Buster Keaton And 5 Other Actors Who Put Their Lives In Danger On Film

By Katey Rich 2013-04-09 11:22:43discussion comments
Stories of people being injured on movie sets are always terrifying and maybe a little bit thrilling, depending on how bad the injury is. Knowing that Rooney Mara's bruises in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were real gives us a sense of how committed she was to playing the character. Brad Pitt tearing his Achilles tendon while playing Achilles in Troy is a shame, but also hilarious. Then again, there's stories like this one, in which you wonder if making something as silly as a movie is really worth that kind of danger.

Then there's a whole other category of injuries, in which actors or even directors are deliberately put through hell in order to get the shot. Cracked has a great article about some of those incidents, appropriately titled "6 Classic Movies Made Possible by Reckless Endangerment." There's Jim Caviezel "accidentally" getting whipped while making The Passion of the Christ, Chow Yun-Fat nearly getting burned alive in Hard Boiled, and then this amazing story about Buster Keaton, the famous silent comedian who directed his own films and had no problem putting himself in serious danger. Here's the gif of one extremely famous scene, along with Cracked's details about how Keaton got the shot:


How do you suppose they did that? A cardboard facade? Photo trickery? Animatronics? Nothing so fancy: They just dropped a two-ton wall on a guy and hoped he didn't get squashed. And yes, that's the real Buster Keaton, not a double, and since he also co-wrote and co-directed this movie, it's his own damn fault he was there.

They couldn't use a fake wall because it would have rippled in the wind from the cyclone, and Keaton didn't want fanboys going on their telegraphs and complaining that the scene looked fake. According to Keaton, the opening was "exactly 3 inches over my head and each shoulder" -- had a single person involved in the stunt miscalculated, this would have turned into a snuff film. If the movie wasn't silent, you'd probably hear a bunch of people going "BY GOLLY!" and "MOTHER FUCK!" -- apparently, the whole crew looked away as the thing fell.

They also describe Keaton as "a cross between Charlie Chaplin and the entire cast of Jackass," which goes at least part of the way toward explaining why Keaton remains so beloved by film fans, even those of us who just want to take his hand and lead him somewhere safe, maybe with a cup of tea.

Do you have any favorite stories about actors putting their lives in danger for the sake of a great shot? Share 'em in the comments below. Or watch Steamboat Bill Jr. in its entirety, thanks to the wonders of modern life:


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