Recently, I was excited to stumble across an article about Johnny Knoxville’s new Evel Knievel documentary, Being Evel, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Over the weekend I was re-watching the Milius documentary about writer/director John Milius who wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote and directed Red Dawn. I’d seen the flick before, but I was surprised at an early entry on Milius’s filmography from 1971: Evel Knievel starring George Hamilton as the motorcycle maniac.
Here’s a bit about how Milius came to join the production:
A script had been written by a writer, but George Hamilton was not happy with it. He offered to pay John Milius $5,000 to write some lines in the script. Milius says he went to Hamilton’s home at Palm Springs to read the script “and it was terrible. So I threw the script in the pool and beat on it with an oar. And of course the script was waterlogged, so I just wrote another one. He later told me he knew that if I got down there with that script I’d write another one.”
Milius says Knievel “saw himself as the new gladiator of the new Rome, something larger than a daredevil. He saw the whole spectacle of civilization and the absurdity of what it’s turned into, and he fit into that.”
Milius later called Hamilton “a wonderful guy, totally underrated. A great con-man, that’s what he really is. He always said, ‘I’ll be remembered as a third-rate actor when in fact, I’m a first-rate con man’.”
Here’s a monologue Milius wrote for Hamilton to read in a voice-over at the end of the picture…
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.
Below is a transcript of the monologue from the movie:
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.
Here’s Evel Knievel (1971)…