They say the Mundi Mundi lookout near Broken Hill is on the edge of the world.
I’ve been there a few times. It is. In fact, at sunset, it’s as close to heaven (if heaven has emus) as you’ll get. But very early one Saturday morning, 40 years ago, truck driver and sometimes big rig salesperson Dennis Williams, wasn’t looking at the view. As film critic and author of the extraordinary book Miller And Max, Luke Buckmaster, says: “Williams is shitting himself.”
Dennis is sitting in for Mel Gibson behind the wheel of a Mack R600 Cool Power cleverly disguised as a tanker which is about to crash into another truck-like vehicle called The Humungus Machine at about a million kilometres an hour, destroy it, turn left over a bank, put the tanker onto its side and slide towards the camera. What could possibly go wrong?
Miller’s co-writer Terry Hayes explains the job to Den: “We’re gonna have the truck side-strike the Humungus vehicle, wobble wobble, then hit the bank. Mel and the kid who is with him will jump out and run away. But mate, if we have a good head-on collision, then you roll the truck over for us, that’s gonna look fabulous!”
Den replied: “Terry, I’m going to be doing 100km/h, down a hill into a right-hand bend, then over a 12-foot bank … you say roll it on its side and slide it? Mate, just because it’s got air brakes doesn’t mean we can stop in midair. Once it’s gone it’s got a mind of its own.”
Den has reasons to be nervous. This is his first stunt. Up to this point he had been a mild-mannered employee of a Kenworth dealer in Sydney’s St Peters. And if it works, it will be one of the greatest truck crashes in movie history.
Den chickened out near the end of the first run. That was lucky because the crew wasn’t ready, so he just pretended that he stopped on purpose.
Then back up the top of the hill he gunned it. You can see the result on YouTube. Probably not one for any kiddie under 37. Den later told the ABC: “We built a huge roll cage and we had an ambulance on standby, a chopper on standby and I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours so they could operate which sort of freaked me out a bit.”
Anyway, Den survived, the film grossed $35m and the truck driver was inducted into the road transport hall of fame in Alice.
But before Den was Remy Julienne. Remy died this week from the bloody COVID-19 aged 90. While he talked about his work “as science rather than stunts”, his work behind the wheel of a Kenworth W-900 in Licence To Kill is all him.
Here’s the plot: Frank Sanchez is a Mexican drug lord who transports coke in Kenworths cleverly disguised as petrol tankers. Jimmy Bond, cleverly disguised as Tim Dalton (a poor imitation of Sean Connery), leaps out of a Cessna piloted by an attractive short-haired person in a dress and lands on top of the trailer while Frank fires a machine gun at him from a Maserati bi turbo (there’s your first clue … if Frank was too cheap to spend his ill-gotten gains on a Feezer then he deserves to die at the hands of Jim/Tim’s silver Dunhill lighter, on eBay for around $400), climbs into the cabin, sprays the current driver with foam and takes over the wheel. To cut 5 minutes 40 seconds into a few words: in another racist stereotype, another Mexican fires a stinger missile at Jim and the Kenworth but Jim (really Remy Julienne) puts the 18-wheeler up on its side (nine wheels) for 23 seconds and evades the baddies.
Now this is not CGI or any other fake effect. The former French motocross champion turned professional stunt person actually drove the all-American monster on its side.
Remy’s Dad was a small-town cafe owner and truck driver. A shy boy, Remy found he could get kids to talk to him by doing stunts on his bicycle and then his father’s 1000cc motorbike.
He became a truck and military tank driver and at 27 was French motocross champion. Gil Delamare took an interest in him. Long story short: Gil was from a noble French family but sensibly ran away, joined the circus and got into the stunt and special effects caper.
In 1964, Gil gave Remy a small stunt role and before you can say bonjour Remy has made over 1400 movies and been stunt doubles for Roger Moore, Tim Dalton, Charles Bronson, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Sophia Loren, Carole Bouquet and Gina Lollobrigida (wearing wigs and dresses but there’s nothing wrong with that … some of my best friends etc, etc).
Out of all those movies, my fave is (of course) the Italian Job.
It was Remy who came up with the idea for an 18m rooftop jump between two buildings 15m above the Fiat factory ground.
Fiat owner Gianni Agnelli let the production use the factory but even though it was on private property, according to the Italian Job blog, local law meant producer Michael Deeley was still solely responsible if anything went wrong.
Remy recalls: “Apparently he had a car waiting outside and a plane waiting at the airport. He figured that he could argue his case from the UK if it went pear-shaped.
“With everyone ready, the weather clearing and a truck full of polystyrene placed between the two buildings 50ft below, it was all go. Many of the onlookers touched Virgin Marys and crosses hanging around their necks, then Remy in the red Cooper put his foot down, closely followed by the white and blue Coopers. They left the roof at just under 115km/h and on landing one Cooper broke its suspension and one its engine — in the film you can see the smoking engine as it hits the landing.”
Remy was a true petrol head. He was one of a kind. As he said: “What is beautiful about the job is that you can never be 100 per cent certain. If you could, then frankly it wouldn’t be interesting. You have to know that there’s always a chance you could cop it.”