Throwback Thursday: Greatest movie stunts

Charles Liu

The most amazing action scenes are crafted by filmmakers who throw caution to the wind and rely on death-defying stunts. The Daily Texan has compiled five incredible feats caught on camera.

“Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928) — The Collapsing Wall
Buster Keaton was a star of the silent film era, widely renowned for his dangerous stunts. His most iconic stunt was in the comedy “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” when Keaton, who plays the titular character, runs to a spot in the ground and lets the wall of a house fall over him. Keaton’s character survives the collapse thanks to the open window, which allows his body to pass through the two-ton structure unscathed.

The window only afforded Keaton a few inches of room on either side, requiring the crew to execute the stunt with precision. Thanks to Keaton’s daring personality and the lack of safety standards, “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” produced a seminal moment in film history.

“Ben-Hur” (1959) — The Chariot Race
A tremendous climax to a tremendous epic, the chariot race of “Ben-Hur” is a brilliant combination of character drama and pulse-pounding action. During the sequence, Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) faces off against his sworn enemy and former friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), seeking revenge after the latter wrongfully imprisoned him and his family.

The chariot race took a year to plan and five weeks to shoot. The chariot arena was the largest film set built at the time, and thousands of extras were used in the race’s audience. During the arduous shoot, the well-exercised horses were often too fast for the camera crew’s car, and stuntman Joe Canutt was nearly trampled to death. The result of the cast and crew’s hard work is a triumph of spectacle that closes out the film with unforgettable action.

“The French Connection” (1971) — The Car Chase
“The French Connection” is a classic cop film best remembered for its thrilling chase scene, in which Detective “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) pursues a hitman (Marcel Bozzuffi). When the hitman boards an elevated train, Doyle commandeers a civilian car and tails him.

The chase sequence in “The French Connection” is tense and electrifying, filled with close-calls for Doyle and the civilians in his way. There are moments in which the camera is mounted low on the car’s bumper, emphasizing the speed at which the road passes underneath. Several stunt drivers who were supposed to barely miss Doyle’s car accidentally crashed into it, and those accidents made it into the film’s final cut, enhancing the danger in the scene.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) — The Truck Chase
After rescuing Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) goes after the Nazis, who have the Ark of the Covenant in their clutches. Indy and the Nazis battle for control of the truck carrying the Ark. Indy is shot, beaten and thrown from the vehicle and dragged along the sand by his trusty whip.

The truck chase remains one of the best action sequences ever filmed thanks to its inventiveness and grit. The scene is a series of power struggles in which Indy repeatedly gains and loses the upper hand, further investing audiences as they wonder how he can find his way out of each dire situation. Perhaps victory is assured for Indy from a storytelling perspective, but the acting, choreography and direction easily make viwers dread his defeat.

“GoldenEye” (1995) — The Dam Jump
Pierce Brosnan’s iteration of James Bond wowed audiences during the opening scene of “GoldenEye,” in which he leaps off the side of a dam and descends into the enemy base.

Filmed at Contra Dam in Switzerland, the dam jump was performed by British stuntman Wayne Michaels. The crew feared he would collide with the dam on the way down, so they built an extended platform for him to jump off.

The result: a breathtaking, graceful leap of faith that announced “GoldenEye” had more thrills lying in store.