freeing New Hollywood from the mirror world
in the allegorical film art
of Richard Rush
by Gary W. Wright
While too old to be a member of New Hollywood, Richard Rush and his docufiction films clearly anticipated and influenced the similar docufiction films of the major directors of New Hollywood, such as Francis Coppola, William Friedkin, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg, and anti-New Hollywood Canadian directors such as James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Norman Jewison, Ted Kotcheff, and Bruce MacDonald. However, the films of Rush also opposed the emphasis on graphic sex and violence that became a hallmark of New Hollywood, and repeatedly warned filmmakers and young viewers that these excesses in film would lead to disaster and death in film and life. These constant cinematic warnings made by Rush in his docufiction films reached their ominous and prescient climax in his masterpiece, THE STUNTMAN (1980), a multi-layered film about making a film with a director obsessed with ‘real’ stunts that eerily anticipated more than any other film before the accident the possibility of the the helicopter crash that killed Vic Morrow and child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le around 2:20 am in the early morning of July 23, 1982 on the George Folsey produced John Landis set of the Frank Marshall executive produced and Kathleen Kennedy associate produced and allegorical Landis, Spielberg Joe Dante and George Miller film, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983), as well as the cessation of the war between Old and New Hollywood into one Hollywood with the arrival and embrace of the artbuster film. An eerie forecast that Rush sadly noticed, for he made the TZ disaster the focus of his last two films, AIR AMERICA (1990), and COLOR OF NIGHT (1994). Interestingly, the docufiction style, themes and concerns that Rush brought to a memorable climax in THE STUNTMAN were already present and fully developed in his first allegorical film, TOO SOON TO LOVE (1960), a naïve but lovely and moving film that he co-wrote, produced and directed in true auteur fashion.
“I think I am going to have a baby.”
Fittingly, the raucous and rowdy gang of youth that commandeered a carnival ride at the beginning of the film-unofficially led by a young Jack Nicholson as Buddy, the self-appointed gang leader, in the first of three film roles with Rush-immediately linked the films of Rush to rebel boomer youth and rebel New Hollywood filmmakers-literally in this case, as Nicholson would soon co-direct the 1963 Roger Corman film, THE TERROR. As a result, the swift pursuit of the rebel teens by two male Keystonne police officers at the beginning of the film eerily anticipated the eventual backlash of the law and society against the filmmakers of New Hollywood after the TZ disaster. The swift arrival of the two indomitable officers also brought tensions between a turbulent Boomer society and the law to the fore for the first time in a Rush film, and anticipated the immediate arrival of two police officers to arrest Steve Railsback’s Cam in a roadside truck stop at the beginning of THE STUNTMAN. The tentative but slowly swelling love of the starcrossed teens Jim Mills and Cathy Taylor-played by Richard Evans and Jennifer West in a fittingly awkward, gawky and naïve performance that perfectly fitted not only the gawky and self-conscious naivete of all first films but also of adolesence-after they were apprehended and released by the police at the beginning of the film anticipated the equally tentative and slowly swelling, starcrossed but sweet and wholesome young love of Cam and Barbara Hershey’s Nina Franklin in THE STUNTMAN. The angry confrontations that soon broke out between Jim and Cathy’s father, Mr. Norm Taylor-played by Warren Parker-again anticipated the backlash of society against New Hollywood after the TZ disaster, and also anticipated the angry confrontations between Cam and Peter O’Toole’s paternal, demanding and manipulative director Eli Cross in THE STUNTMAN.
Jim’s purchase of an antiquated old boat of a car from his bachelor barber friend Hughie Wineman-played by Ralph Manza-so as to impress and drive around Cathy also anticipated THE STUNTMAN. For an equally old, long and anachronistic car-this one a Dusenberg-featured prominently in, and was eventually driven by, Cam in the pentultimate stunt in THE STUNTMAN. Indeed, Rush openly anticipated Cam and linked Jim and his beater to Hollywood and film fantasy by having Jim work at the concession stand of a suburban L.A. drive-in-making TOO SOON TO LOVE the first of many Rush films to be openly set on the Pacific coast-and by having Jim and Cathy experience their first major kissing session in the car on a clifftop to the sound of the film’s swelling love theme while overlooking the familiar lights of L.A., the ominous site of the future TZ disaster. The fact that Jim was initially solely reflected in Hughie’s barbershop mirror as he pleaded with the older man to sell him his old car for $100 before the older bachelor added his reflection to the scene reinforced the car’s link to celluloid fantasy, a link of cars, mirrors and other reflective surfaces to fantasy that returned in THE STUNTMAN.
