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  Devil at Your Heels, The Jet Man BluesBuy this film here.
Year: 1981
Director: Robert Fortier
Stars: Ken Carter, Robert Fortier, Evel Knievel, Gordon Pinsent, Kenny Powers, Dar Robinson, Mark Sennet, Sammy Miller
Genre: Action, Documentary
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the mid-seventies, there was only one man who was renowned around the globe as a daredevil of immense bravery and ambition, and it was not Ken Carter, it was Evel Knievel. But "The Mad Canadian" Carter had big plans to escape the shadow of the more famous American stuntman, and his dream was to jump a jet-powered car from Canada, across the river border, to the United States, which he felt sure would secure him a place in the history books over and above anything his rival could ever achieve - it would be the greatest stunt ever staged. However, finding someone willing to back him in this endeavour would prove trickier than he imagined, and as forty approached, he grew antsy...

You could observe Carter was suffering his mid-life crisis early given he was thirty-seven when Robert Fortier started following him for this documentary, though by the conclusion he was in his mid-forties. But he had a lust for glory that a certain other stunt racer seemed to have absconded with for his own stellar fame, and though Knievel appears in this film, you can sense the tension between them - it was no surprise to hear Evel have the opinion that the river jump was far too dangerous, not merely because his Snake Canyon stunt had failed so spectacularly, therefore he knew of which he spake, but professional jealousy if Carter succeeded must have been present too.

There was a lot of preparation involved in the jump, first our hero needed a properly customised vehicle to travel in, and for a second, he needed a ramp that would launch him with the correct angle and velocity to what was an island in that channel, which may have been closer than the far shore but remained a mile away nonetheless. Fortier must have had the patience of Job to get through over five years of shooting as the stop-start project which would take one step forward then two steps back continually throughout that period, but he did stick with Carter through thick and thin to create what some had trouble believing was a genuine account of real people and events.

There are some things you can't fake, and Carter came across like a cartoonish version of a foolhardy racer, forever snapping bones in crashes as he tried to leap across cars in his own vehicle all for the entertainment of audiences who presumably more often than not had shown up to watch him get injured and total the motor he was driving. As with Knievel, there was a lot masochistic about this practice that indicated a sensibility keener to force admiration from folks than earn it through a safer excursion, but as long as his behaviour could be bluffed as bravery rather than stupidity, Carter was content enough in his own mind as the greatest stunt driver in the world, no matter what Evel's fans would say. Even now, decades after his death, he enjoys an equivalent loyal following of daredevil aficionados.

Just not anywhere near as many as Knievel still has, which must have irked him in the afterlife, assuming he was aware that much of the Ken Carter phenomenon rested on The Devil at Your Heels, a Canadian effort from Fortier who recognised a good story when he saw one, but was somehow reluctant to give up on it even past the stage of it being apparent pressing ahead was either impossible or liable for dire consequences. Some found the subject's bluster funny in the face of everything telling him this was a terrible idea, and there were a few hollow laughs to be had, mostly thanks to how long this was going on (all those years packed into a compact one hour forty in the movie), but most viewers would be shaking their heads at Carter's against all odds outlook on his profession. The actual resolution would be farcical had it not featured such danger to life, and even then it was clear all the big shot backers in the world could not guarantee either success or safety, but as a portrait in an unintentional dedication to failure, you could well understand why this had the cult interest it did. Music by Art Phillips.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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