Writers always make things sound so simple. In the final, cataclysmic shoot-out of Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing, an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo set in the gangster underworld of a dusty Texas border town, lone gunman Bruce Willis enters the Sweetwater Hotel. Hill’s screenplay describes the action succinctly (read no further if you don’t want to know who the last man standing is): ”Smith [Willis] sees McCool’s silhouette — moving slowly forward — BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! — both AUTOS — blow thru the skylight — McCool CRASHES down — flies past Smith — CRASHES thru the second floor skylight — THUD! McCool lands in the lobby. Smith looks down at McCool’s contorted body.”
”This film is a pretty low-tech action picture, because it’s set in 1931,” says Willis. ”But all action pictures are really just cowboy movies without the horses and the cowboys.” So appropriately, no digital trickery or elaborate fakery was used in the final scene. With both Hill and Willis filming other scenes on location in El Paso, Last Man Standing‘s second unit, under the direction of stunt coordinator Allan Graf, shot an old-fashioned swan dive twice on Stage 6 at the Santa Clarita Studios (right next door to the Melrose Place courtyard soundstage).
Stuntman Jim Palmer, 33, with heavy padding, was suspended above a Tiffany glass skylight constructed of breakaway balsa wood and candy glass. With three cameras filming at 120 frames per second to create that slow-man-falling look, Willis’ stunt double, Terry Jackson, fired a dummy bullet at the skylight, and Palmer, released from the rig, fell right into his moment of big-screen glory.