Unfortunately for Jim-and later Cam-this first mirror reflection was also the first signal that a character was departing from stable, sane, and life affirming reality and entering a parallel, fantastic, lawless and unstable dream world in a Rush film. For soon after buying the car and kissing on the clifftop, Jim and Cathy consummated their relationship one night on the rocky shore of a tempestuously surging L.A. beach. Indeed, the sight of Cathy taking off her hair ribbon before she fell down in an eager embrace with Jim signalled her acceptance of sex, with the respectful way the camera turned away from the embracing lovers and followed the ribbon as it blew out into the turbulent surf before the camera faded out a sign of the loss of the virginity of Cathy, the gentlemanly ways of Rush, and the end of Act One.
Soon after in Act Two-not long after Jim expressed his undying love for Cathy in the empty drive-in theatre, openly affirming the link between love and film witht the love of film-Jim discovered to his horror that he had indeed walked and driven down the wrong path after buying the car from Hughie when a distraught Cathy told him she was pregnant. This caused Jim to travel even further down the wrong path when he counseled the sweet and horrified Cathy to have an illegal abortion. Unfortunately, no sooner did Jim counsel Cathy to have an abortion than he was back in Hughie’s barbershop, asking the unrepentant bachelor for help in procuring the illegal abortion for Cathy. Significantly, not only did Hughie provide Jim with the name and address of Billie Bird’s Mrs. Jefferson-suggesting that the roguish bachelor was familiar with the abortion process-he was also seen first in the barbershop mirror in the scene, and then dominated the mirror with his reflection throughout the rest of the scene. This underlined that not only Jim but now Hughie were both travelling down the wrong path in the opinion of Rush, a diseased and unstable path that Rush had earlier anticipated by having the reflection of Hughie appear in the barbershop mirror with the reflection of Jim at the end of their first scene together. However, and lucky for Jim, Cathy and Hughie, the drive from the quiet L.A. suburbs to a dark and seamy city street filled with strip joints and battered bars, and then a tense walk down a grimy back alley to the ominous door in the back of a building leading to hell-complete with empty Diablo vegetable box lying on top of the garbage can outside-and the back alley abortion was so unpleasant and horrific-complete with suitably ominous music straight out of a Fifties horror film-and the meeting with a traumatized young couple complete with an ashen faced, weeping and stiff walking woman coming down the staircase inside was so equally traumatic for the two loveswept teens that they fled the building and the abortion and returned to the surging and tempestuous surf and the rocky beach of their first lovemaking tryst that ended Act One to bemoan their plight and end Act Two.
But not end on the right path, for Jim and a sympathetic doctor-played by William Keene-again tried to convince Cathy to have a legal abortion. This caused Jim to walk even further down the wrong path, for the legal abortion was so expensive that Jim was forced to break in and rob the safe of the concession stand where he worked at the drive-in. This robbery suggested that Rush was worried that he would abort his career by giving in to temptations to direct for easy money rather than for the higher purposes of true film art, implying that Jim symbolized Rush. Curiously, this led Jim to be caught in the act by the drive-in manager, who used his flashlight to find him huddled behind the concession stand counter with the stolen money before Jim fled the scene-a flashlight aided illegal discovery that would also figure prominently in THE STUNTMAN. Racing to Cathy’s house to give her the stolen money, Jim was horrified to see that the revelation that he had robbed the drive-in to pay for her abortion sent poor sweet Cathy over the edge, causing her to flee her house and Jim in her father’s newer car and race back to the surging and rock strewn beach that ended Acts One and Two and drown herself in the tempestuous surf to end Act Three on a truly Shakespearean note.
Luckily for Cathy and the viewer, however, Jim severed the link to the end of Romeo and Juliet by following her in Hughie’s beater and throwing himself into the surf and rescuing her, anticipating a similar rescue of Nina by Cam in the surging surf off San Diego at the beginning of THE STUNTMAN. The fact that Jim then pledged to marry sweet Cathy and look after her and the baby no matter what brought all three characters away from the horror of abortion and back on the right path at last no matter what the cost, and also implied that the process of making TOO SOON TO LOVE had made Rush more confident and hopeful that he would not abort his film career with this first sweet and self conscious film and would give birth to a successful film career as devoted to film art as Jim was to Cathy in the end, as well.
