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Evel Knievel (1971)

This film biography of motorcycle daredevil and human crash-test dummy Evel Knievel offers plenty of action plus a full-length portrait of a larger-than-life figure.

We first meet Knievel (George Hamilton) in the empty Ontario Motor Speedway where he is soon to attempt hurdling his motorcycle over 19 cars. As the moment of truth approaches, his life unfolds via flashbacks: We see his rambunctious boyhood in Butte, Montana – among other pranks he once tried to dynamite City Hall – his daredevil debut in a medicine show and his calamitous courting of his pretty wife, Linda (Sue Lyon).

Knievel emerges as a singularly rugged individualist, very much a product of what’s left of the Old West, a man who is funny largely because he is so humourless about himself. Yet the handsome Knievel is really quite likeable because he is so open and bursting with vitality.

He is also very conservative: his enemies are outlaw bikers, his heroes are Elvis (whom he identifies with) and John Wayne (whom he worships).

Hamilton manages to be ingratiating yet cocky and Sue Lyon is quite believable as the adoring but clear-eyed girl he woos and wins. Bert Freed, Ron Cameron, Dub Taylor, Ron Masak, Hal Baylor and silent star Betty Bronson (as Linda’s sorority housemother, astounded by Knievel driving a bike through her dorm) all score in support. Cameron is especially funny and poignant as an ageing bronco buster who dies with his boots on.

Evel Knievel makes good use of natural locales and some authentic Knievel action footage presented in straightforward newsreel fashion (and thus free of the usual matching problems).

Evel Knievel
George Hamilton
Sue Lyon
Doc Kincaid
Bert Freed
Charlie Knesson
Rod Cameron
Turquoise Smith
Dub Taylor
Ron Masak
Hal Baylor
Evel at 12
John Dale McCutchan
Cliff Medaugh
Bill Jennings
Henry Olek
Mary Peters
Sorority House Mother
Betty Bronson

Marvin Chomsky