Hollywood Bulldogs: The Rise and Falls of The Great British Stuntman

Photograph: BritBox
Rating 8.5
Streamer BritBox
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 100 mins

Ever watch an action-packed movie where Tom Cruise gracefully leaps from one skyscraper to the next, barely breaking a sweat as he risks his life above a 100 foot drop and think, “yeah, I reckon I could do that?” Well this documentary is here to prove you wrong, by showcasing the fearless folk who made risking their lives a coveted career.

Hollywood Bulldogs is finally giving stuntmen the airtime they deserve, no longer trying to fool us into thinking that Pierce Brosnan really can bungee jump off Switzerland’s 220-metre-high Verzasca Damc, and then land as softly as your neighbour’s cat jumping off the fence. Despite the Hollywood setting – and title of this documentary – the chaps that took these death-defying leaps were not always American, in fact during the 1970s and 80s, it was a handful of British blokes who were the best in the biz: Jim Dowdall, Richard Hammatt, Vic Armstrong, Ray Austin, Frank Henson, Rocky Taylor, Greg Powell, and Paul Weston.

Once you’ve watched this, give Class Action Park a go

This documentary film from director Jon Spira celebrates these men and the golden age of stunt performing, which, rather sadly, has now been replaced with boring old CGI. And who wants that, when you can have adrenaline fuelled jumps off buildings, bodies flying through window panes and epic, explosive car crashes? And having spent their careers doing just that, these guys have some seriously good stories. Like Dowdall being set on fire by Timothy Dalton as James Bond, and nearly dying after his airtube became blocked, or when Armstrong and Henson battled it out in the scene from Indiana Jones where Harrison Ford dangles from a rope ladder above hungry alligators.

Watching this, you can’t help but feel you are down the pub with these former stuntmen, hearing their stories whilst nursing a pint, pausing in between sips to let your jaw drop in amazement at the tales they’re recounting. And whilst this documentary doesn’t quite give us that, it does give us that same sense of loving storytelling, and celebration of an era which has now, for better or for worse, passed us by.

Have you watched the BritBox original, The Beast Must Die?

The Telegraph’s Anita Singh loves Hollywood Bulldogs, giving it five stars and calling it a “glorious tale of the crash-bang-wallop lives of movie stuntmen… packed with brilliant anecdotes of falling out of helicopters, crashing cars and jumping a rickshaw over a camel.” In The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries agrees, saying their stories are “enough to make you hyperventilate,” describing stunts that “straddled the line between insanely stupid and consummately terrifying.”

First shown July 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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