Escape to Athena is a wonderful example of action adventure on a budget. Back in 1979 $9,000,000 wasn‟t a great deal of money for a movie budget, and yet it has a cast with pedigree and experience. Most of that budget would have gone on obtaining the likes of Roger Moore, David Niven and Telly Savalas. This meant that other areas, like the stunt team, had to be small but effective. Stunt Co-ordinator: Vic Armstrong Stunts: Roy Alon, Martin Grace, Paul Weston, Doug Robinson, Clive Curtis, Marc Boyle, Nick Hobbs and Tracey Eddon. These eight people create the stunning action and make this film one of my personal favourites. Let‟s explore the action scenes and find out what happened behind the stunts.
Stuntman Roy Alon is seen falling through a 4ft hole in the roof of the baths. The fall made for careful preparation and started life as a dive through a rubber ring in a swimming pool. Once Roy was satisfied he could enter the water without touching the rubber ring he applied himself to doing the same for this 50ft fall. Many falls of this sort of height start from a standing position, but due to the tight space to work in Roy had to crouch at the edge of the hole rocking forward allowing enough momentum to carry him on down and through the hole towards his landing bed.
Meanwhile in the local brothel, stuntman Doug Robinson earns his Equity card with a spot of acting. Eyeing up the young „totty‟ sat on the bar; he makes his choice and walks purposefully towards her.
grabbing hold and taking her off to one of the many rooms of enticement situated…up the back! On a serious note the full cast only numbers 25 so any other roles were left open to the stunt team to fill.
Telly Savalas as the Greek resistance leader is draining the brake fluid on a German staff vehicle while the owners visit the brothel to drain their own. Upon leaving the premises Savalas is discovered by the two German officers and is arrested and placed in the back of the vehicle he has just sabotaged. Driven by stuntman Marc Boyle the vehicle hurtles down the narrow streets whilst Savalas tries to overpower his armed guard. After a well-placed punch Savalas has just enough time to turn and make his way out of the open top vehicle…and this is how.
Stuntman Doug Robinson doubles for Telly Savalas in this sequence and his background in Judo came in very handy here. A bar is fitted to the back of the vehicle. This will give Robinson a clean hand hold before flipping over onto his back in this „Stagecoach‟ moment for the modern audience. Doug Robinson wears arm, back and leg protectors as this is the sort of „gag‟ you could do with doing just once. His timing is crucial and driver Marc Boyle must stay at a constant 20mph in order to drive past the camera crew at the bottom of the hill and complete the shot. Incidentally the camera crew can actually be seen on the left of the previous two shots.
After being dragged by the vehicle for a few feet he lets go and rolls his way to a stop at the bottom only to see the German vehicle finally lose control and crash into a conveniently located explosives shed.
We now find the day to day exercise regime of your average run of the mill P.O.W camp taking a dive. Nat Judson played by Richard Roundtree is disarming the Germans one by one. Here we see his stunt double, Clive Curtis, dive over a vaulting horse right on top of stuntman Doug Robinson, who is pretty used to this kind of treatment. Doug, a martial arts expert responsible for teaching Honor Blackman judo for her role in The Avengers, has crashed, fallen and smashed his way through most structures during his film and television career.
Here we see stuntman Paul Weston playing a short sighted soldier being „coshed‟ by David Niven with a Grecian artefact dated around the period as “Early Harrods”!
Whilst David Niven is practising for a new version of the Antiques Roadshow other members of the stunt team are taking up posts as guards. Martin Grace on the left and Nick Hobbs on the right.
Staying with Nick Hobbs for a moment he is about to feel the heavy fist of Richard Roundtree. Even though the fall gives the impression that Nick is falling onto the rocks he is actually landing in the safe environment of a box rig. The camera angle hides the landing area.
