On Any Sunday (1971)
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I remember as a nerdy kid being dragged to see this, grumbling all the way, "I don't want to see some stupid documentary about stupid motorcycles!" Well, the movie surprised me with its infectious air of fun and camaraderie. Trust me, when it's over you're going to want to rush out and buy yourself a dirt bike.
Although much of the photography is 16mm, MOS, hand-held or too zoomy, the editing and slow-motion sequences, backed by a charming pop score from Dominic Frontiere (he of the original superb OUTER LIMITS), overcome the minor technical limitations. Brown's narration is also good if not quite perfect: not overwritten, maybe a bit hokey sometimes, but mostly funny or informative.
Perhaps the film tries to cover too much. But when it concentrates on its three main protagonists -- American Motorcycling Association star Mert Lawwill, multi-talented expert Malcolm Smith, and movie star Steve McQueen (whose production company provided financing) -- it's a heckuva fun ride.
For me, I was twelve years old when I first saw this movie. It was on a rainy summer Saturday afternoon with my best friend Dean (we had nothing better to do...). The film was both funny and seriously awe-inspiring at the same time. As we walked out of the theater, Dean and I looked at each other and exclaimed at the same time, "I can do that!" When I got home from the movie, I immediately went to work lobbying my brothers and pestering my parents to get us (me) a "bike." Between all of us, we finally came to an agreement with us boys finding a way to finance most of it (our dad flitting the bill for the rest) and mom consenting to let us anywhere near "the thing" in the first place (lots of promises were made that day I can tell you).
That first bike was a Bultaco Sherpa some 3 or four years old. It was set up as a trails bike and all of us boys, our friends (until they talked their parents into one), and even a sister or two took many turns over the next few trying to figure out how to negotiate a 30 inch diameter log that lay across the creek...without putting our feet down (a la Malcolm Smith in the movie of course)! Many of us, some 35 years later, still wear faded scars that mark these great, but dangerous, days.
This movie got me started loving something that I didn't even really think about existing until then. We had mainly bicycles and horses where I grew up. A friend down the rode apiece did have a mini-bike with a 5 hp Briggs and Stratton powering it, but it was touchy and didn't always start when you wanted it too (although, I can also say this about the Sherpa at times).
This was really the first time that I started to learn about motors...what it was like to get greasy-dirty...the smell of gasoline and oil...and what it took to get both yourself and the bike clean again (to Mom's satisfaction).
My love of motorcycles began on that wet summer day and has continued to the present. Indirectly (through me), and just within my own circle of friends and relatives, "On Any Sunday" is probably responsible for some 100 to 200 new motorcycle riders - who otherwise may never have known what it's like to fly on two wheels or pick prickly pear cactus needles out of your ...well you know.
Although the film is somewhat dated (both the motorcycles as well as the background music)...it wears well and the spirit remains the same...just ask my twelve year old...,"Pretty cool Dad. I can do that!"
The first time I saw this movie I was already an experienced rider, having ridden all over the North American Continent and the island of Oahu on everything from 90cc dirt bikes to Harleys to Ninjas to full-boat tourers. But like other reviewers on this forum, it's now Must See at least twice a year. While it centers on off-road competition rather than road riding, OAS still conveys the thrill riders get when in the wind. Bruce Brown knows how to tell a story, and he does a fantastic job. On one hand, he tries to cover too much in the allotted time; on the other hand, there are so many more stories in the motorcycle world that didn't get told. Just enjoy the movie for what it is, a neat little story, photographed and narrated by a talented story-teller with genuine love for the sport.
For those that are not motorcyclists: while Steve McQueen indeed has the draw, the two other riders in the movie are today giants in their chosen fields. Mert Lawwill today is a gifted engineering pioneer in the field of human hand prosthesis, and Malcom Smith still owns a dealership and runs Malcom Smith Racing, a producer of off-road rider equipment.
It was also fun as a peek back at the era in which I grew up. The passionate, dedicated amateur was very much in the American tradition--this film made me realize how much we've lost with with the corporate takeover of sports.
The beginning scene of the kids on their Schwinn bicycles with their tall handle bars, banana seats (if you had a seat), in T-shirts and racing around, doing wheelies and jumps was EXACTLY my friends and I were doing at the time.
I cannot count how many VHS tapes of On Any Sunday I've worn out.
There is also much devoted to such things as desert racing and hill climbing competition. But the most interesting to me was profiling Malcolm Smith, who raced a bit of everything, almost always with a smile on his face. He simply was better than everyone else, he rode with such an ease that it looked like the motorcycle was part of him.
