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stuntwomen

Hooper (film)

Hooper is a 1978 action-comedy motion picture based loosely on the experiences of director Hal Needham, a one-time stuntman in his own right, and serves as a tribute to stuntmen and stuntwomen in what was at one time an underrecognized profession.

Plot Summary

Veteran stuntman Sonny Hooper (Burt Reynolds) is known in Hollywood as "the greatest stuntman alive", and is currently working as Adam West's stunt double on the fictitious film The Spy Who Laughed At Danger (West plays himself in Hooper). His on-set antics and wisecracks are a trial for egotistical director Roger Deal (Robert Klein), and even more so for Deal's bossy assistant Tony (Alfie Wise), who gets Hooper in trouble with the Humane Society over a stunt involving a dog (in the movie, stunts are referred to as "gags"). But the years of self-abuse on and off the set are fast catching up with Hooper, with the numerous stunts- and an addiction to painkillers- beginning to take their toll on his body.

Hooper's home life has its occasional wild side as well. He lives with his girlfriend Gwen Doyle (Sally Field), whose father Jocko (Brian Keith) is a retired stuntman himself. Upon coming home from work one Friday evening, Hooper is goaded by a friend into performing at a benefit show over the coming weekend. It's at the show that Hooper first meets Delmore "Ski" Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent), a young newcomer who makes his entrance in spectacular style, much to Hooper's chagrin. The two become friends that night after a barroom brawl with some out-of-towners (one of them played by football great Terry Bradshaw), later the brawlers are invited to Sonny's place to watch films of Sonny's past stunts (in which footage from Reynolds' earlier film Deliverance is seen), and the following Monday Ski begins working for Hooper on the film set.

Unknowingly, Hooper and Ski begin an escalating but friendly rivalry with the stunts becoming more and more spectacular- and dangerous. After a freefall from a record 224 feet, Hooper becomes more aware of his own mortality, and surreptitiously consults with his doctor about his condition. The doctor tells Hooper that one more bad jolt in his neck could render him a quadriplegic.

Meanwhile, Roger decides to re-write the film script, adding even more stunts to the film, not the least of which is a climactic earthquake at the film's end, complete with explosions and fires, with Sonny and Ski racing through the carnage to a gorge with the bridge self-destructing before they can cross it. Roger first suggests the duo rappel down one side of the gorge and up the other to safety, but Ski comes up with another idea: Flying a rocket car over the gorge, which Roger immediately takes a shine to, ignoring the fears of the producer and the chief engineer that Sonny and Ski might not survive.

That evening, Sonny meets up with Gwen at the hospital; she tells Sonny that Jocko has suffered a stroke, though Jocko insists he just slipped in the shower and broke his knee. Seeing Jocko laid out in the hospital bed jolts Sonny's thinking, and he confides in Gwen that this will be his last movie. Sonny and Gwen return home to find Sonny's pal and assistant Cully (James Best) waiting for them. Slightly intoxicated, Cully tells Sonny he's been fired from the movie due to budget cuts (Hooper and Ski stand to split a $100,000 bonus for the final stunt, prompting the cuts). Cully then reveals to Gwen the dangerous rocket car stunt, and Sonny's visit to his doctor, both of which Sonny was keeping secret from Gwen.

Agonizing over his choices, Sonny first confides in Gwen, and later tells a disgruntled Roger, that he's backing out of the rocket car stunt, but days later Max Berns (John Marley), the producer of the film and a close friend of Sonny's, persuades Sonny to return and do the stunt- no one else is available, or willing, to do it. As Sonny leaves for the studio, Gwen, in a futile last-ditch attempt to change Sonny's mind, tells him she wouldn't be there when he came back home.

Sonny and Ski perform the massive stunt exactly to the letter, and as expected, they land hard in the rocket car at the other end of the gorge. Ski emerges okay, but the impact is more of a shock to Sonny's system. Gwen tearfully pushes her way through the crowd as the crew frantically pries open the passenger door to get Sonny out. Gwen is terrified that the jolt is finally one too many, but Sonny slowly comes out of his temporary unconsciousness and takes Gwen in his arms as the crowd cheers wildly.

In the end, Max fires Tony, and Sonny, after landing a hard right jab to Roger's face, walks off with Gwen, Ski, Cully and a crutch-bound Jocko still by his side.

Public Reaction & Later Inspirations

Though Hooper did enjoy moderate success at the box-office, it was largely considered a significant disappointment in comparison to Reynolds' mammoth 1977 hit Smokey and the Bandit, which was second only to Star Wars in box office success that year. Hooper grossed just over $51 million domestically, less than half of the $126 million grossed by Smokey... in '77.

Critics paid more attention to James Best and his portrayal of Cully, a minor character. Best's work in Hooper accelerated his acting career, and he was picked to portray dimwitted Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in The Dukes Of Hazzard in 1979.

The film inspired a successful television series, The Fall Guy which starred Lee Majors. The show's theme song, "The Unknown Stuntman" was performed by Curt Iseli, original bassist for the Twin Six, with the lyrics including references to both Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett, Majors' ex-wife.

The movie is heavily referenced in episode 209 of the cartoon Frisky Dingo, in which main character Xander Crews suffers from a severe neck injury similar to Hooper's.

The "Blooper Reel" credits

Hooper was also one of the first movies to make use of the blooper reel credit crawl. The technique, originated by Needham, showed a smaller screen of outtakes from the film to one side while the film's credits scroll slowly up the other side. Needham refined this technique for later films such as Smokey and the Bandit II and the Cannonball Run movies. (In Hooper the credit reel was mostly a montage of many of the stunts performed in the movie itself, owing to the film's tribute to the stunt industry.) It was later adapted into other films, including Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life, and in TV series including The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and Home Improvement. Most of Jackie Chan's films also feature blooper reel credit crawls.

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