Two different poster designs from â€žEscape To Athenaâ€&#x;
And now ladies and gentlemen to amaze you with his magical sleight of hand is Richard Roundtree. As with any good magic tricks he requires the assistance of a young lady from the audience, but they don‟t have one so enter stuntman Roy Alon. Roy had very good comic timing after working with British comedian Les Dawson for many years as his double and „fall guy‟ in numerous sketches during the late sixties, early seventies. He told me of the casting meeting with Vic Armstrong and director George Pan Cosmatos. A line up was called and Vic introduced each member of the stunt team to Cosmatos. “Who is this”, said Cosmatos with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. “This is Roy Alon and he‟s going to be the double for Sonny Bono”, explained Vic. Cosmatos studied Roy carefully, looked him up and down and said “But he‟s too tall”! With that Roy, who was wearing lifts in his shoes, kicked them off and dropped down 2 inches. Cosmatos looked again “Perfect”, he said “I was worried we were going to have to ask Sonny to do his own stunts – he doesn‟t even wipe his own arse”! Cosmatos always did have a unique way with a turn of phrase.
Palming the ball provides distraction. Then a well-connected right hand and Roy is sent sprawling into the sandbags. Roy and Roundtree got on very well during filming. Roy would call him „Shaft‟ and Roundtree would call Roy „Daft‟.
Let‟s look now at what happens if a stuntman is required to fall from a height in full view of the camera. In the late seventies a fall of 10-20ft would have involved the stuntman‟s landing area being hidden from view, giving the viewer the impression that he had fallen straight to the ground. Well here a fall is required from a roof onto the ground. The stuntman must land on his back, but how is he going to fall that far without injuring himself? By using a concealed landing area.
Only a very small wall conceals the crash mats. This taking place while David Niven looks on. We now get to the main action set piece on the picture. The fire fight in the town and the motorcycle chase. We‟ll start with falls and this one from Martin Grace. Note he drops the gun before the fall. This guarantees it doesn‟t hit him when he lands in the box rig.
Martin Grace crops up again during the fighting, as seen here in the market place.
Here on the roof top Paul Weston takes a fall. This building has a balcony which Paul must clear in order to land safely.
Now onto the explosions and the use of mini trampolines to propel the stuntman into the air giving the impression the explosion has sent them flying through the air. Here we see Paul Weston being blown up. The trampoline is just in front of the basket on the floor.
Now we return to Roy Alon being used in this battle as a German soldier about to be blown up next to a motorbike and sidecar. This explosion requires an air ram which he is crouching on top of by the bike.
A well-positioned pot in front of the motorbike hides the cables connecting the air ram to its power source. The landing area is hidden with sand bags some ten to fifteen feet behind the bike. Meanwhile on the other side of the courtyard another stuntman steps up to the plate and gets blown up for his troubles. In this case itâ€&#x;s Nick Hobbs. Using a mini trampoline hidden from shot. Marc Boyle is the soldier in the foreground.
The highest fall on the movie is this one by Martin Grace. He‟s a sniper who takes a shot at Elliot Gould and Telly Savalas. Now it has to be said that of all the places to put a sniper this is possible the worst I‟ve ever seen. No cover for a start. He‟s in a uniform that makes him stand out like a sore thumb and worst of all he has to perch on the edge of this tiny balcony. So should he get shot, which of course he does there is only one way down.
A majestic fall of 100ft. Martin Grace watches the landing area all the way. His arched back in the last few shots and his head still pointing down, watching, waiting to move into the tuck position and flip over onto his back. Once again the landing area is obscured by the overturned truck. And again the landing area would have been a box rig and not the air bags that nowadays would be used in a fall of this height. He described this fall back in 2000. “But it was in Rhodes from a Mosque that I got the opportunity to go much higher, around 100 feet and actually fall majestically from it. The job was offered to any of the stuntmen who wished to take it but there were no takers, so I let the Co-ordinator know I was willing to do it. Although I was doing regular falls around up to 40 feet, doing 100 takes a lot of practising, increasing the height on a daily basis to get perfect body control to achieve accuracy and to get psychologically prepared. The exciting part is the day of the shoot. You are now on your own and completely in charge of yourself. It's a long climb up the interior stairs. Your thoughts are of the landing rig of cardboard boxes and combination of sponge mats that will break your fall, have they been laid properly? Yes, I supervised the rig myself. I am convinced I have done this many times before. I arrive at the top. I step out on to a parapet. Cameras are set and looking up. You feel excited. The Adrenalin is flowing. There is now no return. You feel king of the world but still in control. I have a walkie talkie 2-way radio. My communication is down to three people The Director, The Stunt Co-ordinator, and the last man the First Assistant Director who gives me "Roll cameras!" and then a clear "Action Martin!" I usually let out a loud scream. It is a way to release any tension and it mesmerises the audience. On the fall down everything is crystal clear. It is truly an amazing experience. I see the landing rig and as I
accelerate toward it. It seems to be rushing at me and then in a split second I tuck my head and flip on to my back. A critical manoeuvre. I land perfectly and walk away, not a scratch. That is the high fallâ€?!