Steve McQueen was a pretty accomplished motorcyclist himself, but in DVD clips which show him riding for fun with the experts, he definitely showed himself as an amateur.
I have been a motorcyclist for most of my adult life. I found this film very enjoyable.
From what I understand, it was the film that actually introduced professional motocross racing to the rest of the country. It reminded me a lot of the 80s when I first started on trail bikes and then went to Enduro 2-strokes. I've since given up riding like that for the sake of the family, but man, it did bring back a lot of memories...
I wish I had seen it before the TCM showing but I never got around to it. Talk about falling through the radar!
I was turned onto the title 2 years ago (2004) by some friends I ride motorcycles with but, since the first viewing, I have probably watched the film 20 times and look forward to 20 more.
It seems that all of the people I know who have seen it... feel the same.
YES, we are all bike enthusiasts but, it's just a wonderful, informative and now historical doc of motorcycling activities in the early 70's with great period music and superb narration.
It's my opinion that "On Any Sunday" is the best motorcycle movie ever made.
If you ride motorcycles, think about getting a video projector and inviting your riding buddies over and showing the movie on your garage door or side of your house after dark. Call it "(instert your name)'s Motorcycle Ride In Theater".
Get some beer or tea or whatever, it's a good time! Three thumbs up!
Keen observers will notice in the final scenes where Mert,Malcohm,and Steve McQueen are playing in the Sand;That Lawwill's motorcycle isn't a Harley Davidson even though the HD gas tank says it is.It was actually a GREEVES CHALLENGER that belonged to a relative of Mert.Being that Lawwill was a fully sponsored Factory HD rider, it wouldn't have been good advertising to be on a non HD product...Still a Great Film!!!
To call this film simply a documentary on motorcycle racing would do it a grave injustice. With cameras on helicopters and on the motorcycles themselves to capture the insanely dangerous nature of what it's like to ride "the mile," a dirt oval on which riders attained speeds of well over a hundred miles an hour on the straights and near triple digits in the turns, or the bone jarring and torturous intensity of motocross racing, or the unimaginable physical toll it must take to finish the Mexican 1000 (now called the Baja 1000, a 1000 mile race across the Baja California peninsula), after watching this movie you'll feel more like a participant than a spectator . . . at least I did.
Mr. Brown doesn't stop with dirt racing either. He'll take you from road racing with the A.M.A. (American Motorcyclists Association) to racing on ice in Canada with three inch spikes on all of the tires--a line from the movie comes to mind, "It would be like getting run over by a buzz saw, you've never seen grown men crawl so fast"--to The International Six Day Trials (now called the ISD Enduro), a six day off road race during which the rider cannot accept help from anyone and can only use what he has with him or on his motorcycle to fix any problems that may come up. On Any Sunday will take you all over the world and show you, as effectively as the medium possible can, what it's like to participate in these events.
The movie also shows, as I believe was Mr. Brown's intention, a side of the motorcycle culture that could not be more different than the outlaw/renegade perception that many Americans had of motorcyclists at the time. The stars of the film (including the legendary Steve McQueen, who financed the film) are portrayed as responsible hard working American citizens who love the feeling of freedom and the joy that riding a motorcycle gives them.
I remember that year so well because, at the Missouri State Fair, the last Sunday of the fair was motorcycle racing on the (now defunct) mile dirt track. Mert Lawill was the AMA #1 plate holder that year and seeing this film just takes me back to those days.
The opening scene where the one guy is trying to teach the other one how to ride a motorcycle is much like how it goes. Too many bumps and bruises came about my introduction to the hand clutch and such.
It's funny to hear the comment about how fast the road bikes were going at Daytona when there are motorcycles that will go that fast off the showroom available now. That goes to show you how far we've come in motorcycle technology and engineering.
I finally ended up purchasing the DVD version of this film after wearing out a couple of video tape versions.
When Bruce Brown made this film, he set the standard as far as how to make a fantastic motorcycle documentary that covers all aspects of riding. Granted there are other styles of riding but this one covered the main ones. It's a shame that the follow up video, On Any Sunday II didn't do justice to the original.
If I were a faster typer, I could go on. So, on that note:
WATCH THIS MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!
While some of the shots could be better and some disciplines do not get enough time, it is almost impossible to make a better documentary about the subject of motorcycling. They got it perfect the first time around.
It is more than lovely to see the twinshock "dirtbikes" of yesteryear or see how precarious the #1 flat track rider from the USA actually lived back in the day. No drama, no "I might not survive this if something goes wrong", just people and 2-wheeled vehicles, nothing else needed.