Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Evel Knievel (1971)

Director: Marvin J. Chomsky

Starring: George Hamilton, Sue Lyon, Bert Freed & DUB "Jitterbug? Say that reminds me. Git back there and kill them cockroaches in that there flour sack!" TAYLOR

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: For Fame, Fortune and Broken Bones!

Plot: Evel Knievel thinks back on his past as he contemplates his next jump.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? Shit, yeah!

As a kid growing up in the 70s Evel Knievel's name meant one thing. BADASS MOTHERFUCKER! There was nothing it seemed that anyone could do that would top what he did. I remember watching his stunts on TV and playing with his zip cord stunt motorcycle making it do all kinds of jumps and shit. Then STAR WARS came in '77 and changed everything but I still looked up to him with great awe and reverence.

So last night I popped this into the machine thinking it was going to be some lame-ass biopic only to it's funny as hell, well-made, and that I laughed my ass off and enjoyed the hell out of it.

The film opens with silent shots of a giant, empty racetrack stadium. We hear a fanfare of trumpets, horns and percussion much like you hear in a quiet, early morning Olympic documentary. A law enforcement officer pushes a motorcycle to the middle of the track followed by a motorcade of motorcycles ending with a limousine. The chauffeur walks around and opens the door to reveal Evel Knievel. They couldn't have done this with more drama if they tried. I'm practically in tears with laughter.

The music has stopped by this point and EK (George Hamilton) starts into this HUGE fucking speech about how proud and honored he is to risk his life for our entertainment and how people think he's crazy and he's part of a long tradition of men (like Columbus) who dare to attempt the impossible and about patriotism and how Americans do not know the meaning of the words "fear" and "impossible". It's killing me. If it wouldn't take up a full page of text I'd write it down. He ends with (VERY humbly), "I wish to once more say...that you have no good it makes me feel to be here. It is truly an honor." This is soooooooo like what George C. Scott did in the beginning of PATTON (1970) the year before. This is fucking priceless. Hey, I just searched YouTube and found it. Here it is...

And THAT'S just the intro. Before watching this I was dubious about Hamilton as Evel but after that speech I was sold. This has the trapings of a dramatic biopic but they play it so tongue-in-cheek that it works both as a very entertaining biopic of the super daredevil and as a laugh-out-loud comedy. This movie fucking rocks!

We get to see different parts of his life in flashbacks and they cover all the typical bases. He was a rebel, he was arrested, he had a strong sense of importance, a great sense of humor, he was fearless and so on. They also included lots of actual EK stunt footage that kicks major ass. And it's done in such a way that if you didn't know Hamilton wasn't EK then you'd believe it. When we get to see EK (Hamilton) jump for the first time, he really sells it and shows off his flair for drama and showmanship. He circles the ramp, comes back with enough speed that you think he's going to do it but he swerves to make another go around and then does it a couple of more times ending at the top of the ramp and thinks about it, goes back down the ramp and gives himself enough room to make the jump and then he jumps. It was a really nice touch.

I was really struck at how well put together this film is. Sure it's got your bubblegum story but there's a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera. The GREAT character actor, Dub Taylor, is fucking hysterical. This man should have gotten an honorary Oscar for all the great roles he did. Here he's only in it for about ten minutes but it's ten minutes of gold. He's got a great scene with EK where they go back and for negotiating. It's hysterical, perfectly timed and priceless.

There's so many funny moments in thing. I had no idea the film was going to be played for laughs. The actors bring funny nuances to their roles that, if you're tuned to them like I was, you will laugh your ass off. There's one scene where EK is in the hospital after he broke a wagon full of bones in his failed Caesar's Palace jump in 1968. First of all, the show they actual jump in slow motion. WOW. It hurts to watch it. This guy's either got huge balls or an empty head. Then we're at the hospital and he's lying down on the x-ray table. He's insisting to the nurse that he needs a lead covering for his genitals. She's going back and forth with him that they don't have one and don't have time for one. He's hysterically yelling out, "I could get cancer. I could go sterile. Sterile, do you understand me? Give me a lead shield. What kind of place is this? Give me your HAND!" She screams as he grabs her hand and puts it over his junk. Goddamn is this shit funny.

OK, so now he's in the hospital bed after the surgery, all banged up, and he asks the pretty nurse to come around to be in the picture a reporter is about to take when he does one of these numbers:


Then a couple of minutes later he's told by another nurse that it's possible he'll never walk again. Well that's not good enough for Evel so he gets the nurse and his friend/private doctor to wheel him outside where they put him on a motorcycle so he can ride around a bit and prove to everyone that he's coming back stronger and more dangerous than ever. Yeah, it's corny but it's Hamilton's great comic performance that sells the scene and the picture.

My only gripe, besides this only being available on a not-so-good fullscreen DVD, is Paul Williams' (you'll remember him as the shorter fella wearing the white suit in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977)) cornball music which is way over the top. It's pretty much like a lot of scores from the 70s, lots of fuzz guitar, low harmonicas and xylophone. It's par for the course for Williams and for the era but it does date the picture more than this girl's collars:

The picture ends, of course, with the big 21-car jump Evel's been thinking about for the entire picture. Does he make it? Duhhhhh. Naturally. And it's an actual EK jump, too. It's just super fun. I can't recommend this one enough. It's not perfect by a long shot but it is a helluva lot of fun and I would have LOVED to have seen this at a drive-in. There is a film called VIVA KNIEVEL! (1977) that starred EK as himself fighting off drug smugglers. Now THAT'S a film I have got to see. Somehow I don't think the real thing can live up to this imitation. We'll see.

FUCK! I just watched the trailer. This is going to kick some cheesy, cornball ass! Here, check it out...

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