On the left is an autographed photograph of Martin performing the 100ft fall. On the right is Martin rehearsing the fall on location in Rhodes.
Now the motorbike chase that has been described by film fans the world over as one of the most exciting. The photography was very different, a camera fixed to the front of the motorcycle giving the audience the feeling of speed. Anthony Valentine as the German Commandant is doubled by Paul Weston and Elliot Gould who plays Charlie is doubled by Marc Boyle and Nick Hobbs. Several points here, firstly the wonderful cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. This chase could have been filmed at 5mph and yet his fast paced approach gives the audience the feeling on hanging on for dear life. Couple that with Ralph Kemplanâ€&#x;s editing and you have a first class chase scene.
At some point during the chase the two motorbikes comes face to face and a specialty stunt is called for. A ramp is fixed to the front of the sidecar allowing Paul Weston to jump over Marc Boyle. To the best of my knowledge this was the first time this had been done and captured on screen.
After the success of that jump another is called for from both bikes. Paul first, who must negotiate a donkey and its handler. The handler holds the donkeys head down in case it gets clipped with a back tyre.
Then itâ€&#x;s Marc Boyleâ€&#x;s turn with the sidecar.
Bottom Left: Roy Alon as local Bottom Right: Marc Boyle doubles Elliot Gould
So winding through the streets, missing pedestrians, missing livestock this chase has to come to some sort of end. End it does in the courtyard of German HQ. Where Marc flips the motorbike and sidecar over.
So we move onto the fuel depot and Stefanie Powers is required to swim out to the pontoon, attach a mine a swim back. Not everything goes according to plan, letâ€&#x;s face it if it did it would be a very short movie! So a fight is required with the added element of fire. Stefanie Powers is doubled in this sequence by Tracey Eddon.
Roger Moore goes out on a boat to rescue her from certain death. He is doubled by Martin Grace.
The assault on Mount Athena was the goal for Charlie, played by Elliot Gould, who was convinced that great wealth awaited them – all they found was trouble and one particular aspect was brought on by Bruno Rotelli played by Sonny Bono. A bell tower has been used by the Germans as a communication tower, Bruno and Nat must disable it. Easier said than done that.
Roy Alon doubling Sonny Bono and Clive Curtis doubling Richard Roundtree abseil down the face of Mount Athena arriving at the bell tower. Whilst sorting himself out at the top of the tower Sonny Bono‟s character slips and falls down the side of the bell tower. Only to get caught up in his safety rope, this stops him from falling to the ground below. Vic Armstrong was in the early stages of developing a decender. Something that would allow a stuntman to fall from a height and arrive safely at the bottom without having to use an airbag or box rig. This is an early, work in progress version of this device. Roy Alon falls and the harness he is wearing allows rope to run freely through a mountaineer‟s karabiner. A knot is tied approximately forty feet along the length of rope and when the knot hits the karabiner Newton‟s second law of motion kicks in. Roy is able to regain his footing and clamber back up the bell tower.
I‟d like to dedicate this look at „Escape To Athena‟ to Roy Alon and Martin Grace. No longer with us, but never forgotten.
Roy Alon 1942 - 2006
Martin Grace 1942 - 2010
Published on Apr 5, 2011
A look at the action sequences in the 1979 ITC Film 'Escape To Athena'. Exploring the stunts and finding out which stunt performer was respo...