The Stunt Man: An Overlooked Commentary on Vietnam

By Birdwell, Michael | Literature/Film Quarterly, January 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

The Stunt Man: An Overlooked Commentary on Vietnam

Birdwell, Michael, Literature/Film Quarterly

"Where I was. we only raped Gooks."

-Cameron, from the film version of The Stunt Man

Both the film The Stunt Man and the Paul Brodeur novel of the same name use the war in Vietnam as a central motivating device for their main character, Cameron. Oddly, critics of the novel and film have downplayed the importance of the war or have dismissed it altogether. Rather, most have chosen to focus their attentions upon the frame-the story/film within the film/story-or the recurrent themes of paranoia and of reality versus illusion.' Yet the Vietnam War provides the glue that holds the story together in both versions. The treatment of the war and the central characters changed drastically from the novel to the film.2 Both novel and film state that in order for Cameron (and, by association, the audience) to survive, he must be reborn. However, the statements made about the war in the two versions are decidedly different. Brodeur's novel is humorless and bleak, an existential indictment of the war that ultimately says there is no escape from the war or its destruction, even at home. Rush's film, on the other hand, employs suspense and humor to implore the audience to confront its memory of the war, heal wounds, and move on.

The novel, published in 1970, presented Cameron as a twenty-six-year-old graduate student drafted one month before his eligibility expired. Brodeur's Cameron, a brooding, bookish man, is nearly paralyzed by his over-rationalization of the world around him. Scared of the war, cheated by having his number come up so late, he never makes it to Vietnam. In fact he goes AWOL before he even makes it to basic training. Sent on an errand by the black D.I. when their bus breaks down en route to camp, he runs away dreaming of Canada. Wishing to make an example of Cameron for his evasion of the war, authorities doggedly pursue him. The luck of running onto a film location and being absorbed into its community for a brief time (by replacing a Stuntman that he believes he may have killed) offers him only an angst-ridden prolonging of the inevitable. Cameron is constantly reminded of the war as radio or television reports about it drone on throughout the novel.

The Cameron of the film is feral where Brodeur's is cerebral. The novel's Cameron is prodded into action by the geriatric, glaucomic movie director. Gottschalk, and his sadistic cinematographer, Bruno da Ke. The cinematic Cameron, a seasoned combat veteran dubbed "Lucky Bert" by the film's mercurial director, Eli Cross, reacts atavistically to his surroundings, then later ponders their import. Brodeur never lets the reader forget that his Cameron loves books. Brodeur's Cameron muses over his past life as a graduate student, whereas the filmic Cameron. when asked if he reads, responds curtly, "short words."

Columbia bought the rights to the novel before the book was published in 1970 and offered the project to A.I.P. alumnus Richard Rush. The studio hoped to offer a topical film that would appeal to a counter-culture audience. A film about a pensive, gentle pacifist forced into service, then trying to escape the army, had relevance. A sagging box office led the studio to scrap any project that could not guarantee immediate success, however, and they stopped production on The Stunt Man. Rush optioned the novel and peddled it all over Hollywood to unenthusiastic receptions (Peary 229). Meanwhile, the war was winding down. The Vietnami/.ation of the war during the Nixon administration slowly reduced the numbers of American men going into combat, and public support for the war reached its nadir. Americans, who could voyeuristically peek in on the war from the comfort of their living rooms, felt increasing disdain for the conflict. The public became saturated with Vietnam, and studios regarded the subject as box office poison.

Richard Rush and screenwriter Lawrence Marcus, unwilling to abandon the project, continued to revise the script (nine times)4 until they received independent backing to produce the film in 1978 (Peary 230). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Stunt Man: An Overlooked Commentary on Vietnam


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.