Classic Couple Interview: Scott McGee, Danger on the Silver Screen Author and TCM Senior Director

Senior director of Original Productions at Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and programmer for the annual TCM Classic Film Festival and lead programmer for the TCM Classic Cruise, Scott McGee knows classic film. In the book DANGER ON THE SILVER SCREEN: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts by Scott McGee, Running Press and Turner Classic Movies present a heart-racing study into the evolution of an often-overlooked element of film—stunt work—and a glimpse at the people behind the action on screen who continue to leave movie audiences awestruck.

Stemming from years of extensive documentation of film stunt work and countless interviews with the best stunt people in the business, McGee profiles 50 foundational films in a one-of-a-kind guide. Within its pages he captures the exhilaration of a car chase, comedy of a well-timed prat fall, adrenaline rush of a fight scene, and more. Complete with reviews, behind-the-scenes stories, in-depth interviews with stunt players, and hundreds of photographs, DANGER ON THE SILVER SCREEN: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts offers movie lovers and stunt-aficionados an action-packed journey through the history of cinema stunt work. Classic Couple recently interviewed Scott McGee about the book, which spans the silent era to modern blockbusters.

Author Scott McGee

Classic Couple: It’s got to be tough to pick favorites across the spectrum of stunt work types—hits, crashes, jumps, falls, fights and more—but do you have any personal favorites?  

Scott McGee: I’m probably most partial to vehicular stuntwork, particularly when it comes to car chases.  There is something so visceral about squealing tires…

Classic Couple:  Through your research about and interviews with stunt people, what have you most come to appreciate about their craft and contributions to the history of film?  

Scott McGee: Among the many qualities I’ve learned about stunt people, it’s probably their dedication to their craft and the innate humility of having to do their best work without fanfare or publicity.   

Classic Couple:  Can you share a little about your process of selecting the primary 50 feature films you chose to highlight in the book?

Scott McGee: Over the course of many years, I began a list of movies that I watched and took notes. This list amounted to nearly 400 films. The 50 films that I included in the book were borne out of that list, with each one telling a different story or dimension to the development, impact and power of stunts in the movies. I must reemphasize that the 50 list is not a ‘greatest of all time’ list.  

Classic Couple:  Clearly this book is in praise of stunt people and their often-unsung profession, however, you also highlight a complement of actors who performed their own stunts. Any discoveries that truly surprised you?  

Scott McGee: Probably Barbara Stanwyck. She was known to be very friendly to all crew members on set, but the stunt crews were not only fond of her, but mightily impressed too. In one Western, she performed a stirrup drag, which is a stunt where a rider falls off a horse, is hung by one of the stirrups and is dragged on the ground as the horse continues to gallop.  

Classic Couple:  Despite all the technological advances in filmmaking, stunt work remains an essential component of films across genres. To what do you attribute its staying power?  

Scott McGee: Moviegoers like to be emotionally invested in the characters on screen. When a character falls off a building, or crashes a car, or is lit on fire, the emotion is that much stronger if the action is performed by an actual human being, and not a synthetic creation inside a computer.

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Buy the book: DANGER ON THE SILVER SCREEN: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts by Scott McGee.

During the TCM Classic Film Festival Scott McGee presents Catch Them if You Can: A Celebration of the Great Movie Chase on Saturday, April 23 from 1:00-2:00 pm in Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. A DANGER ON THE SILVER SCREEN book signing with Scott follows from 2:00-3:00 pm in the Lobby at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

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