Stuntwork is dangerous and has generally been underpaid and under-appreciated in movies. To this day, there is no category for “best stunts” in the Oscars, even though stunt workers continue to put their bodies and lives on the line for the movies that are made. I suspect this is for two reasons: 1) In the digital age, it is increasingly difficult to tell a good stunt from a good effect and 2) Giving an award for stuntwork might encourage producers and stunt workers to take extreme risks to get an award. Neither one applies to movies from 100 years ago, so the Century Awards does include the category.
The other great thing about this category is that it gives us an opportunity to better appreciate different categories of film. In areas like cinematography and screenplay, comedies, and especially short comedies, often get short shrift. But, they tend to shine in the “stunts” category. And, in 1916, stunts and comedy combined in the talents of one man especially: Douglas Fairbanks. He features in four of the six nominees in this category, and each time his work is decisive in the nomination. In “The Matrimaniac,” Doug scales walls and leaps onto moving railroad trains to secure his true love. In “Flirting with Fate,” he’s leaping up fire escapes and climbing trees to escape the hit man he hired to kill himself. In “His Picture in the Papers,” Fairbanks swims the ocean, fights a goat, and boxes to redeem himself as heir to a health food empire. And, we see him again in “Reggie Mixes in,” a parody of the gangster genre, in which he leaps from a window after a classic knock-down-drag-out fight. But, Douglas Fairbanks wasn’t the only one in stunts in 1916. We also have “The Poison Man,” an episode of “Les Vampires” in which we see different actors scaling buildings, leaping on top of moving trains, and fighting each other. Finally, there’s that other master of physical comedy, Charlie Chaplin, who donned roller skates and literally skated circles around the rest of his cast in “The Rink.”
The nominees for best stunts of 1916 are
- The Matrimaniac
- Flirting with Fate
- His Picture in the Papers
- Reggie Mixes In
- The Poison Man
- The Rink
And the winner is…“The Matrimaniac!”
This was one of the tougher choices I had this year. Each of the nominees had really impressive stunts, and in my reviews I mentioned that several of them had placed the actors at considerable risk. But, I felt that Fairbanks had to get credit for essentially inventing a new style of visual comedy in 1915 and perfecting it in 1916, and that this was the best example of that style and of his physicality as an actor from that year. I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing Fairbanks in future awards, and even that a rivalry between him and Chaplin may become a recurring theme.