Evel Knievel (film)
|Directed by||Marvin J. Chomsky|
|Produced by||George Hamilton
|Written by||Alan Caillou
|Music by||Patrick Williams|
|Distributed by||Fanfare Films|
|Release date(s)||September 10, 1971|
|Box office||$4,000,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
The story is a biography of the famed motorcycle daredevil, who grew up in Butte, Montana. The film depicts Knievel reflecting on major events in his life, particularly his relationship with his girlfriend/wife, Linda. The film opens with Knievel at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, California. Knievel is speaking directly to the camera describing his upcoming daredevil motorcycle jump:
- Ladies and gentlemen, you have no idea how good it makes me feel to be here today. It is truly an honor to risk my life for you. An honor. Before I jump this motorcycle over these 19 cars — and I want you to know there's not a Volkswagen or a Datsun in the row — before I sail cleanly over that last truck, I want to tell you that last night a kid came up to me and he said, "Mr Knievel, are you crazy? That jump you're going to make is impossible, but I already have my tickets because I want to see you splatter." That's right, that's what he said. And I told that boy last night that nothing is impossible. Now they told Columbus to sail across the ocean was impossible. They told the settlers to live in a wild land was impossible. They told the Wright Brothers to fly was impossible. And they probably told Neil Armstrong a walk on the moon was impossible. They tell Evel Knievel to jump a motorcycle across the Grand Canyon is impossible, and they say that every day. A Roman General in the time of Caesar had the motto: "If it possible, it is done. If it is impossible, it will be done." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I live by.
Following his introduction, the story follows a flashback narrative through Knievel's life.
The film ends with Knievel successfully completing the jump at the Ontario Motor Speedway and riding off onto a dirt road which leads to the edge of Grand Canyon. (At the time of production, the real Evel Knievel was hyping a jump over the Grand Canyon.)
As the movie closes over the Grand Canyon, George Hamilton delivers a voice-over monologue in the Knievel character. In the monologue, he describes himself as the "last gladiator", which would later be used by the real Evel Knievel in his 1998 documentary, The Last of the Gladiators.
Below is a transcript of the monologue from the movie:
- Important people in this country, celebrities like myself — Elvis, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne — we have a responsibility. There are millions of people that look at our lives and it gives theirs some meaning. People come out from their jobs, most of which are meaningless to them, and they watch me jump 20 cars, maybe get splattered. It means something to them. They jump right alongside of me — they take the bars in their hands, and for one split second, they’re all daredevils. I am the last gladiator in the new Rome. I go into the arena and I compete against destruction and I win. And next week, I go out there and I do it again. And this time — civilization being what it is and all — we have very little choice about our life. The only thing really left to us is a choice about our death. And mine will be — glorious.
- George Hamilton as Evel Knievel
- Sue Lyon as Linda
- Bert Freed as Doc Kincaid
- Rod Cameron as Charlie Knesson
- Dub Taylor as Turquoise Smith
- Ron Masak as Pete
- Hal Baylor as The Sheriff
A script had been written by a writer, but George Hamilton was not happy with it. He offered to pay John Milius $5,000 to write some lines in the script. Milius says he went to Hamilton's home at Palm Springs to read the script "and it was terrible. So I threw the script in the pool and beat on it with an oar. And of course the script was waterlogged, so I just wrote another one. He later told me he knew that if I got down there with that script I'd write another one."
Milius says Knievel "saw himself as the new gladiator of the new Rome, something larger than a daredevil. He saw the whole spectacle of civilization and the absurdity of what it's turned into, and he fit into that."
Milius later called Hamilton "a wonderful guy, totally underrated. A great con-man, that's what he really is. He always said, 'I'll be remembered as a third-rate actor when in fact, I'm a first-rate con man'."
The picture was directed by Marvin J. Chomsky and was released on September 10, 1971. The screenplay was written by Alan Caillou who had written the screenplay for Jack Starrett's The Losers also for Joe Solomon's Fanfare Films and John Milius. George Hamilton was producer and Evel Knievel worked as an advisor to the production. Much of the film was shot in Butte, Montana. Actual footage of Knievel jumping his motorcycle was used throughout the film. Additionally, Knievel performed a series of new jumps at the Ontario Motor Speedway for the production, including a spectacular record jump of 129 feet over 19 cars that was included in the film (Knievel held the record for jumping a Harley-Davidson motorcycle over 19 cars for 27 years, until broken by Bubba Blackwell in 1998). Knievel received a flat rate of $25,000 for his rights and the consulting fee.
The motion picture has fallen out of copyright and is in the public domain. The most common version of the film (available on DVD and various streaming media) is from a faded 16 mm print. Scratches on both the audio and video track are easily detectable.
The music is conducted by Patrick Williams. The title song, "I Do What I Please", is played throughout the film, including the opening and closing credits, and the montage of the real Evel Knievel's stunt riding.
- "Updated All-time Film Champs", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
- "The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
- Segaloff, Nat, "John Milius: The Good Fights", Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, Ed. Patrick McGilligan, Uni of California 2006 p 289
- Life of Evel Knievel, S. Baker, St. Martin's Press, 2008
- Evel Knievel at the Internet Movie Database
- Evel Knievel is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- Streaming Video of Evel Knievel