Curiously, Don Owen implicitly replied to Rush in his allegorical film, NOBODY WAVED GOODBYE (1964), which was in many ways a remake of TOO SOON TO LOVE. The big difference was that NOBODY WAVED GOODBYE ended with troubled male teen hero Peter Mark-played by Peter Kastner-driving off into the darkness in a stolen 1964 Chrysler Belvedere without his pregnant girlfriend, Julie Grant-played by Julie Biggs-implying that Owen did not think that Rush would succeed as a film artist. However, despite Owen’s implicit doubts, succeed Rush did, leading eventually to his next allegorical film, THUNDER ALLEY (1967), which was the next one to review as the other Rush films of the early Sixties are not available on DVD or youtube.
“We’re staging a race.”
Indeed, from the opening air shot of the Daytona 500 speedway in Daytona Beach, FL-that surprisingly served notice that this latest Rush film was not set on the West Coast as usual-to the calm and expert drivers roaring around the track to the tune of ‘Thunder Alley’ by the Band Without a Name, THUNDER ALLEY immediately exuded a confidence that was absent in TOO SOON TO LOVE, with the old boat of Jim transformed into the powerful and professional stock racing car of Fabian’s Tommy Callahan. The absence of the reflections of the main characters in mirrors and windows throughout the film, implying that no character was falling from the right path as in TOO SOON TO LOVE, reaffirmed that newfound directorial confidence. However, the fact that Callahan suffered a blackout in the opening Daytona 500 race caused by a traumatic childhood memory of a go-cart crash that killed his brother, leading to a fiery and TZ disaster-like accident that killed another driver, underlined that peril still lurked in the world of film for Rush and his characters and still approached for the directors of New Hollywood in 1982.
In fact, as with the careers of Landis, Lucas and Spielberg after the TZ disaster, the fatal crash aborted the stock car racing career of Callahan and banned him, forcing Callahan to find work with the Madsen Thrill Circus of Jan Murray’s Pete Madsen, a middle aged, mischievous and manipulative director-like ringleader who liked to block out and stage stunts like a director and who anticipated Eli Cross in THE STUNTMAN. This change of careers and drop in status implied that Rush was worried that he would crack under the pressure if he ever made the A-film circuit, and would be forced to work in B-movies for the rest of his life. Thus, it was significant that Callahan’s impressive work as a stunt driver with the Madsen Thrill Circus not only anticipated THE STUNTMAN yet again, but impressed the powers that be, who granted Callahan permission to drive again in the bigs and win the Darlington 500 in Darlington, SC-and win the reluctant admiration of Johnny Reb. An impressive performance that also aroused the admiration and love of Annette Funicello’s plucky Francie Madsen, who stole Callahan away from Diane McBain’s Annie Blaine like Cathy stole Jim away from Jacqueline Schwab’s Irene in TOO SOON TO LOVE. Indeed, Francie was linked to Cathy and hence the art of film throughout THUNDER ALLEY, implying that Rush was hopeful that like Callahan he too could overcome any lingering doubts and cope with the pressure of the A-film circuit, as well, and win the affection of a loving spouse and an Oscar for best director.
An A-film circuit that drew nearer, as the stunt driving and barroom brawl of THUNDER ALLEY brought Rush closer to the stunt driving and fisticuffs of THE STUNTMAN. Funicello’s singing of the film’s theme song ‘When You Get What You Want’ also anticipated Dusty Springfield and her singing of ‘Bits and Pieces’, the theme song of THE STUNTMAN, as well as the Poor’s rendition of ‘Study in Motion #1’, the theme song of the allegorical neo-Western, HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967).
“It’s so funny, you could cry.”
An important film that saw Rush perfect his docufiction style and experiment with his trademark Rush focus, HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS also affirmed that Rush was as committed to higher film art and A-film success and as opposed to dangerous and exploitative filmmaking as he was in THUNDER ALLEY and TOO SOON TO LOVE. For although Nicholson’s restless and disaffected Poet tagged along briefly with a group of perennially adolescent and First Native-like outlaw bikers, he finally faced down Adam Roarke’s Buddy-the leader of the Bay area Hell’s Angels chapter that tried to lure him away from the ‘square’ life-in classic Western fashion, in the end. An ending that we had been prepared for, as despite his name, Rush had Poet dress in the worn brown leather jacket, blue jeans and cowboy boots of a true Western hero to affirm his good cowboy status throughout the film.
