Michael Sauter
July 15, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Beefed up with movie-biz muscle, Steven Seagal vented his passion for eco issues in his directorial debut. Here’s what some other screen heroes delivered the first time they got to shout ”Action!”

Action hunk: Mel Gibson
Debut as auteur: The Man Without a Face (1993, Warner) In this hybrid of Summer of ’42 and Dead Poets Society, Gibson stars as a disfigured former teacher who befriends a mixed-up boy. His performance is marked by its dignity and reserve. Ditto his directing.

Action hunk: Bruce Lee
Debut as auteur: Return of the Dragon (1973, FoxVideo) It’s no better and no worse than most of Lee’s slapped-together slugfests (he had choreographed his fights for years). The main differences: a more comical hero (Lee) and a more formidable opponent (a young Chuck Norris).

Action hunk: Burt Reynolds
Debut as auteur: Gator (1976, FoxVideo) In what sounded like a perfect redneck Reynolds romp, Burt revives his White Lightning character, moonshiner Gator McClusky, but he never decides how to play it: as a grim and self-righteous dude or as a cackling good ol’ boy. Sort of sums up his whole career.

Action hunk: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Debut as auteur: Christmas in Connecticut (1992, Turner) This made-for-cable flick pairs a TV cooking-show host (Dyan Cannon) and a forest ranger (Kris Kristofferson) in a love story so leaden the fake snowflakes seem to land with a thud. Directing with an iron hand, Schwarzenegger lets the material slip right through his fingers.

Action hunk: Sylvester Stallone
Debut as auteur: Paradise Alley (1978, MCA/ Universal) Still riding high after Rocky, Stallone helmed his own script (based on his own novel!), a 1940s period piece about three brothers who try to escape Hell’s Kitchen via the wrestling ring. The film took a dive at the box office and Stallone learned his lesson. Next: Rocky II.

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