The World's Fastest Indian

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The World's Fastest Indian
Worlds fastest indian.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roger Donaldson
Written by Roger Donaldson
Starring Anthony Hopkins
Diane Ladd
Jessica Cauffiel
Christopher Lawford
Music by J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography David Gribble
Edited by John Gilbert
Production
company
2929 Productions
Tanlay Productions
Cameo FJ Entertainment
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
Release dates
  • 7 December 2005 (2005-12-07) (New Zealand)
  • 3 February 2006 (2006-02-03) (United States)
Running time 127 minutes
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $18,297,790

The World's Fastest Indian is a 2005 New Zealand biographical film based on the Invercargill, New Zealand speed bike racer Burt Munro and his highly modified Indian Scout motorcycle. Munro set numerous land speed records for motorcycles with engines less than 1000 cc at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the late 1950s and into the 1960s.

The film stars Anthony Hopkins and was written and directed by Roger Donaldson. The film opened in December 2005 to positive reviews[1] and quickly became the highest grossing local film at the New Zealand box-office taking in $7,043,000;[2] and taking in over US$18,297,690 worldwide.[3]

Plot[edit]

Burt Munro is a sort of folk hero in his hometown for his friendly and charming personality and for being featured in Popular Mechanics magazine (May 1957 p6) for having the fastest motorcycle in Australia and New Zealand. However, that recognition is contrasted by his exasperated neighbours, who are fed up with his un-neighbourly habits such as urinating on his lemon tree every morning, neglecting his garden, and, most of all, waking up before sunrise to rev his bike's very loud engine.

Burt travels by cargo ship to the USA to participate in the Bonneville Speed Week, his longtime dream. When Burt arrives in Los Angeles, he experiences bureaucracy, skepticism and the coldness of big city people. It is his blunt but gregarious nature which overcomes each hurdle. He wins over the hardened motel clerk, a transvestite woman named Tina, who assists him in clearing customs and helps him in buying a car. The car salesman allows Burt to use his shop to make a trailer and later offers him a job after Burt fixes most of the cars on the lot. Burt declines the offer, however, and shortly afterwards begins his long trip to Utah.

Along the way, Burt meets many people, including a Native American who aids him when his trailer fails, a woman named Ada who helps him repair his trailer and briefly becomes his lover, and an Air Force pilot who is on leave from military service in Vietnam.

He finally arrives at the Bonneville Salt Flats, only to be turned away by race officials for not registering his bike for competition in advance. In a show of sportsmanship, however, various competitors in the Bonneville series intervene on his behalf, and he is eventually allowed to make a timed run. In the 8th mile, he achieves 201.851 mph (324.847kph) then falls with the bike and skids to a stop. His leg is burned by the exhaust, yet he succeeds in his quest and sets a new land speed record.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Director Roger Donaldson had been working on this film for over 20 years before he started filming it, and had previously directed a short television documentary about Munro called Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed in 1971. Many of the props used for filming were actually owned by Munro, including all the exploded pistons and the piston mould that Hopkins uses for a scene in the film. These were on display at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

The location used for Burt Munro's workshop in New Zealand took place on land once used as the headquarters for the notorious Black Power gang during the 1990s until the house burnt down in 1998. A house has been built on the plot since the film was released.

In interviews Hopkins has stated that Munro was one of the easiest roles that he has ever played in his career, simply because Munro's view on life was not all that different from his own.

Chris Bruno stated this was "one of the most exciting jobs" he's ever done.

Historical accuracy[edit]

A replica of Munro's Indian used in the movie.

The historical Munro married Florence Beryl Martyn on 6 August 1925, whom he divorced in 1950/51. The couple had four children together. However, no mention is made of children in the film, but it is implied that he was married and either estranged or divorced.

Munro in the film recalls the death of a twin brother named Ernie, who died when a tree fell on him. The historical Munro had an older brother who was killed when a tree fell on him. Munro also had a stillborn twin sister.

The historical Munro had set numerous speed records in New Zealand during the late 1930s through the early 1970s. However, these records are only implied in the film.

The Bonneville run in the film is a composite of several runs Munro made, the first in 1956. In 1962 at Bonneville, he set the record of 178.971 MPH.

Munro's fastest complete run at Bonneville was 190.07 MPH. He never set a record of 201 MPH at Bonneville as the film portrays, but did reach 205.67 MPH on an uncompleted run, on which he unfortunately crashed.[4] Munro does crash after his 201 MPH record-breaking run, which is officialised unlike the 205.67 MPH run.

Munro was never known to urinate on his lemon tree; film director Roger Donaldson added that detail as a tribute to his own father, who did.

The May 1957 edition of Popular Mechanics (p6) has a letter to the editor about H.A. "Dad" Munro and his 1920 Indian Scout.[5]

Near the end of the film, Speed Week participants throw money into "the hat" and Burt Munro is presented with a bag of cash before he sets the speed record. In fact, Munro had to take up a collection before Speed Week as U.S. Customs required a cash bond before releasing his motorcycle.[6]

A photograph of the gathered crowd presenting Munro with the bag of cash, in 1962, was reprinted in a 2006 issue of Hot Rod magazine.

Hopkins' portrayal of a New Zealander[edit]

The Welsh-born Hopkins did not employ the kind of Kiwi accent which the real Munro would have had — the review in The New Zealand Herald said that "his vowels swoop from the Welsh valleys to the high veldt without ever alighting in Southland" [Munro's home region of New Zealand]. Nevertheless the same reviewer said Hopkins gives a "generous, genial and utterly approachable performance … he nails the backyard eccentric genius dead centre … he has inhaled the nature of a mid-century Kiwi bloody good bloke and he inhabits the part to perfection".[7]

Featured vehicles[edit]

1920 Indian Scout "Burt Munro Special": The 1920 Indian Scout portrayed in the film started life as a 600 cc motorcycle with a top speed of 55 mph. Munro’s streamlined record setter was largely modified with capacity being increased to 950 cc, and a recorded speed of 205 mph. These modifications were largely done in Munro’s shop using primitive methods and tools as depicted in the film. Four bikes are used in the film to depict the actual "Munro Special" two of which were replica Indian Scouts, the others being Ducatis.

Antarctic Angels Bikes: The bikes ridden by the New Zealand bikers comprise largely of early to mid-1960s Triumphs and BSAs. Most of these bikes are twin cylinder models and are 500 cc or larger.

Burt’s Car (New Zealand): 1954 Vauxhall Velox. The Vauxhall Velox depicted as Burt’s car in New Zealand is typical of the many British built cars exported to New Zealand and Australia in the mid-1950s. Assembled In Bedfordshire England, the Velox used a number of inline six cylinder engines and was produced until 1965.

References[edit]

External links[edit]