Viva Knievel

  • Directors: Gordon Douglas
  • Producers: Stanley Hough
  • Writers: Norman Katkov
  • Genres: Action, Adventure, Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama
  • Actors: Evel Knievel, Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, Red Buttons, Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Mitchell, Frank Gifford, Dabney Coleman, Marjoe Gortner

Daredevil motorcycle rider Evel Knievel stars as himself in this fictional story. The film opens with Knievel sneaking into an orphanage late at night to deliver presents: Evel Knievel action figures. One of the boys casts away his crutches, telling Knievel that if he could walk after his crashes, then he (the boy) can, too.

Knievel then prepares for another of his stunt jumps. We are introduced to his alcoholic mechanic Wil Atkins (Gene Kelly), who was a former stunt rider himself before his wife died, driving him to drink. While signing autographs, Knievel is ambushed by feminist photojournalist Kate Morgan (Lauren Hutton), who has been sent to photograph the jump: if Knievel is killed, it will be a great story.

As it happens, Evel does crash while attempting the stunt (shown using footage from one of Knievel’s real jumps), and though badly injured, survives. He berates Morgan, announces his retirement, and is taken to the hospital.

While rehabilitating, Knievel resists all attempts to get back on the horse, including those from Jessie (Marjoe Gortner), a former protegé with mysterious backers who want Evel to do a jump in Mexico. Eventually, though, Knievel relents and agrees.

A subplot develops when Will’s estranged son Tommy shows up from boarding school, and asks to join the tour. Will, who is reminded of his dead wife, is cold to Tommy, leaving Knievel to show the boy kindness. Likewise, Kate reappears, apologetic for her previous motives, and now wishes that he will never stop jumping.

The end jump is stopped in a freeze-frame shot and a color matte, similar to that of the one that appears in the opening credits, appears over Evel in mid-air. The song that plays over the opening credits also plays over the film’s end credits.

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