19
Aug
08

The Chase Is On: A Look at the History of the Car Chase Scene

Tires squealing, producing white smoke as they tear down a concrete road. Hairpin turns and fishtailing. Breakneck speeding through oncoming traffic. The raw intensity and power of an engine as it shifts gears.

 

Ya gotta love the Car Chase Scene.

 

In this series of articles, we look back at the history of the car chase scene.

 

Part One: The Sixties

 

Ask any guy who has ever watched, ever loved, the car chase scene in movies and he’ll throw out the title: “Bullitt.” While “Bullitt” can be considered the father of all car chase scenes in movies, we’re going to go back just a little further.

 

The car chase scene was an eventual evolution from chase scenes in movies. Chase scenes on foot (see: any “Keystone Cop” footage) the audience wanted something more, something that hadn’t been done yet. Hollywood was more than willing and gave us some of the best chase scenes.

 

How about the chariot race in “Ben Hur”? Watching Charlton Heston on the big screen racing a chariot for his life more than wowed audiences; it set a bar of expectations. Of all the directors to provide some of the greatest “chase scene” footage was Alfred Hitchcock in the film, “North By Northwest.” Cary Grant being followed by a crop duster is one of the most oft repeated scenes in cinema history.

 

But it would take a while before two and two would come together. I’ll take a moment and give a nod to what I believe was another influence on the “car chase” genre: “Grand Prix.” Directed by John Frankenheimer (a former stock car driver, among all things) “Grand Prix” was released in the mid-Sixties and although it wasn’t as renown as it later became, it did win Academy Awards for Editing and Sound. Any person who loves or enjoys car movies needs to watch this for a better appreciation of the genre. There’s not much of a plot or story to it; just 3 hours equating to a year on the Formula One racing circuit. Frankenheimer rushed to get this done because Steve McQueen was supposed to make a racing movie around the same time. Getting such actors as James Garner, Antonio Sabbato, Eva Marie Saint, and Toshira Mifune, “Grand Prix,” carved out its own spot in the car movie/racing movie genre.

 

 

 

 

 

Just a few years later (1968 to be exact) the father of the chase scene was born. “Bullitt” starred Steve McQueen as police detective Frank Bullitt, a man guarding a criminal witness who has a hunch that things aren’t right. This leads to a chase through the streets of San Francisco, driving a Ford Mustang Fastback GT and following the bad guys who were in a Dodge Charger. McQueen himself was a former stock car driver and forewent insurance stuff to do the chase, which had him driving at speeds up to 100 mph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next year the Brits came back with “The Italian Job.” Starring Michael Caine as Charlie Crooker, the film followed as he planned a heist of $4 billion in gold bullion. And how does one who executes this plan their getaway? By three mini-Cooper S’ painted red, white, and blue cutting through the streets of Turin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disney threw their hat into the ring and had their own “car chase” movies. “The Love Bug” starred Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle who had a personality that was “protected” by its owners; in this case, Dean Jones and Buddy Hackett. Herbie achieved his dream of being a racecar and went on to three sequels, a made-for-TV movie, and “Herbie: Fully Loaded” starring Lindsay Lohan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch that odometer, ’cause we’re about to kick it into the Seventies.

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