Thus, Rush clearly declared his intention to triumph over and leave behind the B-movie world of exploitation film where he had learned and mastered his cinematic craft and move on to better things in HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS. A direction that would avoid senseless sex and violence and also urge audiences and the directors of New Hollywood to do the same, underlined by the sight of Poet walking away in disgust from his film ending fight with Buddy-and by the sight of Buddy pushing a fellow biker off his motorcycle so as to commandeer the bike and run over Poet, only to be burned alive when the gas tank exploded in the crash of the stolen cycle. Curiously, the fiery death of Buddy allowed Nicholson to triumph over his own sadolecent side, as Nicholson had played an outlaw teen leader named Buddy in TOO SOON TO LOVE. Indeed, Rush openly linked Buddy and his outlaw biker friends to Buddy and his teen friends throughout HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS to emphasize their status as arrested adolescents, complete with an instrumental theme that evoked the teen gang ‘Jet Song’ from WEST SIDE STORY (1957). The reflections of the gang in bar room mirrors and windows also emphasized that they had parted ways with reality. Rush also linked Poet to Jim throughout the film to underline that he was still as committed to his love of morally instructional film art-symbolized by Sabrina Scharf’s Shill-as he was in TOO SOON TO LOVE. In addition, the rooftop view of San Francisco that began the film not only announced that Rush was back in California, but also anticipated the Haight-Ashbury district of his next allegorical film, PSYCH-OUT (1967).
“Hey, man, it’s not money. It’s life!”
Ironically, after ending HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS fighting over Shill, Nicholson and Roarke returned united in cosmic and psychedelic music, love and brotherhood as Stoney and Ben in PSYCH-OUT. A brotherhood not without fisticuffs, however, as the two teamed up at one point with Max Julien’s stoned Elwood to beat up a gang of adult toughs lead by two actors-Gary Kent and John Cardos-already seen in a brawl between the Angels and a group of bar patrons in HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS. This linked the anti-establishment Angels to the counter-cultural hippies, a link affirmed by the marijuana sold by the Angels to the hippies. However, despite this link to outlaw bikers, Ben, Elwood and Stoney saved Susan Strasberg’s Jenny Davis in the process, implying that Rush hoped that the more heady and enlightened hearts, minds, souls, music, philosophies and culture of the hippies of Haight-Ashbury would save film and American society. Indeed, Rush affirmed his hope by the fact that the mirrors and windows that were missing in THUNDER ALLEY but had returned in HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS to reflect the outlaw bikers and groupie girls and underscore that the bikers had parted ways with law, order and reality did not show up to reflect the hippies until a club scene at the end of PSYCH-OUT.
Rush also allowed the viewer to hope that Davis, who had gone deaf as a child as a result of severe emotional and verbal abuse from her mother, would be cured of her psychological malady by her time with the more tolerant, peaceful and loving hippies-like Callahan was cured of his blackout causing childhood memory block in THUNDER ALLEY-and emerge in the end with her hearing restored, implying the hope of Rush that the world of Hollywood film would start listening to and appreciating the changes in American society and reflecting on those changes in its films. As long as Davis, Ben, Elwood and Stoney avoided too powerful drugs like STP, a drug whose nickname evoked the STP automotive products of THUNDER ALLEY but was slang for a psychedelic with a long lasting effect. A good idea, as the casual use of STP by Davis caused her to run into the streets and almost be killed by the surging waves of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge until she was rescued by Ben, Stoney and Dean Stockwell’s Dave, a rescue that evoked Jim’s rescue of Cathy in the surging surf of an L.A. beach at the end of TOO SOON TO LOVE in a way that reaffirmed that Rush was still as committed to film art as Jim was to Cathy.
Unfortunately, Rush also dabbled with mainstream Hollywood film art with the allegorical, implicitly Stanley Kubrick bashing and James Bond mocking film, A MAN CALLED DAGGER (1967). Luckily, the dismal film convinced him to accept the bigger Hollywood budgets that came with his increasing fame and use that money to continue creating idiosyncratic indie film art, like his next allegorical film, GETTING STRAIGHT (1970).
‘It’s not what you do that counts, its what you are.’
However, while striding boldly into the Seventies and leaving behind his B-movie past, Rush made it clear in GETTING STRAIGHT that he was no longer certain that he wanted A-movie status. This uncertainty was expressed through the raucous and ranting life of Elliot Gould’s Harry Bailey. For Bailey, a disgruntled Vietnam War veteran-who anticipated Railsback’s equally disgruntled Vietnam War vet Cameron in THE STUNTMAN-was finishing up his final weeks of college in Oregon in order to get an English teaching degree so as to teach and liberate sadolescent high school students and do his part to shape and unleash dynamic new citizens on the US who would create a brave new society free from the rampant ethnicism, racism and sexism and economic and religious conflict that bedeviled the US. However, being caught having his friend Nick-played by Robert F. Lyons-cheat for him on a critical final test caused Bailey to be rejected by the teaching programme, who declared him to be too dishonest for teaching duty. Significantly, Bailey then deliberately destroyed his chance to pass an English Master’s oral exam so that he could teach English to the college students by openly mocking the WASP heads of the English programme in one of the most tragicomic, sadly beautiful and heterosexually affirming rants ever committed to film at the climatic end of GETTING STRAIGHT. Not surprisingly, in traditional Rush fashion, both of these failures had been anticipated by the sight of Bailey’s reflection in various mirrors and windows along the way, reflections that had confirmed that Bailey was leaving track of reality.
