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Yakima Canutt / Western Stunting 101 … Part 2

2 Jun


Western Stunting 101:
Elementary Western Stunt Horsemanship
and Weapon Handling Cont …

STAGECOACH opening scenes

Stunt 2:

Alright … your next Stunt is another location shot. It’s pretty simple – no riding or shooting involved.
I just need you to climb out of the speeding stagecoach and get on it’s roof … nothin’ to it.
What? You want a safety harness!!??? Wellll … we don’t have any of those … how about an extra five bucks?

Good … here we go …


Action !! … Open the door … out you go !


Hold ‘er steady boys !!!

STAGECOACH roof stunt

Just climb up there … !!


Hey! Not bad! – Didn’t fall or anything.
We might make a Stuntman outta you yet. 

Here’s your 15 bucks.


Stunt 3:
Western Stunt Gun Handling

Stunt 3 is mostly a series of ‘close up’ shots – so to speak – done in the studio.

You’re playing Andy Devines role – stagecoach driver. You’ll only have to pretend to handle the reins – but there’s no horses on the set. Just try to look like you know what you’re doing; Handling a real team of horses would be Advanced Western Stunt Horsemanship ...


Here’s an interesting  anecdote from Stagecoach (IMDB): “(Director) John Ford liked to bully actors on the set, and this was no exception. At one point he said to Andy Devine, “You big tub of lard. I don’t know why the hell I’m using you in this picture.” Undaunted, Devine replied, “Because Ward Bond can’t drive six horses.” Point taken.

Because Andy Devine usually played a ‘comic relief” role in Westerns, his skills as a Western Actor are massively under-appreciated. He was a really a very accomplished gun handler and rider. And obviously could do other things – like drive a rig.

Yakima Canutt bar

Now for Stunt 3 … this scene will clearly demonstrate some of the dangers of Western Gun Handling / Firearms.

After you (Yakima Canutt) climb up on the roof of the stagecoach the shooting starts in earnest …


John Wayne starts firing …



… and gets a facefull of smoke … *cough cough*. 

But he keeps on shootin’…

STAGECOACH everybody shootin'

Marshal Curley Wilcox (George Bancroft) is ‘riding shotgun’ … and let’s fly …

STAGECOACH shotgun blast

John gets smoked again …
Note the huge muzzle flash from the shotgun … about 3 feet long!
Imagine standing in front of that?!

Doc (Thomas Mitchell) starts shootin’ too …

STAGECOACH Doc shootin'

STAGECOACH Doc shootin' 2

Did you notice Actress Louise Platt covering her ears?
She’s not Acting …

STAGECOACH Doc shootin' 3

That idiot is shooting his pistol about a foot from her face !!!.

STAGECOACH Doc shootin' 4

STAGECOACH Doc shootin' 5

The boys keep blasting away …

STAGECOACH shotgun blast 2

OK … time to get you into some action !!

Hold still … while we blast a shotgun off beside your head …

STAGECOACH shotgun blast 3

No whining.

Here comes Johnny !

STAGECOACH John shootin'

Ooops, missed …

STAGECOACH John shootin' 2

Did I detect a Wilhelm?

Good work.

Yakima Canutt bar

Advanced Canutt Stunting …

Yakima Canutt / Western Stunting 101 …

30 May

Forward by Charlton Heston / Afterword by John Wayne


Western Stunting 101 

Read carefully:

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.

Lesson 1:

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:


Yakima Canutt bar

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:

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.

Got it?

OK. For your first Stunt we’ll start you off easy:

Stunt 1

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 …
Easy eh?
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.

Yakima Canutt bar

Advanced Western Horse Stunting and Weapon Handling
and Stunt 2:

John Ford … revisited …

24 Jan
“For a director there are commercial rules that it is necessary to obey. In our profession, an artistic failure is nothing; a commercial failure is a sentence. The secret is to make films that please the public and also allow the director to reveal his personality.”  – John Ford

John Ford stagecoachJohn Ford

John Ford 2

John Ford at John Ford's Point - Monument Valley

John Ford at John Ford’s Point – Monument Valley


Liberty Valance / Goodguys and Badguys …

18 Jun

Liberty Valance / Goodguys and Badguys ….

Liberty Valance / Goodguys and Badguys …

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - John Wayne

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – John Wayne

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Showdown

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Showdown

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Showdown 2

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Showdown

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Showdown 4

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Showdown

Liberty Valance / Goodguys and Badguys …

16 Jun

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - John Wayne

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – John Wayne

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Showdown

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Showdown

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Showdown 2

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Showdown

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Showdown 4

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Showdown

Liberty Valance / Marvin – “Right between the eyes”

14 Jun

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

The Next one ... is Right Between the Eyes

“The next one … is right between the eyes.”


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It’s often interesting to read reviews from when the time the film was originally released – and see how they bear up as to how the film is presently regarded.
Several movies that are now regarded as Classics were savagely ripped by reviewers of the day. But time often tells a different story. However …

Wikipedia tells us (

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was an instant hit when released in April 1962, thanks to its classic story and popular stars John Wayne and James Stewart. Produced on a budget of $3.2 million, the film grossed $8,000,000 at the box office, making it the 16th highest grossing film of 1962. Edith Head‘s costumes for the film were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, one of the few westerns to ever be nominated for the award. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has continued its popularity through repeated television broadcasts and the rental market. It is also widely considered to be one of director John Ford‘s best westerns and generally ranks alongside Red RiverThe SearchersThe Big Trail, and Stagecoach as one of John Wayne‘s best films.”

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Rotten Tomatoes Review

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Rotten Tomatoes Review

The Critics liked – and the People liked it.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - IMDB Review

A Classic

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Andy Devine and Woody Strode

Andy Devine and Woody Strode

Below: A nice video presentation with a nice rendition of song The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance written by songsters Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis.
Warning: possible huge spoilers … if you’ve never seen the movie.

Stagecoach … Iconic Images …

31 Oct

Stagecoach Iconic Images 4

Stagecoach Iconic Images 6

Stagecoach Iconic Images 7


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