Review Date: 9/2/18
Director: Philip D'Antoni
Cast: Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Bill Hickman, Richard Lynch
Buddy Manucci (Roy Scheider) is the leader of an elite NYPD task force called The Seven-Ups that uses questionable tactics and dirty tricks to take down untouchable gangsters. When a couple of crooks posing as cops start kidnapping mob leaders for ransom, Buddy's team is suspected and one of his partners gets caught in the crossfire. Seeking revenge as well as answers, he lays a trap for the kidnappers and discovers the mastermind behind the entire plot.
It's a gritty and slow-burning police thriller in the vein of "The French Connection" (1971), and people often mistake it for being a sequel since Roy Scheider essentially plays the same character with the same name (although it's Buddy Russo in that film). That's not the only connection to "The French Connection", as Bill Hickman orchestrates one of the finest car chase scenes in cinematic history at the film's midpoint. The vehicles look completely out of control and there's a tangible sense of speed and danger. The sound of roaring engines, squealing tires, and grinding metal adds to the excitement as only 1970's cars could. In the most shocking scene, Buddy's Pontiac slams into a truck, but what's even more shocking is that they filmed that with an actual driver. Given the way it was shot and the angles that were used, it seems that a more reasonable approach would have been to just launch an empty car at the target at short range. I'm sure the technology was available, even if it just involved rolling a car down a hill. It seems like a crazy and unnecessary risk, but the driver walked away from it (albeit shaken and bleeding). Hickman claimed the stunt was a tribute to the late Jayne Mansfield, who died in a similar accident.
Apart from the incredible car chase, the film is very well made and the acting is excellent. The story itself is overly simplistic, but the characters are realistic and appropriately fleshed out. The New York scenery is compelling, and the garbage, pollution, and graffiti reflect the culture and the people of the time. From the viewpoint of a world-weary cynic, one could argue that the film makes a strong case for universal health care, but I don't even want to go there. The fact that it even entered my head while I was watching the film made me angry. I hate when real life threatens my ability to enjoy entertainment. The music score creates an urgent sense of desperation and despair, and does a good job of accentuating the drama and tension. Director Philip D'Antoni produced both "Bullitt" (1968) and "The French Connection" (both of which featured Bill Hickman's stunt driving), and decided to direct the film himself after William Friedkin turned down the job. What I find interesting is that I didn't particularly enjoy "Bullitt" or "The French Connection" when I first saw them and I thought they were both overrated. Have my tastes changed that much over the last twenty years? Perhaps I need to revisit them from a middle-age perspective.