Thus, by the end of the film, Bailey had reluctantly accepted that he would not be teaching teenagers, and would also not be accepted as a Master. This dual and concluding acceptance reminded us that the films that Rush had made so far had also not connected in a big way with adolescents and become box office hits, and that his oeuvre had also not led him to be hailed as a true auteur and hence a film Master, linking Rush to Bailey. And so, with Bailey breaking free from the college establishment and also not rising up with the angry students and trashing the college at the end of the film, Rush implied that he was resigning himself to an obscure and quirky film career that would also not connect with youth or have him hailed as an established film Master. Indeed, Rush underlined that resignation by having Bailey ignore the rioting students and National Guardsmen that battled each other at the end of the film and reach out and make love instead to Candice Bergen’s idealistic Jan, an affirmatively heterosexual embrace that clearly symbolized the newfound resignation but still passionate commitment of Rush to a quirky and independent film career that would be about pleasing himself from now on instead of young people or the Establishment, as much as Bailey pleased himself with Jan.
Curiously, Vic Morrow appeared to agree, for he implicitly toasted Rush in the symbolic form of indie outlaw Luther Sledge-played by James Garner-in the allegorical film, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE. As for Rush, his resigned but still passionate commitment to a personal, quirky and gleefully idiosyncratic film art was openly confirmed when Rush returned to the big screen producer/director with his most quirky, quixotic and ranting allegorical film to date, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, aka DER SUPERSCHNUFFLER (1974).
‘You pushed him into doing it!’
For the brawling and madcap film underlined that it was doing its own thing to clearly spite viewers and critics and emphasize the new personal approach of Rush by focusing on two lower class Keystone San Francisco police detectives who evoked Bailey and Nick of GETTING STRAIGHT-known as Freebie and Bean, and played by James Caan and Alan Arkin, respectively-whose tense and strained position between regular citizens and their superiors again symbolically evoked the equally tense and strained position of Rush between the teen film crowd and the auteur crowd already symbolically seen in GETTING STRAIGHT. The fact that Bean and Freebie tracked down one of the bad ‘guys’-a makeup mirror and hence reflective and wrong life loving transvestite played by Christopher Morley-mostly unnoticed by teeming crowds at Candlestick Park while the Super Bowl was being played in the background at the end of the film reaffirmed that Rush was resigned to an obscure film career dedicated to art, law and the truth but removed, like the lives of Freebie and the Bean, from popular acceptance, fame and fortune. This strained and idiosyncratic position was also underlined by the many sarcastic nods the film made to popular hits like Peter Yates’ BULLITT (1968), Don Siegel’s DIRTY HARRY (1971), William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), and the soft core films of Russ Meyer-the latter literally embodied in the portly and avuncular mobster form of the other bad guy, Jack Kruschen’s Red Meyers-nods that made it clear that the man who warned teens and New Hollywood filmmakers against premarital sex in TOO SOON TO LOVE, dangerous driving in THUNDER ALLEY, joining gangs in HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS, and too powerful psychedelic drugs in PSYCH-OUT was not pleased with the graphic sex and violence in the films of Friedkin, Meyer and Yates and was again warning teens and filmmakers to avoid the Dark Side in their lives and films and stick to the Light path.
Indeed, Rush reiterated his dislike of too much sex and violence in life and film art by appearing in an uncredited cameo as the healing and harmonizing dentist in the scene where Meyers is almost killed by Whitey Hughes’ Detroit hitman, Broder. Given that Freebie and the Bean operated independently in San Francisco like Francis Coppola and George Lucas, and that Caan had appeared in Coppola’s THE RAIN PEOPLE (1969) and THE GODFATHER (1970), Rush also implied that Freebie and the Bean symbolized Coppola and Lucas and that their triumph over Meyers equated with the hope of Rush that the films of controversial New Hollywood filmmakers were preferable to those of Meyer, and that Coppola and Lucas and their colleagues in New Hollywood would triumph over those of Meyer in the affections of audiences, in the end. Curiously, it was an underlying message that seemed to annoy writer/director Colin Higgins, for he felt it necessary to return to San Francisco and track down and kill the Rush linked albino hitman Rupert Stiltskin-played by Marc Lawrence-in the tragicomic San Franciso Symphony end of his allegorical San Fran police comedy, FOUL PLAY (1978).
