A review by Thomas Scopel
Most folks over the age of 40 are certainly familiar with Evel Knievel, but those under probably can mention only in vague, and limit any response to the fact that he jumped motorcycles over things. While in a sense, this may be true, but he was much more than your typical daredevil, he was an icon, which the 1971 film Evel Knievel starring George Hamilton, attempts to expose.
Opening with Evel addressing the eager audience waiting in anticipation for him to jump over nineteen cars, through narration, the biographical film transports the viewer back and forth from present to past, starting with his humble beginnings in Butte, Montana and quickly becomes a personal reflection on a life that had been filled with danger. By using actual locations with seamless incorporation of archived jump footage, the 88 minute film comes across as authentic that those familiar will relish with nostalgia and those unfamiliar will find interesting enough too.
While the film does include many of his pre-1971 stunts, the film appears to concentrate more on his loving relationship with his wife Linda (Sue Lyon), yet manages to also include many of his practical joker like antics, depicting the daredevil as something of a carefree charismatic who was diligent, determined and destined for greatness. While Hamilton's portrayal seems stiff at times, he accurately conveys a man that was either going to become highly successful, or die by trying and hits full stride when, before the opening crowd, quotes Evel himself, discussing that he doesn't drink or do drugs and is kept high on terror...”not fear...terror.”
The film also makes a specific point to include his boasting of having broken every bone in his body at least once, which made this reviewer wonder how on earth he might have broken the three smallest bones in the human body's inner ear. Regardless, this reviewer took the concept in stride, neither believing nor not believing, and accepting, realizing and respecting the veritable pain the daredevil went through and wore as some sort of demented badge of honor. Coincidentally, the walking cane he used was not simply part of his flashy outfit.
Unlike the second Knievel film made during the same decade that was pure fiction, this first film details his rise to super stardom even though he was basically a circus huckster with outlandish boasts, yet having superficial charms that carried him perfectly through life.
As many fans are aware of, Evel had hyped jumping over the Grand Canyon but had yet to make the attempt when this film was shot. Since the hype was omnipresent at this time, addressing the proposed stunt in the film created somewhat of a dilemma. Thus, by returning to present day and after the climatic successful 19 car jump, the film ends with Evel racing across a cactus strewn dirt road towards an insinuated future. Upon arrival at the canyon's ruthless and rugged edge, the camera takes on a point of view approach, flying over the one thing he eventually could never jump.
The gritty and grainy film, directed by Marvin J Chomsky and written by Alan Caillou, while not highly rated by any means, appears as more fact than fiction and at the very least is probably a more than accurate look at one of the greatest motorcycle daredevils of our time. Even with the scratches and sometimes blatant imperfections, the film, Evel Knievel, welcomes nostalgia with open arms and might very well be considered an unappreciated gem. And, although the film may soon enough fade from memory, the very catchy Patrick Williams single song soundtrack of “I Do What I Please” promises to linger longer.
Staying Scared gives it 3 1/2 Creepy Peeking Clowns
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