Posts Tagged ‘french connection


The Car is the Star: History of the Car Chase

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 Two: The Seventies


It’s now the Seventies and the effect of “Bullitt” is reverberating through Hollywood. Youth culture and the anti-war movement helped to propel such films as “Easy Rider” and the Studios were looking toward muscle cars to bring the kids to the theatre.


The first to take the director’s chair and run with the assignment was a guy named Steven Spielberg. Taking a Richard Matheson story called, “Duel,” Spielberg created a made-for-TV movie about a traveling salesman (Dennis Weaver) who cut off the wrong trucker. The result being a “dinosaur” semi-truck constantly antagonizing Weaver on the road as he tries not to get killed driving his Plymouth Valiant. Ratings were so good the Studios released the movie in theatres.


Next came another great chase scene in cinema history: Gene Hackman in a hijacked car vs. an elevated subway train in 1971’s, “The French Connection.” “The French Connection” followed two cops, “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) and Sonny Grosso (Roy Scheider) as they made one of the biggest drug scores in history: $25 million in smuggled heroin. As for the chase, the perp got onto the train. To stop him, Doyle hijacks a car and avoids hitting other cars, poles, a mother with a baby carriage, etc. and gets to the scene in time enough to stop the guy cold.


The same year a low-budget film had James Taylor and Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys) in their 1955 Chevy Coupe challenge a guy (Warren Oates) in a stock 1970 Pontiac GTO to a cross-country race. “Two Lane Blacktop” may have been a little “Easy Rider” in showing aimless characters going cross-country, but the film has its following.



1973 saw “The Seven-Ups.” Based on a story by Sonny Grasso pitched to Roy Scheider during the making of “The French Connection,” “The Seven-Ups” follows a unit within the New York City Police Department that, if they catch you, your sentence is seven years and up. Having the producers of “Bullitt” and “The French Connection,” the film having a car chase scene was a requirement. When the bad guys speed off in their Pontiac Grand Ville, Scheider follows them in a Pontiac Ventura Sprint Coupe. They drive on sidewalks, fishtail the cars, almost hit a group of kids in the street, and in the end Scheider almost gets beheaded by a semi-truck. Maybe not the most inspired of car chases, but one of the more intense ones.


Another entry into the genre is none other than “Vanishing Point.” Barry Newman stars as Kowalski, a former Vietnam Vet, police officer, and race car driver who makes a bet that he can make it from Denver to San Fran in 15 hours. Spiritually connected with him is “Super Soul” (Cleavon Little) a blind radio disc jockey in a small town who is “tuned” into what and where Kowalski is going as his Dodge R/T Challenger avoids cops and a pissed-off motorist. The chase in this movie IS the movie, with the cops setting up a roadblock that Kowalski is ever speeding toward. Of note Dean Jagger of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is in this. Also, the band Audioslave’s video for their song, “Show Me How To Live” incorporated footage from the film mixed with the band driving the same car through the same locations.


Peter Fonda and Deke Sommers play washed-up NASCAR drivers who rob a small town grocery and along the way pick up Susan George in 1974’s “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.” Larry (Fonda) and Mary (George) are pursued in their 1969 Dodge Challenger R/T by police officer Hanks (Eugene Daniels) in a 1972 Dodge Polara and Sheriff Franklin (Vic Morrow), who tracks them from a helicopter. While Larry does exclaim, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop us!” he should have watched out for the train.


The same year came low-budget filmmaker H.B. ‘Toby’ Halicki. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, then you should recognize his contribution: “Gone in 60 Seconds.” With a budget of $1.1 million he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in this tale of Mandarin Chase, a fraud investigator who steals cars on the side (only ones that are insured). This movie practically shows you how to steal a car, circa 1974. When Chase completes a deal to deliver 50 cars in two days, the chase is on as him and his team secure every car but “Eleanor,” a 1973 Ford Mac 1. The cops swooping in leads to a 40-minute car chase (longest in film history). Trivia: all the cars housed in the warehouse Chase walks around in were owned by Halicki. The film was remade in 2000 with Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie.


“Death Race 2000.” For those who didn’t catch my “Remake Radar” article, it’s the future and in the Trans Continental Road Race, you earn points for roadkill. The older, the better. David Carradine (“Kung Fu”) plays government champion Frankenstein. His rival: Joe “Machine Gun” Viturbo (Sylvester Stallone). Directed by Roger Corman, this was a satiric look at the “car is the star” Seventies film fare. Currently remade (sort of) as “Death Race” with Jason Statham, Joan Allen, and Tyrese Gibson.


“The Gumball Rally” solidified the nation’s fixation with driving cross-country and comedy. Driving from New York to California, the illegal race featured such actors as Raul Julia and Gary Busey in a competition for speed and a gumball machine. This film would be seen again, but as “Cannonball Run.”





“Eastbound and down, loaded-up and truckin’ / we’re gonna do what they say can’t be done…” If there was a nickel for every time in my life I heard Jerry Reed sing the theme to “Smokey and the Bandit…” Anyways, for those who have never watched it (just a disclaimer) the story goes like this: an 18-wheeler of beer has to get from Texas to Georgia. The driver: Cledus “Snowball 1” Snow (Jerry Reed). Making sure it happens is The Bandit (Burt Reynolds). When Bandit picks up a runaway bride (Sally Fields) they invoke wrath of father-in-law-to-be Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), aka “Smokey.” Fun, redneck comedy that rivaled “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters” for the box office of 1977. It also made it impossible not to spot a Trans Am in the South. Followed by two sequels. “We’re Eastbound, watchin’ Bandit run…”


A little late, one of the “Duel” imitators, as well as a precursor to  “Christine,” “The Car,” pops in at 1977. A possessed Lincoln Mark III takes on anyone who challenges it.