Despite this memorable roast, the confirmation that the clearly frustrated and resigned but still passionate commitment of Rush to high spiritual, moral and artistic ideals was still on track to reach its apotheosis in THE STUNTMAN was confirmed in FREEBIE AND THE BEAN by the return of Chuck Bail and John Garwood-stuntman and stunt co-ordinator in HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS and GETTING STRAIGHT, and Buddy’s biker lieutenant Jocko in HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS, respectively-as a Detroit Cadillac salesman mistaken for a hitman out to kill Meyers and Meyers’ chauffeur, respectively; by the arrival of Hughes and Alex Rocco as one of the real hitmen out to kill Meyers and the DA overseer of Freebie and Bean, respectively; and by the arrival of composer Dominic Frontiere and his ragtime inflected theme ‘You and Me’. For all of these fine actors would combine again with Frontiere and another ragtime inflected film theme when Rush lashed out in outraged fury over Joe Dante’s depiction of young filmmakers as completely out of control, indifferent to human life, and obsessed with money and sex in his allegorical film, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976)-co-directed with Allan Arkush-in his finest allegorical and Ozian themed film, THE STUNTMAN.
‘I don’t even know if he knows why he’s doin’ it, but it’s a great idea…a genuine dumb grunt, cashing in before your very eyes.’
Indeed, Rush made it clear from the outset that he was meditating on his entire oeuvre in THE STUNTMAN. For the almost immediate arrival of Frontiere’s ragtime inflected Main Theme evoked the similarly ragtime inflected theme ‘You and Me’ from FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, preparing the viewer for more exciting stunts to come. The swift arrival of the Keystone police, hot on the pursuit of Railsback’s Cam, also reaffirmed the link to FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and brought the Keystone Kops back to the films of Rush, this time also linked to the pursuing flying monkeys of Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West in Victor Fleming’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). The appearance of the Charlie Manson-like-indeed, Railsback had played Manson in Tom Gries’ HELTER SKELTER (1976)-Vietnam vet Cam evoked Gould’s Vietnam vet Harry Bailey in GETTING STRAIGHT, preparing us for more rants against society and the establishment to come from Cam. Cam’s scarey and ragged appearance also made it clear that the Scarecrow had arrived in this Ozian themed film. In addition, Cam’s escape from an arrest by the police in the roadside diner at the beginning of the film and his flight to a nearby film set on Coronado Island in the boy off San Diego not only openly linked the characters and then actors of the films of Rush to filmmakers and filmmaking for the first time, but also brought Bail, Garwood, Hughes, Roarke and Rocco back to the films of Rush as Chuck, the stunt co-ordinator of World War I action film DEVIL’S SQUADRON; Gabe, the Director of Photography; Whitey, the First Assistant Director; Raymond Bailey, the stunt double requiring and hence Cowardly Lion star of DEVIL’S SQUADRON, whose name openly linked the film to Harry Bailey and GETTING STRAIGHT; and Jake, the Wicked Police Chief who was as eager to capture Cam as the Wicked Witch of the West was to capture Judy Garland’s Dorothy and her little Cairn terrier Toto in the allegorical and implicitly Wallis Simpson bashing Victor Fleming film, THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). Indeed, the arrival of Barbara Hershey’s Nina Franklin-a name which evoked L. Frank Baum, the author of the allegorical and implicitly Queen Victoria bashing children’s story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)-quickly returned Dorothy to the film, along with Peter O’Toole’s Great Oz film director Eli Cross, and Allen Garfield’s frozen and morose Tin Man screenplay writer Sam Baum to affirm the film’s Ozian structure.
Thus, with so many personnel returning from previous Rush films, the open link of the characters to filmmakers, and the characters of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the film’s healing and harmonizing Ozian plot, and the film long fear that the Great Cross was an out of control director trying to kill Cam-who Cross had recognized as a fellow rebel and outsider and had persuaded to become the film’s stuntman after the film’s primary stuntman with the Bert Lahr evoking name of Burt (played by Michael Railsback) died mysteriously while performing a dangerous car crash off a bridge at the prologue of the film, becoming the film’s Wicked Witch of the East figure whose death unlocked the gates to the healing dream-the implication was that Rush was acknowledging that his previous films were all allegories the warned young filmmakers not to condone or engage in out of control behavior on set or in their own lives of set, and that Rush was now worried that he had betrayed his strict moral principles with the dangerous stunts of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and, as a result, had become an out of control directo who had inadvertently encouraged younger directors to embrace dangerous stunts in their films and perhaps even dangerous lifestyles, as well.
