The modern car chase era started in 1968 with Steve McQueen’s Bullit. But there were any number of car chases in films before Bullitt, especially in the teenage delinquent era of the 50s when street racing inevitably ended up in terrible crashes, going over cliffs, or when teenage “devil dolls” pulled hold-up jobs from their cars and ruined their young lives (and the bad kids were always shown as an example to the good kids).
But what we call the modern era involves high performance V-8 soundtracks, squealing rubber, turns and jumps that are difficult but still possible (versus the cartoon-ish “Fast and Furious” type car films of more current times), and intelligent drivers who are not muscle-heads but do appreciate their cars (aka not Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel). Steve McQueen gave us this era, and it was followed up by all sorts of actors including John Wayne (McQ) and Roy Scheider.
Yes, Roy Scheider, before he hit the big-time in Jaws (and his creative peak, All That Jazz). The Seven Ups was intended as a follow-up to The French Connection II, but only the bare background of the story remains. Scheider plays the head of an elite police unit in New York City (where else?) that actually existed. Their job is to take on the toughest crimes with the toughest methods. This is the best type of classic police movies: the city is tough, gritty, and violent, scheming criminals are pervasive and many cops are dirty, but a handful of dedicated officers are even tougher and are determined to clean up their piece of the streets – no matter what it takes.
Spoiler alert: thanks to YouTube, we can offer the entire chase here. But we still recommend that you add the film to your collection because it’s one of the absolute all-time greats for driving (and chase) enthusiasts. Background to the video clip below: the bad guys have just killed a police officer. Roy gives chase in his personal Pontiac Ventura, obviously enhanced with an engine it never came with and featuring plenty of extra power. The chase itself is fabulous and very well done, and you’ll recognize many parts of New York City from those days. Lots of fun details: no seatbelts, kids in street, and bad New York City traffic (but not a quarter as bad as it is now).
But watch what happens to end the chase – this is absolutely unique and you will feel what happens to Scheider. Could you come up with a better ending than that? No! Turn up your sound, go full screen, and enjoy:
Did you notice? The bad guy driver is indeed Bill Hickman. You know him from essentially the same role in Bullitt as the driver of the black Charger. Hickman worked on Bullitt, The French Connection, and The Seven Ups. He was also first on the scene when James Dean died in his Porsche 550 Spyder.
We love these old films about the dirty, impersonal and cold New York City – the one that existed just before Rudy G cleaned it all up (and it’s a good thing he did). Films like The French Connection, The Seven Ups, the original (and far better than the remake) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and of course Shaft (the walk thru Times Square is highlighted in college film courses) are the definition of that time period.
Read more about hundreds of great films for the driving enthusiast on our sister site CarMovieEnthusiast.com!