On Thanksgiving, friends joined me to watch Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance to celebrate the great man. Little did we know that only a week later we’d find ourselves compelled to watch Viva Knievel, which stars Gene Kelly as Evel’s mechanic, Lauren Hutton (Hepburn to Knievel’s Tracey) and Frank Gifford as Frank Gifford.

One scene will never leave me. Evel rides his motorcycle up the steps of the insane asylum where they are keeping Gene Kelly.

He rides down the hallway. Dabney Coleman cries out, “Stop him! Stop him!” Evel’s motorcycle is glorious.

He motions for Gene Kelly to step away from the door, shoots off the lock and then rejoices – we should all rejoice – when Kelly smashes down the door and springs onto the bike. They get the hell out of that asylum. He is Evel Knievel.

Muhammad Ali played himself in the same year as Viva Knievel, but Ali’s film, The Greatest, feels like the uninspired retelling of well-known facts, while Knievel’s film is about Leslie Nielsen smuggling heroin out of Mexico in Evel’s caravan of trucks.

Ali shames a shy-looking Roger E. Mosley, standing in for Sonny Liston, but Knievel knocks out a goon with one punch and then proceeds to make Hutton his lady. Let history be the judge.

The man, the daredevil, the actor is gone. Rest well, Knievel. During a time of national disenchantment, you helped America heal.

Grade: A

Viva Knievel is currently available.