Western Stunting 101
Stunting is dangerous.
Injuries sustained by Yakima Canutt during his career:
- Rodeo (evidently a form of Stunting – or may lead to Stunting) While bulldogging in Idaho, Canutt’s mouth and upper lip were torn by a bull’s horn. After stitches, Canutt returned to the competition. It was not until a year later that a plastic surgeon could correct the injury. Yak was Cowboy tough.
- Yak fell off a 12-foot cliff and broke his nose while filming “Branded a Bandit” (1924). Minor injury.
- Yak broke six ribs when a wall fell on him in “San Francisco” (1936). Not minor.
- Yak punctured a lung when a horse fell on him during the filming of “Boom Town.” Life threatening.
- Yak broke both legs while falling off a wagon in “Idaho” (1943). Potentially crippling.
Wikipedia: “In the five years between 1925 and 1930, fifty-five people were killed making movies, and more than ten thousand injured. By the late 1930’s, the maverick stuntman willing to do anything for a buck was disappearing. Now under scrutiny, experienced stunt men began to separate themselves from amateurs by building special equipment, rehearsing stunts, and developing new techniques.” – from Falling – (How Our Greatest Fear Became Our Greatest Thrill by Garrett Soden)
In early Stunting there were no rules, no guidelines, no techniques, no unions … nothing. Stuntman and horses were cannon fodder. Somebody would walk up to the Stunt guys and say: “I’ll pay 10 dollars for someone to fall off a 30 foot cliff.” Fall – not jump – not mentioning the rocks. Some stunt guy would jump up and say” I’ll do it.” Hey, it was the 20’s and 30’s – 10 bucks was a lot of money. Off he’d go. And possibly return. But maybe not.
But I figure Stunting accidents and injuries are greater than reported. The Stuntmen didn’t want anyone to know they got hurt – nor did the Filmmakers. Especially animals.
Because of all this Yakima Canutt rose to forefront of modern Stunt innovators – creating techniques and devices that enhanced Stunting while saving life and limb.
Elementary Western Stunt Horsemanship
and Weapon Handling
So … let’s practice some Elementary Western Stunt Horsemanship and Weapon Handling.
We’ll use the famous chase scene from Stagecoach (1939) (Directed by John Ford and Starring John Wayne) as an exercise backdrop:
OK … here we go:
Western Horsemanship: Though many people wouldn’t consider riding a horse much of Stunt, over the years a great many Stunt injuries occured from riding and horse Stunting – probably more than any other Western Stunt. Good Horsemanship in Westerns is therefore, a requirement. But in Western Stunting EXCELLENT Horsemanship is a necessity.
Weapon Handling in Westerns: Guns can kill you – and are meant to do so. Over the years there have been accidental deaths and many injuries caused by firearms in Westerns and Action movies. Even prop guns employed in Film Making and using blank cartridges are dangerous. And as I said before, there’s likely been a lot more incidents than have been reported.
Gun Handling in Westerns opens a particularly rather large can of worms. Why? Because the Stars of the Westerns are required to handle guns (Hand Guns and Rifles …) and perform some Stunting/shooting. And Stars, in a lot of instances, are most likely not experts in Weapon Handling – NOR Stuntmen. Therefore …
Training is required – by experts. If you have no training or expertise in Weapon Handling you are a danger to yourself and and a risk to your co-workers. Movies, these days, employ Licensed Weapon Specialists to ensure the safety of the actors and crew production insurance premium as well. None of this existed in Yak’s day.
There are at least 2 ways in which Western prop firearms they can injure you:
Blank cartridges. There was notion conveyed in early Westerns was that blanks couldn’t hurt you – blank cartridges essentially being bullets with the lead projectile removed. As already noted people have been seriously injured – and killed – by guns firing blank cartridges. The initial concussion/blast – muzzle flash discharge from the barrel of the gun is deadly. I’d say it’s generally unwise to stand less that 8 feet away ?? Let’s make that 10 if possible. And often it’s not.
“Firing Blank Guns are REAL guns that have been modified to use blank ammunition. These firearms are to be considered extremely dangerous and should never be handled by anyone other than a legitimate firearms expert” – The Entertainment Weapons Specialists: http://propguys.com/gundanger/
Listen carefully: The second way in which guns can harm you is NOISE!!: BOOOM!! BWAM!! POW!!! Guns are very loud and can be damaging to your eardrums. Use earplugs when necessary/able.
OK. For your first Stunt we’ll start you off easy:
While galloping at full speed …
I want you to reload your rifle – then fire it.
This will require that you ride using no hands –
Yeah … again it would be useful if you had some experience in riding and handling firearms …
and sorry … you’re required to use blanks for this. We need to see some flash and smoke.
I’d prefer duds – safer for you – the horse – and everybody else. But …
OK … now go ahead, try it …
Got it loaded yet ??? … Good …
Now …. try leveling the rifle and shooting at something. Anything.
Uh huh …
Now … do it again.
(I won’t wait)
Here’s your ten bucks.
There you go – Lesson 1: Elementary Western Stunt riding and Weapon Handling.
Advanced Western Horse Stunting and Weapon Handling
and Stunt 2:
4 thoughts on “Yakima Canutt / Western Stunting 101 …”
John was pretty athletic and could do some Stunting. He was also a very competent gun handler and rider – and had been taught how to handle a rig/team of horses. He was no slob and had paid his dues. I believe it was he and Yak who invented much of the fist fight choreography that improved fight scenes. Pioneers of the Stunt Arts.
Super blog! Interesting and made me have a good chuckle…
Thank you. LoL I made a ton of typos and errors in there. I still see some
But it’s some fun.
Don’t worry – we all make those and the content is important! You made me think of John Wayne’s “stunts” where he almost trampolines onto his horse – The War Wagon specifically comes to mind. And for some reason the sets of those old movies came to mind – in this case John Wayne’s “Cold Camp” in Big Jake where you can see the set flapping in the wind 😉 So, thanks again for your great article – didn’t really notice the typos due to the fun of reading!