Mind Blowing Movies: The Curse Of Mr. Bean

Mm200Last week, Boing Boing presented a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. We are extending the series for several additional days. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series. -- Mark

[Video Link]To date, the most mind-blowing film I've ever seen was 1980's The Stunt Man, directed by Richard Rush. This movie truly had exactly that sort of effect on me, through scene after scene, until the very end.

And by "the very end" I don't mean "the end of the movie." I mean "the very end of the VHS cassette I first saw it on." I sat there in my chair, staring blankly at the screen with this fixed, open-mouth grin on my face after the credits rolled and the screen went to black. There was some blinking. No drooling as far as I can recall, but otherwise, I spent those several minutes staring at a black screen and trying to process what I'd just seen. What blew my mind wasn't the story itself so much as how it'd been told. As I reviewed the experience, I started to appreciate that The Stunt Man is possibly the finest magic trick I'd ever seen. The trick is over, it gratefully releases its grip on your sense of free will and independent observation, and you start to appreciate just how skilled the magician was.

This happy mental state was only broken by the THUNK of the tape stopping at the end of the leader and then auto-rewinding in the VHS deck.

But I'm precluded from choosing and discussing The Stunt Man for a couple of reasons.

First, while it's a movie I love to recommend to people, I adamantly believe that you should watch The Stunt Man knowing only two things in advance:

1) Peter O'Toole is in it;

2) Peter O'Toole is good in anything.

(Before you skip down to the bottom of the page to click a button and post a snarky reply: yes, I have seen Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage, as a matter of fact. And yes, Peter O'Toole was good in that, as well.)

When I sat down to see the movie for the first time, I didn't know anything about The Stunt Man other than it was a Peter O'Toole film that I had never seen. Two hours and ten minutes later, while the film was rewinding and just before I gave it an immediate second viewing, I intuitively understood that if I'd known that it was a comedy (or a drama) (or an action movie) (or a thriller with a twist ending) (or no twist ending), or that Peter O'Toole was the focus of the whole story (or that his role was barely of any consequence)... no, it wouldn't have been the same experience.

You have to watch it as a blank slate. It's a mind blowing movie. You have to allow "The Stunt Man" to pursue its own agenda with you, on its own timetable. It's ruined if you're two thirds of the way through and suddenly think of a scene from the trailer that you hasn't appeared yet. And the effect is certainly going to be ruined if I explain in advance why I think it's a mind-blowing movie.

The second reason I shouldn't talk about The Stunt Man is because it wasn't, in fact, the first thing that came to mind when I started thinking about "Mind blowing movies (or TV shows or whatever)."

It's actually a little bit embarrassing.

It was The Curse Of Mr. Bean.

(And now you're tabbing back into your Netflix queue and deleting The Stunt Man from your list. I know. But I please reconsider.)

In the second sketch of that episode, Mr. Bean is in his Mini trying to figure out how to leave a commercial parking garage without either smashing through a barrier or, worse, paying the £16 parking fee. He's stymied at every turn. Cars enter and leave, and his clear shot to the street is always closed off at the last frustrating second.

Finally... the blue Reliant Robin makes an appearance.

All fans of "Mr. Bean" smile and settle in for the joke that's coming. We all know that however Mr. Bean solves the puzzle and gets out of the parking garage, it's going to involve him doing something reckless and making the three-wheeled car tip over. That's what always happens to the Reliant in episodes of "Mr. Bean."

But this episode was different:

Mr. Bean knew it, too. There was an extra gleam of excitement in his eyes when he spotted the car and he was energized with a new sense of purpose. He clearly understood the rules of the fictional world he lived in: successfully exiting the garage (and the comedy sketch) must somehow involve capsizing this ridiculous blue car.

It was like that moment at the end of A Shot In The Dark -- surely improvised on the spot by Peter Sellers -- in which Inspector Clouseau's dramatic interrogation of a roomful of suspects has gone wretchedly awry. Instead of the unknown culprit cracking under the pressure and confessing to the murder, every one of the suspects got into a heated argument and start levying new, incriminating testimony and accusations at each other. Clouseau, physically shoved outside the escalating rhubarb for the third time, wheels around, glares into the camera as if to say "Can you believe any of this?!?" and then returns to the scene.