Stay tuned for the Eighties!


Movies on DVD Review: The Seven-Ups (1973 )



Starring Roy Scheider and Tony Bianco. Directed by Philip D’Antoni.


Based on a story provided by Sonny Grasso (“The French Connection”), Roy Scheider is Buddy, the head of an underground police organization known as the “Seven-Ups.” They are called this because whatever criminal they catch receives a sentence of seven years or more. Mobsters around the city are being kidnapped and extorted for money, a plot that Scheider’s team finds out after a team member is accidentally killed. Playing both sides against the middle is Vito (Tony Bianco), Buddy’s friend and underworld informant.


This film could easily be considered a “sequel” to “The French Connection,” but don’t confuse it with “French Connection II.” For starters, there’s almost no dialogue whatsoever; outside of a few scenes between Scheider and Bianco, there’s just raw visual filmmaking. Using “French Connection” as a blueprint, the film is the classic “70’s style:” pseudo-documentary/ hand-held shots, wide angles, sparse dialog; an almost “being there” feel to it. Plus being directed by Philip D’Antoni (who produced “Bullitt” and “The French Connection”) there is the obligatory car chase.


Screeching tires? Check. Disobeying traffic laws? Check. Car continues to fishtail? Check. Trying to improve on “Bullitt” and “French Connection,” imagine a chase scene that is a marriage of the chase scenes from those movies; Roy Scheider in a Pontiac Ventura ripping through the streets of New York City following the bad guys driving a Pontiac Grand Ville. Throw in some traffic, kids playing in the streets, an extra police patrol car and a semi-truck at the end and while it may not be the best, it’s worthy of the Car Chase Hall of Excellence.


Should you rent this movie? If you’re a fan of Seventies cinema, yes. If you liked the “French Connection,” yes. If you’re a Roy Scheider fan, definitely.


My grade: B


Top Five Hackman Movies

Seguing from “hacking” movies here at the Film Guys Online / Chasfilm Productions Office of Cinematic Research we bring to you:




Yes, we are celebrating the acting career and catalog of esteemed thespian Gene Hackman. Due to the vast amount of movies he’s been in, and the roles, it was difficult to bring it down to just five (much less ten or twenty). For you’re reading pleasure, here we go:


5. Superman (1978) – While Jack Nicholson and Gene Wilder were considered Hackman was the one to fill the role of Supe’s nemesis, the criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. Luthor’s plan: buy up worthless desert land and launch nuclear missiles at the San Andreas fault line, making Luthor’s land the New West Coast. On his side are girlfriend Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), bumbling sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty), and not just a pocket but a box full of Kryptonite. Trivia: Hackman refused to wear a “bald” skull cap, just increasing laughable wigs. He relented in the end and wore one for Luthor’s final scene.




4. Unforgiven (1992) – Hackman plays Little Bill Daggett, former gunfighter and current sheriff of the town of Big Whiskey. After a prostitute has her face cut-up and he fines the cowboy who did it seven horses (payable to the saloon owner/pimp), the other prostitutes in town gather together and look for someone who can come in and deliver justice. This comes in the form of William Munny (Clint Eastwood), former thief and murderer now reformed. Munny, his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and wannabe desperado The Schofield Kid (James Woolvett) head off to Big Whiskey for the reward and to find out what happened. Hackman delivers one of the film’s best lines: “I don’t deserve this… to die like this,” in which Munny replies, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” Trivia: The script for “Unforgiven” had been floating around Hollywood for two decades. Hackman had already read it and passed on it. Eastwood coaxed him into being in it.


3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – Hackman makes an appearance in this Wes Anderson movie about estranged patriarch Royal Tenenbaum who is trying to spend time with his family (former child prodigies) because he has a terminal illness. This movie was fun to watch because it appeared that Hackman himself was having fun. With a cast of Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwenyth Paltrow, Luke and Owen Wilson, how could it not be? This is one of the best Wes Anderson movies (next to “Life Aquatic”). Trivia: Wes Anderson wrote the part of Royal Tenenbaum with Hackman in mind.


2. The French Connection (1971) – In my Top Ten Favorite Movies of All Time, Hackman plays Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle. Along with partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) they make the biggest drug bust in NYC history -$32 million in heroin (a HUGE deal in the 1960’s). I can’t praise this movie enough. Whether it’s Hackman’s delivery of “Did you stop to pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?” or his “car vs. train chase,” you can’t miss this movie. Trivia: The real ‘Popeye’ Doyle was on the set and would often antagonize Hackman.


1. Crimson Tide (1995) – Hackman plays Captain Frank Ramsey of the USS Alabama (“Go Bama!”) who takes on new XO, Lt. Com. Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington). When the nuclear sub is called into deep waters it does a dance with a Russian Akula-class sub. Conflicted messages are obtained as to whether or not the sub should fire its nuclear missiles. Based on the film, “Run Silent Run Deep,” “Crimson Tide” is, in my opinion, a much better version of the story. I honestly thought there would’ve been a moment in the film where Hackman and Washington got into a fight. Trivia: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, and Tommy Lee Jones all turned down the part Hackman played.