Western Stunting 101:
Elementary Western Stunt Horsemanship
and Weapon Handling Cont …
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 !!!
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.
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 Devine‘s 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, Devinereplied, “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.
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 …
But he keeps on shootin’…
Marshal Curley Wilcox (George Bancroft) is ‘riding shotgun’ … and let’s fly …
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 …
Did you notice Actress Louise Plattcovering her ears? She’s not Acting …
That idiot is shooting his pistol about a foot from her face !!!.
The boys keep blasting away …
OK … time to get you into some action !!
Hold still … while we blast a shotgun off beside your head …
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, Canuttreturned to the competition. It was not until a year later that a plastic surgeon could correct the injury. Yak was Cowboy tough.
Yakfell 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.
Yakpunctured 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 Handlingin 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.
Next: Advanced Western Horse Stunting and Weapon Handling and Stunt 2:
“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
When you attend Art College, the first thing they do is take your colors away and lock ’em up. Then they hand you a black crayon and a piece of white paper and say: “Shut up and Draw, pardner.”
And draw you do.
In 1917 John Ford was handed a black crayon and a camera – and between 1917 and 1927 he drew 62 black and white ‘moving pictures’. ‘Silent films’ they called ’em.
Some 40 of these ‘pictures’ were lost – basically thrown away. But in the process Ford learned the Mastery of composition, framing and direction.
Then, about 1928, somebody said: “Hey … maybe this guy can help us figure out how to use this thing called ‘Sound’.”
Wikipedia: “Stagecoach (1939) was Ford’s first western since 3 Bad Men in 1926, and it was his first with sound. Reputedly Orson Welles watched Stagecoachforty times in preparation for making Citizen Kane. It remains one of the most admired and imitated of all Hollywood movies, not least for its climactic stagecoach chase and the hair-raising horse-jumping scene, performed by the stuntman Yakima Canutt.”
Ultimately, in 1939, Ford finally got his colors:
Wikipedia: “Drums along the Mohawk (1939) was a lavish frontier drama co-starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert it was also Ford’s first movie in colorand included uncredited script contributions by William Faulkner. It was a big box-office success, grossing $1.25 million in its first year in the US and earning Edna May Oliver a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.”
But Ford had learned something about Black and White – it could say things in dramatic ways that color often distracted from. So on occasion he went back to his black crayon and white slate, as in“The Man who shot Liberty Valence”.