Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts
TCM/Running Press, 2022
I could only read Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts In short bursts, because I got so tense. In his new book Scott McGee goes into great detail in describing the process and experience of preparing and performing screen stunts and it is suspenseful reading. The unwritten qualifier here is that this collection of “Cinema’s Greatest Stunts” is from Hollywood productions, so while there are international stars in the mix, the films are all from the USA.
One of the most surprising things I learn from Danger on the Silver Screen is that while stunt work is incredibly dangerous, many performers not only survived, but continued to work as stunt advisors and second unit directors well into their senior years. When you think of legendary performers like Yakima Canutt surviving all the bumps and breaks to inspire and guide new generations, it's clear that it is a profession not of recklessness, but of careful planning best led by experts who have been there.
I loved the variety of genres covered. No stunt book would be complete without featuring silent film comics Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, both of whom performed work as dangerous as actors more famous for derring do like Douglas Fairbanks.
It was also interesting to see how stunts have developed over the years, with the insight of industry veterans, and the bravery of stars like Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, and Tom Cruise who are dedicated to doing as much of their own stunt work as possible. I was encouraged to realize so many filmmakers want real action no matter how much CGI has advanced.
The book includes good selection of films because rather than being intended as a collection of the best stunt films (though many of the best are included), it offers a diverse view of the kinds of stunts that have successfully emerged in cinema. I liked how McGee would mention obscure related films in several of the entries; it would have been great to see a couple of them in the list of fifty since they would likely be new to many readers. While I had seen all of the fifty films on the list, I came away with a long list of those other films mentioned to watch.
Overall I’m becoming a big fan of the books TCM releases. They’re gorgeous to look at, but there’s also a lot of substance. I also like the warmth of the various writing styles; rather than having a dry standard template, there’s always a personal feel to the text.
Many thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a copy of the book for review.