A valid fear, as dangerous and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN-like stuntwork featured prominently the same year that THE STUNTMAN was released in John Landis’ THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), underlining that a film that triumphed over dangerous stunts and directos and returned the world to the right path in the healing and harmonizing Ozian end was perfect timing in 1980. That the ending of the film allowed Cam and Cross to finally end their film long struggle and to relax and accept each other, and to agree to work together to finish DEVIL’S SQUADRON, was also significant. For the ending signalled that the struggle that had taken place between Old and New Hollywood since the late Sixties was now over, and that the idealistic and Vietnam War scarred Cams of New Hollywood and the crassly commercial and manipulative Crosses of Old Hollywood would now unite into one Hollywood with their dual embrace of the commercial and idealistic artbuster film that had rocked the box office three years earlier with the arrival of the crass space pirate Han Solo-played by Harrison Ford-and the idealistic Jedi Knight hopeful Luke Skywalker-played by Mark Hamill-in Lucas’ STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977). Unfortunately, Landis did not get the message, leading to the TZ disaster two years later, and to Rush ruefully mediating on the TZ disaster, its effects on New Hollywood directors and the dread Zone War that had broken out between them and allegorically addressing and humourously exorcising that conflict in the Rush co-written and initially directed, and Roger Spottiswoode finished film, AIR AMERICA.
‘If you can’t laugh at war, what’s the use of fighting?’
Indeed, in recreating the lives of a bunch of half crazed and adrenaline addicted American pilots in Laos who covertly flew CIA supply planes-one numbered 238, only one number off the 237 date of the TZ disaster-for a secretive airline called Air America to villagers and American backed soldiers in Laos and Vietnam in the early Seventies-linking the film to the culture and chaos of GETTING STRAIGHT and PSYCH-OUT-and who struggled to cope with getting shot down on a regular basis like the helicopter of the TZ disaster, Rush openly and allegorically addressed the lives of the half crazed and adrenaline obsessed American directors of New Hollywood and their struggle to cope with the TZ disaster. Indeed, the embattled and outlaw pilots of Air America evoked the embattled Great War flyers of DEVIL’S SQUADRON, the film being made in THE STUNTMAN and the outlaw bikers of HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS, confirming the links of the pilots of Air America to filmmakers and to the previous films of Rush. To underline the allegory, a helicopter piloted by the Bean and Freebie-like male leads Billy Covington and Gene Ryack-played by Robert Downey, jr. and Mel Gibson, respectively-spiralled to the ground and crashed into the jungles of Vietnam after its tail rotor was knocked out by a Viet Cong bullet, openly linking the film to the TZ disaster and the pilots of Air America to the TZ disaster haunted directors of New Hollywood.
Fittingly, the crash implied that Covington and Ryack symbolized Spielberg and Landis, the two New Hollywood directors most effected by the TZ disaster. Indeed, the film often seemed like a high flying version of the equally zany and allegorical Landis film, ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), confirming the link to Landis. The fact that many of the male leads and co-stars appeared in films in 1982-such as Gibson as Captain Paul Kelly in Tim Burstall’s ATTACK FORCE Z (1982), Burt Kwouk as Cato Fong in Blake Edwards’ TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER (1982) and as General Lu Soong in AIR AMERICA, and Tim Thomerson as Dr. Knute Lanyon in Jerry Belson’s JEKYLL AND HYDE…TOGETHER AGAIN (1982)-a satirical send-up of Landis-and as Babo in AIR AMERICA-reaffirmed the film’s interest in Landis and 1982 and implied that the other directors symbolized the other directors of New Hollywood. Thus, the fact that Covington, Ryack and most of the other pilots of Air America survived their feverish sojourn in Laos and Vietnam and rescued a group of Laotian villagers in the end-successfully rescuing them like Morrow had tried to rescue Chen and Le-implied that Rush and Spottiswoode hoped that the directors of New Hollywood would also survive the TZ disaster and the Zone Wars and move on to other things, in the end. This interest in addressing and exorcising TZ disaster effected New Hollywood directors continued and ended in the final allegorical and Ozian themed Rush film, COLOR OF NIGHT.
‘To deny red is to deny emotion.’
