time they do a gag. Hooper is told by his doctor in no uncertain terms that his health is in danger if he keeps up his pace and tries to outdo his new, younger partner.

Roger, as director, decides that he wants a truly one-of-a-kind spectacular closing scene to the film, including explosions, buildings collapsing and, the most dangerous stunt ever created: a car flying over an impossibly wide gorge. The possibility that Sonny and Ski may not survive doesn't faze Roger as long as he gets the shot. Sonny says a rocket-powered car will do it but he wants $100,000 for him and his new partner. Max Berns (Marley) is an old friend of Hooper and warns him the film is dangerously over budget already; the stunt could stop the entire picture.

Then Jocko has a stroke and Hooper, feeling guilty about not telling Gwen the truth about his own condition, confesses to her and promises that after this movie and its incredibly risky gags are done, he'll quit the business completely. She is mollified but not convinced as he's done this sort of thing before.

Sonny and Ski start the beginning of the stunt as they drive their car through a series of explosions and destroyed buildings crashing to the ground. It's scary but definitely
very exciting. Then, as they get to the bridge for the final shot flying over the gorge in the car they realize that the rocket engine pressure is too low to propel the car over the wide space. Roger is yelling and insulting them as they decide to go for it anyway. Too many people are depending on them. They must finish the job. The bridge collapses as the car becomes airborne. It was a real stunt in real time with real stuntmen and no camera tricks or special effects.

The two men make it work and we see their car actually fly over the gorge and make a rather hard landing on the other side. Ski can get out the car unassisted but Hooper has trouble, seeing Gwen running towards him. Roger comes forward to apologize to Hooper. Roger's still as obnoxious as ever so Sonny punches him out. The group slowly walks away.

Burt Reynolds himself was a stuntman at the beginning of his career and he wanted this film to stand as a monument to so many anonymous men and women who stood in for famous movie stars while risking their own lives. We see the public lives of these people and their private lives as well and how the movie business ties the two together. Burt's ability to intersect funny with serious is on full display and you'll laugh and ponder simultaneously as you watch.

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May 17, 2018 4:19 PM
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Good job!
May 21, 2018 12:23 PM
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Thank you so much.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Three Strikes and You're.....

Imagine That. I Learned Something Old Today.

I'm Not Afraid of a Ghost. Well, Sort Of.

1 Becomes 234

Sitzen machen!

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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