VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Steel (1979)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the April 15, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here. There’s another take on this movie here.

I seem to really enjoy the movies of Steve Carver, which are all over the place when it comes to genre, like the peplum The Arena, the gangster films Big Bad Mama and Capone, his two Chuck Norris movies An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade and most definitely this movie. He knows how to make a movie that entertains.

Steel starts off by introducing us to Lew “Big Lew” Cassidy (Goerge Kennedy), a real man’s man, the kind of business owner that goes up on the skyscraper when it’s being built just like his men. What’s shocking is that he’s dead five minutes into the movie, falling when things go wrong thanks to substandard equipment. The rest of the film is literally an attempt to live up to the standards that he set.

Sadly, on September 21, 1978, stuntman A.J. Bakunas died in this scene. Not only does it set up the danger of these heights in the movie, it also set them for the creation of Steel. The saddest thing about that is that the scene had already been shot safely. Then Dar Robinson beat the record for highest fall that Bakunas set on the movie Hooper, so the stuntman asked to reshoot the fall. He fell perfectly on to the airbag. The airbag split and that cost him his life. That’s why the credits say “This film is dedicated to A. J. Bakunis, a man whose zest for life was admired by all who knew him.”

That fall is the one in the movie. A.J.’s dad, who was with him on set, told them to use it.

His daughter Cass (Jennifer O’Neill, the best dressed woman in genre cinema) decides she’s going to do thingsher fatther’s way, no matter what her uncle Eddie (Harris Yulin) has to say about it. But to live up to the deal her father made, she’s going to need the kind of leader that can get men to do impossible things. That would be Mike Catton (Lee Majors), a guy who lost his nerve on his last job and has taken to being a trucker. She meets him on the road and convinces him that he needs to get back up in the sky.

It’s impossible to explain just what a big deal Lee Majors was in the mid 70s. Sadly, by 1978, the show that made him a success — to be fair, he was already a star from The Big Valley — The Six Million Dollar Man was cancelled. In the three years between that show and finding another hit in 1981 with The Fall Guy, Majors made a few movies like The NorsemanAgency and Killer Fish. And yes, this movie, which puts him in the lead of the Dirty Dozen of steel. His crew is made up of Pignose Morgan (Art Carney), Valentino (Terry Kiser, not yet dead), Lionel (Roger E. Mosley, not yet TC ), Surfer (Hunter von Leer, not yet a Haddonfield cop), Tank (Albert Salmi, not yet a cop investigating ghosts), The Kid (Ben Marley, not yet battling Jaws), Cherokee (Robert Tessier, not chasing Charles Bronson in this movie) and Dancer (Richard Lynch, not a villain in this, amazingly). Oh yeah — this also has great parts for R.G. Armstrong and Redmond Gleeson.

This might be the most manly movie that I’ve ever had on this site, a film that starts with Kennedy saying,   “The sight of a tall building still gives me a hard-on” and ends up with an American flag being lifted high above the streets below. You’ll want to celebrate with the rest of the crew, feeling like you’re part of them. This movie is a success for me and it’s just as much the guys on screen as it is the script by Leigh Chapman (Truck Turner, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry) from a story by Peter S. Davis, Rob Ewing and William N. Panzer.

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