Deathcheaters

Deathcheaters (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1976) prod. Brian Trenchard-Smith, wr. Michael Cove, Brian Trenchard-Smith, dp John Seale, 93 min.; John Hargreaves, Grant Page, Margaret Gerard, Noel Ferrier, Wallas Eaton, Ralph Cotterill, Judith Woodroffe, John Krummel, Michael Aitken, Drew Forsythe, Chris Haywood, Roger Ward; story about stuntmen: "Cunning Stunts"; Eastman colour, 35mm, Panavision 100 min.

I watched Deathcheaters, for which Trenchard-Smith's original title was Cunning Stunts (!) and remembered how much I dislike watching stuntmen risking their health and their lives for exploitative entertainment. The worst moment is when John Hargreaves, who thank heavens went on to become one of Australia's great film actors, is actually seen getting seriously injured. In the Hargreaves book, Executive Producer Richard Brennan explains:

John and Grant Page were running through a minefield, and one of the explosions went off at the wrong moment … or John zigged when he should have zagged … and a piece of shrapnel lodged in his eye. (Tony Watts & Genevieve Picot eds 2000, John Hargreaves: A Celebration ... an actor's life as he saw it, Parrot.)

On the DVD commentary, his story has changed a bit: the ABC pyrotechnician had to be moved back so he wasn't in shot, and he couldn't see exactly when and where the blast went off. However, the film clearly shows that the charge was right beside the track where they had to run, and went off right next to them as they went past, just at the right dramatic moment. But it was set too close. It was worse for focus-puller David Brostoff, who was killed on the set of Midnite Spares (Quentin Masters, 1983) another trashy film now forgotten. And for stuntman, Collin Dragsbaek, in Shirley Barrett's Love Serenade (1996) who had to fall off a silo onto something meant to break his fall that was not in the right place: he too died. Both of those films are dedicated to the men who died. I doubt that that helped their families much.

The director's long preoccupation with stuntwork had characterised most of his television productions and feature films. He had often worked with the local stunt expert Grant Page, and now gave him his first starring role. An outstanding athlete and sportsman, Page had served in the Australian Army as a commando for four years before entering the local television and film industry as a stuntman. The principal 'feminine interest' was provided by Trenchard's wife, the American-born Margaret Gerard, making her film debut after minor stage work in the USA. Pike & Cooper: 307.


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