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Evel Knievel (1971)

Evel Knievel is a 1971 motion picture starring George Hamilton as motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. 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 (Sue Lyon). 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 (see above). Following his introduction, the story follows a flashback narrative through Knievel’s life.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have no idea how good it makes me feel to be here today. It is truly an honour to risk my life for you. An honour. 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.”

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:

“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.”

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