Police Story (2): Cutting to the Chase

Police Story (2): Cutting to the Chase

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Mar 6th 2018

Producer Philip D’Antoni and stunt coordinator Bill Hickman hit box-office paydirt with two action-packed cop thrillers that became instantly iconic while burning a lot of rubber: Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971) each featured their respective lead actors Steve McQueen and Gene Hackman not only busting mob-connected criminal activities but also putting pedal to the metal in a couple of hair-raising urban car chases. Each film would capture Best Editing Academy Awards® (for Frank P. Keller and Gerald B. Greenberg, respectfully) largely as a result of their breathtaking sequences of automotive mayhem and The French Connection, as that year’s Oscar® Best Picture, nabbed one for D’Antoni as well. So when the two would reunite on a third law enforcer project to extend The French Connection’s creative association with legendary undercover NYPD detective Sonny Grosso, The Seven-Ups (1973) was conceived from a story by Grosso; D’Antoni would take on the role of director for his only feature helming credit, and a mid-point chase sequence was devised that many genre addicts feel outstrips the gears of the previous pair. 

Tough, rough-hewn handsome Roy Scheider, an Oscar® nominee for the Grosso-based character he played in The French Connection (1973), now commanded center stage as The Seven-Ups’ Buddy Manucci, head of a covert NYPD squad of badass cops that plays hardball in their investigations of both white-collar and street-level crimes, and their latest investigation is a whopper: mob figures are being kidnapped for ransom by a couple of daring police impersonators (skeezy Richard Lynch and the imposing Hickman) whose brazen operations bring the Seven-Ups crew under suspicion of going rogue in order to light the fuse of mob retaliation. Another Connection connection, Tony Lo Bianco, played Manucci’s boyhood friend, a neighborhood undertaker who provides occasional “street intelligence,” but turns out to be more dangerously caught up in the current crime wave than Manucci initially realizes. Efforts at wiretapping and infiltration result in tragedy for one squad member, and the beleaguered band of brothers-in-blue take it personally, stretching the boundaries of the strictly legal. That particularly includes the 10-minute sequence in which Manucci tears off his Pontiac Ventura custom spirit coupe to give chase to fleeing criminals Lynch and Hickman in their Pontiac Grand Ville sedan weaving in and sometimes driving against traffic through Upper West Side Manhattan, across the George Washington Bridge and highways beyond, concluding with one of cinema’s most startling collisions. 

All of this occurs against the vividly captured backdrop of a seething Big Apple in fractious decline 45 years ago, and it would be this starkly lensed (by Urs Furrer), time-capsule caper that The Deuce co-creator George Pelecanos cited as an inspiration for the HBO series when he chose it for screening last October at the Austin Film Festival. (Read essayist Jacob Knight’s impressions here: Though not bestowed with the artistic laurels and “cool factor” of the first two entries of the D’Antoni police trilogy, The Seven-Ups has an abundance of gritty soulfulness that ’70s crime films blogger William Boyle nails in his GoodbylikeaBullet piece here: What’s more, when buckling up for The Seven-Ups on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, a crash-course history of the film awaits: seven featurettes that include glimpses on set and/or interviews with D’Antoni, Lo Bianco, Hickman and technical advisor/ex-NYPD detective Randy Jurgensen; a Lobby Cards/Stillls/Promotional Media Gallery; a studio-authorized 16-minute Super 8 Version of the film prepared for the print collector’s market in the pre-home video era; an information-jammed Audio Commentary from film historian Richard Harland Smith; and Isolated Music Tracks showcasing the work of two jazz/movie-music greats: both the stunning film score by Don Ellis and the commissioned but still intriguing unused score by Johnny Mandel. Are you revved-up yet? In advance of its smashing March 20 arrival, Preorders open tomorrow, Wednesday March 7.