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  Evel Knievel Keep On Jumpin'
Year: 1971
Director: Marvin J. Chomsky
Stars: George Hamilton, Sue Lyon, Bert Freed, Rod Cameron, Dub Taylor, Ron Basak, Hal Baylor, Judith Baldwin, Kathrine Bauman, Ben Bentley
Genre: Action, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Evel Knievel (George Hamilton) is a man who knows not the meaning of the word "fear", and he has doubts about "impossible" as well. He is preparing for one of his famous daredevil motorcycle stunts, and because he has performed them before he is aware they can have serious consequences: his many broken bones, quite a few not entirely healed, are testament to that. But as he works up his courage for that next jump, he reflects on his lfe up to this point, from his childhood in Butte, Montana and his brushes with the law as he grew up to his eventual calling as a stunt rider...

Suave and sophisticated George Hamilton might not immediately spring to mind when you consider who would be the best to play the rugged and decidedly non-urbane Evel Knievel in a biopic, yet nevertheless here he was, dressed up in the Stars and Stripes jumpsuit and mounting his Harley Davidson. Not that he performs the stunts, he does do a bit of riding but that's it; he leaves the dangerous stuff to... well, to Knievel, as many of the action sequences are footage of the man himself, leaping trucks and occasionally smashing up his person in predictable fashion, as much of his career played out in that fashion.

Interestingly the script to this was co-written by the much-respected John Milius, and his macho worldview you would think would be ideally complemented by the daredevil's activities but the film appears to be in two minds about the main character. On one hand, he is a loveable rogue, yes he may have broken the law as well as many bones, but he's still a partriot and puts his personal safety on the line whenever he goes out to entertain the masses. There's an element of the broad comedy of The Beverly Hillbillies about the tone of a number of the sequences highlighting this aspect of his personality.

However, there's another side to the regard the filmmakers hold Knievel in, more like, what a self-aggrandising idiot this guy is, forcing his audiences to admire him by placing his life in needless danger, twisting the arms of people who have to buy into his idea of pointless bravery. "I must be great," says this Knievel to us, "look at the peril I place myself in". Well, he doesn't say as much in the film, but that's the impression you get from the manner in which he's presented here, something of a bully in his demeanour and there's a knowing quality of slight insincerity to Hamilton's portrayal even if he doesn't go all out for parody; that said, that might simply have been the star's style.

This version of events is, however, far more easy to swallow than the hero worship of Viva Knievel!, the film that the rider starred in a few years later, although he does make appearances in this: largely falling off his bike and doing himself great injury. The pattern the plotting takes is odd, relying on flashbacks to build up tension to the big jump staged at the grand finale, the somewhat ghoulish question being whether he will die or not. In between we see him romancing his first wife Linda (played by ex-Lolita Sue Lyon) by practically forcing her into going out with him (as in Viva, he drives his bike into a building here), and she appears in the present day parts, worrying but supportive. So is Knievel a Great American Hero on the basis of this? It's hard to say, at least he gave up his former life of crime for showbiz, but to say you have mixed feelings about him after watching this is an understatement. Music by Pat Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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