As a child of the 1970s, I've always viewed Evel Knievel as a superhero. Not only could he fly over 15 buses at a time, but he also seemed impervious to pain and wore a cape. It was with a heavy heart that I read that the Montana madman in the leather jumpsuit proved mortal last week, succumbing to the nagging illnesses many have blamed on his spectacular crashes.
As the once-proud owner of a Evel Knievel Skycycle that successfully completed many jumps from our front step, I'd like to pay tribute to Mr. Knievel with a look at five films about stunts and the men who share the late motorcycle master's penchant for danger.
THE STUNT MAN (1980): A fugitive takes refuge on a film set, working as a stunt man who is asked to engage in increasingly hazardous setups by a megalomaniacal director. This unjustly forgotten film starred Steve Railsback as the stunt man and a never-finer Peter O'Toole as the director with whom he shares a love/hate relationship.
SAFETY LAST (1923): A classic of the silent era, this broad physical comedy about a store clerk (Harold Lloyd) forced to scale a building as a publicity stunt is famous for its clock gag, but it also holds up as a whole.
THE DEVIL AT YOUR HEELS (1981): This oddball documentary about a stunt enthusiast's quest to build a rocket car and jump it from Canada to the United States is less about the specifics of stunt work as it is the indomitable human spirit. Hard to find but worth the search.
LUCKY DEVILS (1933): A film about Hollywood stunt men, Devils skews a bit toward the melodramatic, but it also offers an interesting glimpse at the dangers involved in making early movies spectacular and scary.
VIVA KNIEVEL! (1977): This is not a great movie. It's not even a good movie. No tribute to Evel Knievel would be complete, however, without his own contribution to Hollywood history. He played Evel Knievel, a stunt man who, while preparing for one of his death-defying jumps, falls in love, helps a mechanic kick the bottle, reunites a family, helps some orphans and foils drug smugglers. Not bad for a day's work. That's why he got to wear the cape.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.