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On July 28, 1978, Warner Bros.’ Burt Reynolds-starring stuntman actioner Hooper hit theaters. The film went on nab an Oscar nomination for sound editing at the 51st Academy Awards ceremony. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Like the equally macho Clint Eastwood, beetle-browed Burt Reynolds seems to have carved up a profitable niche for himself by doing just one thing, and doing it very well. Less dour and intense than Eastwood, but no less self-assured, Reynolds works with a quick humor, as if never taking his screen persona quite seriously. At one point, as an aging front man in Hooper, Reynolds, surveying his scarred frame in a mirror, sucks in his sagging gut and pinches the flabbing flesh around his middle. Of course, most of us would trade our eyeteeth for his lack of paunch, but even this is an irony that Reynolds is obviously very well aware of and enjoys.
Again like Eastwood, Reynolds is also aware of what his audiences want and expect of him. After the runaway success of last year’s Smokey and the Bandit, he could have little doubt. Thus Hooper, which he co-produced with Lawrence Gordon for Warner Bros., brings back all the essentials of Smokey — the incessant brawls, the flashing cars, the spectacular stunts (not to mention Smokey‘s director Hal Needham) — and presents them in a fresh and highly effective context. Hooper is about the Hollywood stuntmen who create and perform those incredible “gags.” It’s also a tribute to them.
Actually, the story, credited to Walt Green and Walter S. Herndon (and turned into a screenplay by Thomas Rickman and Bill Kerby), is an updating of the classic gunslinger theme. Reynolds, top honcho of the stuntmaker’s tribe, a role that he inherited from burly Brian Keith, is challenged by the new kid in town, Jan-Michael Vincent. The two warily test each other out, but with a growing respect for their mutual capabilities and cool. In the end, they join forces to do the impossible — an Evel Knievel-type auto jump across a 456-foot gorge after running a gauntlet of fires, explosions and crumbling masonry. The finale, incidentally, is in itself an implicit tribute to the ingenuity and daring of the real-life stuntmen who devised it and brought it off with split-second timing. (Curiously, stunt coordinator Bobby Bass gets no mention in Warner’s printed sheet, although duly noted onscreen.)
Hooper‘s screenplay is outstanding. It’s superbly constructed, skillfully interleafing the action passages with quiet moments (such as a predawn sequence in which Reynolds runs off film clips of his old stunts for his pals, all of whom are sound asleep, or the hospital interlude in which Reynolds visits a stricken Keith and reluctantly promises to quit the business after his current assignment.) Also, it manages to avoid most of the easy cliches. Although Reynolds is living with Sally Field, Keith’s daughter, there is a pleasant father-son relationship between these two men. They respect each other as professionals and as human beings. The same sort of relationship begins to develop between Reynolds and Vincent without ever the slightest hint of a rivalry for Field’s affections.
Above all, there is a quiet humor in the writing — particularly in the portraits of Roger Deal (Robert Klein), a petulant young director who is making a James Bond-type spy movie while talking like a visionary Fellini, and of Tony (Alfie Wise), as the director’s officious “yes man.” Needham, himself a former stuntman, seems to have gotten into the spirit of the thing with lots of amusing throwaways. While Reynolds and Vincent are inspecting the rocket-powered car in which they will make their leap for life, for example, we see over their shoulders that Tony is luring a comely extra into a shed for a “quickie” — and then, even more offhandedly, reveals just how quick a “quickie” it was.
For all this, Hooper is no putdown of the movie business. While it recognizes that there is arrogance and hanky-panky on the lots, it also gives us that rarity of cinematic rarities — a sympathetically drawn movie producer (John Marley) and a movie star (Adam West) who genuinely admires his stunt-double. The script also takes an amiable poke at those on-set humane society representatives who are so much more concerned with what happens to the animals than to humans. Above all, it is unstinting in its admiration for the roaring, roistering stuntmen who are its heroes — and who made it all possible.
With this film, Needham demonstrates conclusively that he is far more than simply a spirited action director, eliciting beautiful performances from every member of his large and carefully chosen cast (although some of his camera setups are remarkably awkward). Praise is due Bobby Byrne, however, for the bright consistency and resourcefulness of this photography and to Donn Cambern, who edited so smoothly that one might well believe that the entire final sequence was taken in a single shot.
Hooper has all the action that fans of this genre could ask for, plus a whole lot more. It’s that “more” that makes the difference — the admiration of professionals for professionalism at its best. — Arthur Knight, originally published on July 24, 1978
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