One of Hollywood’s most successful and influential stuntmen recounts a life filled with fast living, hard partying and dozens of broken bones.
In most on-screen situations, stuntmen are seen and not heard. Needham, a true innovator of his craft who’s not shy about touting his accomplishments, is a colorful exception. Growing up as a poor sharecropper’s son in Arkansas, the undereducated author parlayed stints as a tree climber and paratrooper into a career as a stuntman at a time when there was a high demand for men willing to fling themselves from horseback, get blown up and choreograph a bar brawl. His (self-proclaimed) ingenuity, willingness to try anything and work ethic soon led to more work than he could handle. Needham began to train other stuntmen, working his way up to the position of stunt coordinator and second-unit director while still performing death-defying falls, car crashes and jumps alongside of or doubling some of the most famous actors in the business, including John Wayne and Burt Reynolds. His stories are by turns entertaining and gripping, including an account of running in the real cross-country Cannonball race—the inspiration for the comedy classic Cannonball Run, which Needham directed—and a daring escape from Prague amid a movie shoot after an invasion by Russian troops. After a while, though, the author’s self-aggrandizing style, peppered with braggadocio and oozing machismo, becomes monotonous, rendering what could have been an exhilarating and enlightening insider’s guide from a groundbreaking performer into little more than a self-serving memoir that strokes an already well-stroked ego.
One can’t help but wonder whether a night of drinking with the author might be more fun than reading this exhaustive chronicle. A little Hal goes a long way.