I’ve never written about a stuntman before. This, frankly, is because it’s one of the many jobs in film where I admire the finished product but don’t know a heck of a lot about what goes into it. Cinematography? Yeah, I know good cinematography when I see it, but I just don’t know enough to be able to recognize specific cinematographers. Ditto things like art design. Heck, I don’t even know as much about costume design as I ought, and I sew. And with stunts, you also get into my own specific movie tastes, and what with one thing and another, I can’t name much of anyone in the stunt field today. But Ricou Browning is still alive, and it’s a couple of days before Halloween, so we’ll start with him.
Because unofficially, I seem to be doing a Creature From the Black Lagoon theme this month, and Ricou Browning was the Gill-Man. In the challenging bits, the underwater bits. Now, I’m a pretty decent, if not great, swimmer, and I wouldn’t even want to think about swimming in that costume, much less swimming and acting at the same time—and Browning was acting, make no mistake. He says there are other things he’s done of which he’s more proud, but I hope he takes at least a little pride in what he accomplished with the Creature, because seriously. He is the only person to have been in the suit for more than one movie and the last of the Universal monsters’ portrayers to still be alive.
So okay, we’ll humour the guy, as we did for Julie Adams last week. What else has he done? Well, he’s the creator of Flipper, if that’s more your speed. Not that I’ve ever seen an episode; it’s pretty much Lassie but aquatic, right? He wrote and directed dozens of episodes. Fourteen episodes of Gentle Ben, too. (Lassie but a bear?) He only appears to have directed one film, Mr. No Legs, in its entirety, but he directed the underwater scenes of quite a few, including Thunderball and Never Say Never Again. He directed a model unit for Raise the Titanic. He’s got one of those IMDb profiles that’s got about a dozen categories to it, not helped by the fact that IMDb isn’t consistent on how it treats certain credits.
Another movie he appeared in as a diver was the Disney classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a movie to be proud of. Even if he’s uncredited. I know people who prefer the credits of old movies, when they were short and you didn’t sit there for five minutes watching them scroll past, but at the same time, that meant that people like Browning didn’t get given their due, even in some cases if they were acting. (Browning was also uncredited as a lab tech in Revenge of the Creature, presumably in the same scene that features a young and uncredited Clint Eastwood.) I keep thinking of the line from The Great Muppet Caper, “These people have families.” And, of course, are trying to build resumes.
Browning’s most recent work not including a few documentaries for which he was interviewed is coordinating the underwater stunt work for an episode of Boardwalk Empire in 2010. The year he turned eighty. He’s a tough guy, and he’s done a lot of good work over the years. He’s right that he’s more than just the Gill-Man, and he’s also right that it’s what he’ll be remembered for. It’s got to be interesting to have a role that you didn’t think would be that big a deal take over your career.