Thursday, December 19, 2013


There are few "living legends" among actors, and one of them died last week: Peter O'Toole. Most everyone over the age of 30 could point to at least one performance by this actor that is classic. It may have been one of the roles for which he was nominated (but didn't win) an Oscar: "Lawrence of Arabia," "Becket," "Lion in Winter," "Goodbye Mr. Chips," "The Ruling Class," "The Stunt Man," "My Favorite Year" or, in 2006, "Venus." It seems that in the past decade, the bar for fine acting has been lowered, and the "actors" who do well at the box office include Ben Stiller, Vin Diesel, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell and Will Smith.

Of the Oscar statue, O'Toole wryly mentioned that he would like to "win the lovely bugger outright." rather than get an honorary one. By that time, he was one of the last of his generation...classically trained, possessing true "star" magnetism, and living a life that could (and has) been told via a stream of outrageous anecdotes. O'Toole himself liked to amuse talk show hosts with his tales of alcoholic excess, but he was quite mum on the consequence of operation that took out much of his intestines. Just how this affected his digestion and diet may have damaged his image as a carefree bon vivant.

Of all the movies in the Peter O'Toole filmography the one that instantly came to mind when he died is "The Stunt Man." He plays the symbolically named Eli Cross. It was originally promoted as a thriller where "nothing is quite what it seems." Most every frame is loaded with double meanings, doubt or enigma, and O'Toole presents devilish and God-like properties to add to the confusion. As the charismatic director of fantasy and twisted reality, he's of sexual interest to females...and males. "The Stunt Man" was one of the first O'Toole movies that made comic and ironic use of his campy streak of world-weary sophistication. Of course, his most famous character, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) was a homosexual masochist, but few knew that at the time and fortunately the film was G-rated. The very gay Noel Coward mentioned at the time that the beauty of O'Toole was grand enough to re-name the movie "Florence of Arabia." A few more decades, and with waning testosterone, and O'Toole often make talk show appearances dressed as a theatrical dandy, with slouch hats, garish neckties and a flamingly loud silk hankie tucked into his breast pocket. It was all part of O'Toole's larger-than-life persona, right up there with Richard Burton or Richard Harris. And, speaking of Dicks, Groucho was a big fan because Peter O'Toole, he said, was a name with two slang terms for "penis."

The soundtrack music for "The Stunt Man" is by the underrated Dominic Frontiere. He began his career working for Randy Newman's uncles, Lionel and Alfred Newman. He scored TV shows in the 60's, seeming to do his best work on rousing series such as "The Rat Patrol" and "Twelve O'Clock High." His march-tempo main theme for "The Stunt Man" is in that category; just overblown with an almost Monty Python Theme'd (Sousa) circus-like excess. Frontiere's movie credits before "The Stunt Man" include "Hang 'em High," "Chisum" and "On Any Sunday," and he worked on two films afterward: "Modern Problems" in 1981 and "Color of Night" in 1994.

Frontiere won a Golden Globe for his score to "The Stunt Man," which is pretty remarkable considering that he basically used only two themes for the entire film. One appears on the album under multiple titles ("Stunt Man Main Theme," "Stunt Man Main Title," "Stunt Man End Title," "Film Caravan") either speeded up or with a tempo change. The other theme is heard as a fast instrumental ("The Chase") and in song form, sung by Dusty Springfield, as "Bits and Pieces."

Like "Windmills of Your Mind," the Norman Gimbel lyrics are intentionally over-the-top with heavy wordplay, which does reflect the movie's puzzlements and suspense. The hero here (Steve Railsback) is so confused and miserable about figuring out the mystery of his life, that he is more often questioning things rather than enjoying them. In other words, "Let it Be" would've been the wrong choice.

Dusty sings: "Out of nowhere into sight, out of darkness into light. You come running pushing time, out of reason out of rhyme….With your secrets in your eyes and your feelings in disguise, you come running in your fright seeking shelter from the night…And you watch and wonder where you belong, and the crowd, it moves and takes you along. And the colors splash and repaint your sky. And reality is yours to deny. And you look for someone your arms can hold, who will let you tell what begs to be told. Then you ask yourself what good are your dreams — on a world where nothing is what it seems…"

Your download springs Springfield on you, and at the end, the oom-pah loopy death march "Stunt Man" theme.

Dusty Springfield and Dominic Frontiere BITS AND PIECES & THE STUNT MAN THEME

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