The Devil at Your Heels – Jumping the St. Lawrence River
In 1976, after 20 years of car jumps, Ken Carter launched his most ambitious project: an attempt to jump over the Saint Lawrence River — a distance of over one mile — in a rocket-powered Lincoln Continental. The preparations for the jump were the subject of a documentary called The Devil at Your Heels, directed by Robert Fortier and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
For months, Carter prepared his car and looked for sponsors, with his persistence in self-promotion paying off when U.S. broadcaster ABC gave him $250,000 to air the stunt on the episode of Wide World of Sports scheduled for September 25, 1976. Carter anticipated a live audience of 100,000. Construction of a 1,400-foot takeoff ramp began on fifty acres of farmland near Morrisburg, Ontario. Evel Knievel visited the site as a special correspondent for ABC and concluded that there was little chance of success. Delays in finishing the car and completing the ramp caused Carter to miss the broadcast date and ABC withdrew its support.
Carter resumed preparations the following year and again in 1978, but the jump was cancelled both times. On September 26, 1979, Carter got to within five seconds of takeoff before aborting the jump following a mechanical failure. The planned jump had been sponsored by a film producer in exchange for exclusive film rights. Believing that Carter had lost his nerve, the film crew secretly arranged for another stunt driver, American Kenny Powers, to perform the jump while Carter was in his hotel room in Ottawa. The Powers jump was a failure, with the car travelling only 506 feet in the air and breaking apart in flight before crash-landing in the water. Powers broke eight vertebrae, three ribs and a wrist.
The Devil at Your Heels is a 1981 documentary that chronicles the attempt of the stuntman and daredevil Ken Carter to jump a rocket-powered car over the Saint Lawrence River, a distance of one mile, which would break all existing records for jumping cars.
The documentary opens with some quick framing of the task, including footage of the ramp and the car to be used for the jump, and then chronicles how Carter became a daredevil, including footage of some early jumps. It then follows the ups and downs he experienced in his five-year journey to jump the river. He has a series of financial and technical obstacles. Technical problems include difficulties with the car (the fuel tank keeps blowing up) and the ramp he was planning to jump off (it was bumpy and not necessarily structurally sound). The financial problems are simpler; he kept running out of money and his backers were unhappy.
In the fifth year, everything was ready, but two attempts were called off — one because of a short strike by the ground crew, and one because of weather. The backers, desperate to finish, believed that Carter had lost his nerve and called him to a meeting in another city, and then brought in another driver, Kenny Powers, to attempt the jump.
Unfortunately, the bumps in the ramp have not been fixed, and as the car accelerated, it started to shake itself to pieces and fell apart in midair. The parachutes deployed and the car landed in shallow water. Powers survived with eight broken vertebrae (he later recovered fully). The effort to make the jump was abandoned.
The film closes with Carter vowing to continue trying. However, a few years after the movie was made, the ramp was demolished, and then Carter was killed in 1983 in Peterborough, Ontario, while attempting another stunt.
The ramp and its runway were located in a field just west of Hanes Road, south of county road 2 in Morrisburg, Ontario, Canada. The ramp has since been demolished, but the concrete runway still existed in 2010.
The title song was performed by the blues performer Long John Baldry.