Movie watching is, at its core, the only kind of eavesdropping where there's no chance of getting caught. Which is why you drop your guard and enjoy. These little moments of self-awareness in movie or television characters always get me, even for just a fraction of a second. For that brief moment, I'm worried that they're going to hold me accountable for everything this movie or TV show put them through for the sake of my entertainment.



  1. Agree wholeheartedly with 1) and 2). Still, The Stunt Man is no great shakes. For true brilliance, go back and view Becket.

  2. Years and years ago, my wife and I were visiting friends in Seattle.  Come evening, they turned to us and said, “Peter O’Toole is in a new movie, and it’s showing in only one theater.  Apparently the film isn’t being distributed yet so the people who made it rented a theater to try to get some traction.  Wanna go?”  And that’s how I first saw The Stunt Man.

    We returned to Los Angeles and started raving to everyone we knew “There’s this brilliant film with Peter O’Toole and you’re never going to get to see it!!!”  Yes, we definitely pronounced the exclamation points.

    A year or so later, Rush rented four Los Angeles theaters and showed The Stunt Man in L.A., and finally got is distribution deal.  My wife saw the film 27 times at last count…and claimed she still couldn’t make up her mind whether she actually liked it or not.

    Years later we went down to the Hotel del Coronado in  San Diego, where the film was shot, and talked to people who’d been working there during the shoot.  Rush, it seems, was a madman, like all indy producers.  At one point he got permission to build his own additional wooden tower on top of the Hotel Del, which is a national historic landmark.

    What he didn’t tell them is that he was going to blow the tower up.

    Apparently a significant piece of the ex-tower landed on the Mercedes owned by the chairman of the board of the Hotel Del.  Art imitates life.

  3. The wonderful thing about The Stunt Man is that if you were a film fan of a certain generation you could have sworn you had already seen the movie within the movie. The loving recreations as a backdrop for a backstage farce was a big part of the humor.

  4.  So was this a write up on Stunt Man or Mr. Bean? Make up your mind, the first half of this article totally does not transition at all with the Mr. Bean part.

    1. Well, driving a Mini is a bit like being a stunt man.

      When my wife and I were dating, we’d drive my Mini around for fun.  It’s a ’62.  No seatbelts.  And the passenger door would fly open on fast left turns.  All turns in a Mini are fast.  That’s half the fun!  If you ever saw the show Automan, you get the picture.

      Before each left turn (this is a left hand drive version), I’d warn her.  We’d link arms, she’d grab the door and brace herself. 

  5. Got a copy of The Stunt Man. SO many twists and turns, I had to watch it three times to be sure I knew what happened. Not a big Bean fan, though.

  6. Stuntman remains #1 on my all time favorite movie list, even though visually it is starting to look like a seventies TV series. I met Richard Rush once at a screening in San Diego and asked if he ever thought of actually making the “movie within the movie”. He didn’t, but I still think it would be an awesome idea.

  7. this is weird, I saw the Stunt Man on late night TV and thought it was awesome in a weird cheesy 70s way, but had no idea that it had any kind of cult following

  8. You’re totally correct regarding Peter O’Toole. He was by far the best thing about Prometheus.

  9. Some people seem to be confusing “Peter O’Toole is good in anything” with “Anything with Peter O’Toole in it is good.”

    The former is a fact as unassailable as “water is wet”.  The latter is a different matter (as demonstrated by Supergirl).

  10. This is frustrating. I saw “The Stunt Man” its opening weekend. Ever since, I’ve offered it as “my favorite movie” anytime someone asked. Over 30 years later, I’ve yet to meet anyone that had heard of it. Today I read this post and the comments and learn it has fans. Where have you people been?

  11. my babysitter when I was in the first-grade lived in a co-op on the campus of the University of Michigan.  she and I and her housemates all watched The Stunt Man one night in the TV room of said co-op one night.  I remember that it was some kinda mindfuck, but not much else.  Thanks for reminding me of it, though.  Will fire it up on Netflix tomorrow :)

  12. Upon recommendation of this article, we attempted to watch this movie last night.  Only got about 45 min in & had to stop because it just seemed like a long-form CHiPs episode. 
    I’ll give it another try..some time.

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