If there is a Big 3 of classic car chase movies, it would have to be Bullitt, The French Connection and The Seven-Ups. In 1968, Bullitt ignited the car chase craze that would come to dominate 1970s cop movies and especially TV series. In 1971, The French Connection turned it into art with its ur-cinematic thrill ride beneath and between the elevated trains of New York City. And the vastly underrated The Seven-Ups, made in 1973, essentially elevated the car chase to the level of deus ex machina perfection. One could argue that from that point onwards that pinnacle has been repeatedly attempted but only succeeded in becoming ever more over the top, digitally enhanced and clichéd (although the fantastic against-traffic-in-the-Paris-tunnels sequence in John Frankenheimer’s Ronin does come pretty close to that level of old-fashioned awesome again).
The connection between these three all-time crime classics is their producer, Philip D’Antoni, the somewhat unknown force behind what came to be an action movie staple. For The Seven-Ups D’Antoni also took the director’s helm for the first time and used what he learned on his previous two smash hits to engineer the biggest, baddest car chase of them all. Check it out and see if you don’t agree.
But The Seven-Ups is more than that white-knuckler through Manhattan and across the Hudson to Jersey (and also, if you’re watching closely and out of continuity, up the Taconic into Westchester). It’s also a gritty police procedural with an outstanding cast led by the late, great Roy Scheider as lead cop Buddy Manucci, working again for D’Antoni after his excellent turn as Popeye Doyle’s partner in Connection. As time goes by, one sees how fantastic an actor Scheider was: funny, wry, intense, the bantamweight champion of no nonsense naturalistic tough guy performances. Is it any wonder that he’s in so many key 1970s films? While the fellow cops on his special semi-autonomous squad, tasked to pursue felony crimes with sentences of seven years and up, are not quite as memorable, they form a decent ensemble. In the end, it’s really the shadier characters who counterbalance Scheider’s intense, driven cop.
Tony Lo Bianco also returns to the D’Antoni fold from his breakout performance in French Connection, this time playing Buddy’s boyhood friend Vito Lucia, a funeral home director who provides Manucci with inside dope on the mob. Continue reading