Significantly, COLOR OF NIGHT immediately showcased all of the favourite visual quirks and themes of Rush in a way that immediately affirmed that it was heading off into a dangerous, lawless and twilit fantasy world. For the film began with Kathleen Wilhoite’s despondent and implicitly Wicked Witch of the East linked Michelle in front of a mirror furiously applying blood red lipstick to her lips and teeth in her claustrophobic New York apartment, confirming that Michelle and the viewer were parting ways with a healthy and harmonious reality. In the next scene, Michelle and her psychiatrist, the implicitly Lucas and Great Oz linked, Bill Capa-played by Bruce Willis-were reflected in the mirrors and windows of his equally claustrophobic office, implying that Capa was now leaving behind reality with Michelle as Hughie did with Jim in TOO SOON TO LOVE. Not surprisingly, Michelle soon leaped out of Capa’s window to her doom in a gruesomely real sequence, shocking Capa so badly that he went color blind, with the pool of blood he could see gathering around her body on the street below changing from red to grey. Of course, this loss of the ability to see red due to trauma evoked Jenny’s loss of hearing due to childhood trauma in PSYCH-OUT.
A fitting link, as Capa soon headed to California like Jenny, landing in L.A. and seeking solace in the company of his friend and fellow psychiatrist, the implicitly Spielberg linked and resembling Bob Moore-played by Scott Bakula-who lived in a fortress of a house that evoked the Black Castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. Significantly, the number of the fortress was 29377, affirming the film’s implicitly twilit intent. Here Capa found more troubled artists who evoked Bruce Dern’s the Seeker of PSYCH-OUT, in the form of Andrew Lowery’s implicitly David Lynch linked wood artisan, Dale Dexter, and Kevin J. O’Connor’s implicitly Tim Burton and Scarecrow linked painter, Casey Heinz. Capa also discovered more troubled patients, including Heinz, Lance Henriksen’s implicitly Marshall and Tin Man linked Buck, the implicitly Kennedy and Glinda linked Sondra-played by Lesley Ann Warren, who linked the film openly to 1982 via her character Norma Cassady in the allegorical Blake Edwards film, VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982), and Brad Dourif’s implicitly Cowardly Lion linked Clark, who also reaffirmed the film’s interest in Lynch by way of his roles as Piter De Vries in the twilit and allegorical Lynch film, DUNE (1984), and Raymond in the equally twilit and allegorical Lynch film, BLUE VELVET (1986). Last but not least was the most troubled and complex of all the patients, Jane March’s implicitly Sofia Coppola and Dorothy linked Rose Dexter, who spent most of the film pretending to be her dead brother, Richie Dexter. When she wasn’t passing herself off as Richie, Rose was usually pretending to be the ironically named Bonnie, the film’s implicit Wicked Witch of the West, a truly bewitching character who used her beauty and sensuality to wrap Buck, Capa, Clark, Heinz and Sondra around her finger and who implicitly symbolized the equally bewitching art of film. Significanlty, the slow discovery that Rose was having a relationship with all of the other patients and with Capa reminded us that Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer was slowly discovered to be having relationships with all sorts of people in the town of Twin Peaks, WA in the allegorical Lynch telefilm series, TWIN PEAKS (1990-1), and the allegorical Lynch film, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), reaffirming the implicit Lynch roasting intent of the film.
Soon after the arrival of Capa in L.A., Moore was stabbed to death by someone with a rotoring blade that evoked the rotors of the falling helicopter of the TZ disaster. Indeed, as Moore lay gasping out his last breaths in his office, a helicopter was seen through a window flying by outside, affirming the implicit link between Moore’s murder and the TZ disaster, and reminding us that the disaster had killed the career and reputation of Spielberg. The fact that Moore’s murderer turned out to be Dexter, who had gone psycho as a result of being molested by a psychiatrist named Dr. Niedelmeyer as a youth, also confirmed the film’s interest in the actions of Landis. For Dr. Niedelmeyer’s surname evoked the character Niedermeyer-played by Mark Metcalf-in ANIMAL HOUSE. Thus, by allowing Rose to kill Dale in the end with a nail gun, Rush implicitly struck back at Lynch, probably in retaliation for the universally hated TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. Indeed, the name of Dale Dexter evoked that of Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, while Dexter’s fondness for working with wood reminded us that Lynch liked working with wood, affirming Dexter’s implicit link to Lynch. A healing and harmonizing ending that saw Capa embracing Rose like Jim embraced Cathy at the end of TOO SOON TO LOVE, and that brought lost viewers and film artists out of the twilit mirror world and back on the right path of the real world in classic Rush fashion, allowing us all to experience a truly heady and transformative Gold Rush.