Film Review: Hollywood Bulldogs – The Rise and Fall of The Great British Stuntman

“If you got any sense of fear, the so-called stuntman saying “they are fearless” and “I’ll do anything”, and they’re not worried about it, they’re the ones that you want to stay away from and don’t do stunts with. You don’t say “I’m fearless” and do that. You step out on the edge, you look at it, and you check everything out before you do it.”

Ray Austin, director and former stunt performer

Ray Austin

Frank Henson

Vic Armstrong

Jim Dowdall

Richard Hammatt

Greg Powell

Rocky Taylor

Paul Weston

These names may not be familiar to you, but you will have seen them on screen once in a while. Why? Because they are among the many people who have volunteered (for a fee) to hurt themselves in front of a camera. They are stunt performers. Some of a noted breed of British stunt performer that came into the film and TV industry in the 1960s. Their predecessors were World War II veterans who were no stranger to fights and explosions. But its they who developed the trade in a more “professional” way, with a register (or “Book of Lies,” as many people on it, like many wannabe actors, have lied about their gigs and skills on it to get favourable jobs).

As a child, one of the things I liked watching on TV was those behind-the-scenes documentaries about the making of various films or TV shows. Its from them I first learnt the word “stunt” and what a stunt performer does. Now, I liked actions films and slapstick comedy then (and still do today), but from those documentaries I learnt about all the preparations that are done before a stunt is filmed – the padding, air mats, flame-resistant underwear, etc. So, probably thanks to that, I wasn’t one of those kids who did those things at home. Even today, I have high respects for these guys, especially when I once slipped on a wet pavement onto my back while delivering pizzas and, more recently, walked on fire for a charity event.

Perfectly narrated by Ray Winstone, Hollywood Bulldogs is a chance to hear the words from the hidden in plain sight heroes about what went on behind the cameras. Its full of behind-the-scenes anecdotes that’ll intrigue movie fans, like how Vic Armstrong got the gig as Harrison Ford’s double in the first three Indiana Jones films.

Of course, not everything goes to plan, and stunt performers do get hurt. Rocky Taylor has such a story from working on Death Wish 3. You’ll hate director Michael Winner more after hearing his story.

Hollywood Bulldogs is a celebration to all those stunt performers who have risked their health to help create convincing imagery on screen. Kind of like the 1978 Burt Reynolds movie Hooper. A movie that should be retitled “Ode to the Stuntman.” I suggest looking out for it. It’s a gem. Especially after seeing this documentary, now knowing what its actually like to be a stunt performer.

Hollywood Bulldogs, directed by Jon Spira, is available to watch now on Youtube, Google Play, Apple TV and Amazon

Review by Gordon Wallace

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