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Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I just watched "My Pal Trigger" (1946), an old Roy Rogers/Dale Evans/George "Gabby" Hayes western that is typically fun and wholesome and, yes, corny -- but is nonetheless a safe distance from outright dismissal by movie snobs thanks to the participation of one Yakima Canutt.

Canutt is the brilliant second-unit director whose penchant for envisioning and executing breathtaking stunts -- particularly those involving horses -- in the pre-digital age made many of these old "horse operas" so believable and exciting.

I'd trade one good Yakima Canutt stunt for any 10 action scenes of a CGI-created Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III." (Well, that's not altogether fair. I am, after all, a guy who hopes to go to his grave never having SEEN "Mission: Impossible III.")

Canutt started as a baddie in the westerns. You see him in a lot of those wonderfully quaint 1930s John Wayne "oaters." It's been reported that Canutt taught the Duke a lot about screen riding and fighting.

He honed his specialty for decades. The apex of his career was no less a sequence than the chariot race in "Ben Hur."

Canutt's contributions to "My Pal Trigger" included a fight between two horses; a mountain lion attack on a mare and a nail-biting climactic horse race.

A digression: It's fun to watch old Roy Rogers westerns and imagine that Roy is George W. Bush. Roy actually looks a lot like Dubya, especially when the script calls for facial expressions of confusion or displeasure. Roy's drawl, too, matches up. I'm not kidding -- try it some time. The only thing that breaks the spell is the way Roy speaks in complete sentences.


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