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The Under 700 Club: Steel (1979)
“A Rare Breed of Men ‘Hanging Iron’ 40 Floors High in a Race Against Time, Corruption and Themselves!”
The Under 700 Club: Reviews in under 700 words for movies with less than 700 logs on Letterboxd (log count as of this publication: 365)
How do you hear about new movies? Or rather, movies new to you? Do you listen to podcasts? Letterboxd? Maybe even from this very website? (That would be cool!)
After listening to The Video Archives Podcast, hosted by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery, I knew I had to check out 1979's Steel when they explained that the opening stunt, performed in a record-breaking attempt by stuntman A.J. Bakunas (in which he freefell 315 feet and reached speeds upwards of 115 mph) resulted in Bakunas' death...and they used it in the movie.
I had to see the stunt, I had to see how it fit into the narrative of this movie.
George Kennedy plays “Big” Lew Cassidy, a contractor working on a high-rise in Texas. Fifteen minutes into the movie, his character falls to his death in the aforementioned stunt. Since the stunt is used to depict a character's death, it feels all too real...because of course it does. The reactions in the movie are eerie. (According to Letterboxd, the film was billed in some countries as Look Down and Die.)
The rest is a lot easier to stomach and it's ultimately a pretty fun ride. Cassidy's daughter, Cass (wait, am I just now realizing that her name is Cass Cassidy? How did I not notice that?) is played by the gorgeous Jennifer O’Neill and it's now her responsibility to make sure this building gets built before the deadline, or she loses her father's company.
The first half of the film is a western-troped gathering of the men to get the job done. In fact, one of the film's taglines is The Magnificent Eight!, alluding to the very obvious Magnificent Seven comparison, with both films spending considerable time just getting the gang together. They're led by Lee Majors, a former construction worker turned truck driver who returns for one final job, mainly because he can't say no to O'Neill's Cass. The rest of the gang is a who's who of races and ethnicities, with enough stereotypes to go around: there's the womanizing Italian, the stoic Native Indian named Cherokee, and the incredibly strong black guy. But when they all come together, none of that matters blah blah...
What's left of the film, as pointed out by the Video Archives fellas, is a sports movie-troped race to finish. Completing this building, hanging nine stories in three weeks (which we're led to believe is a near-impossible task; I'm inclined to believe this based solely on eyeballing construction around me) is their version of the big game. It's a stunt-filled (they very clearly have cameras on the tip-top of some open construction) spectacle, a movie about watching people who are really good at their jobs be really good at their jobs.
As a union man myself, I'm not crazy about the fact that the opposition in this film is union regulations...but I get what they're doing: they have to break the rules, be dangerous, work 24/7, blah blah...
The Video Archives guys exclusively watch things on VHS and Tarantino recently showed it on 35mm at the New Beverly Cinema, but you can watch it on YouTube in a really nice-looking HD transfer.
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