Sunday, January 18, 2009

Big Apple Time Capsule Pt. 1: THE SEVEN-UPS


Not long ago, Reed Farrel Coleman and I were discussing how New York City as we knew it growing up (he in Brooklyn, me in N.J.) for the most part no longer exists. Crime and poverty-ridden, with a stratospheric murder rate and a perpetual fiscal crisis, New York in the 1970s - pre-Disney, pre-Giuilani, pre-homeless shelters - was a very different place.
Where that New York still survives, of course, is in the movies made during that period. In the late '60s and throughout the '70s, N.Y.-set films tended to get out of the studios and into the streets, often making a character of the city itself. This was especially true of shot-on-location crime dramas (though that path was blazed by Mark Hellinger and Jules Dassin's NAKED CITY back in 1948). Unlike valentines such as Woody Allen's MANHATTAN, these films usually featured unadorned, often grim (at times overly grim) visions of the city. In the years since, they've become evocative time capsules of the way things were.

The film that spurred this discussion was 1973's THE SEVEN-UPS, a movie that brought back vivid memories for both of us. A follow-up of sorts to 1971's THE FRENCH CONNECTION (both featured Roy Scheider as a hard-edged undercover cop), THE SEVEN-UPS was a gritty urban crime drama played out in the wintry streets of New York circa 1972 ("That's the New York I remember," Coleman said). In addition to Jersey guy Scheider's broken-nosed charisma and unaffected Everyman persona, the film featured lyrically stark camerawork by Urs Furrer and location shooting that ranged from the Bronx to lower Manhattan (he showed off the city to similar effect in SHAFT and SHAFT'S BIG SCORE!). And, like any '70s movie worth its salt, it features an appearance by Joe Spinell.

But what THE SEVEN-UPS is most remembered for, of course, is its chase scene, one of the best ever, as Scheider's character, in a Pontiac Ventura, pursues a pair of cop killers in a Bonneville (one of the killers is played by famed stunt driver Bill Hickman, who coordinated the action, as he had previously for BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION).
You see a lot of the city during the chase, from downtown to Washington Heights, but don't try to follow the geography. The cars cross the George Washington Bridge into Jersey, chase each other up the Palisades Parkway, then magically reappear back across the river on the Saw Mill River Parkway and eventually onto the Taconic for a bruising finish. Does the geography matter? Probably not. Enjoy.



NEXT TIME: "Across 110th Street"

16 comments:

Ali Karim said...

Yo Wallace - one for my favouriter movies, must see if I can get it on DVD. After the French Connection, The 7-UPS came close and the late Roy Schieder really shone

Best

Ali

pattinase (abbott) said...

We saw 110th Street recently and were reminded of that time. The novel Desperate Characters by Paula Fox always brings it home too. It was odd watching NYC change over the years, both in person (my husband goes to the NYPL for research) and in movies. Where did all the people living in dumpsters in the eighties go? Who paid to turn it into a Woody Allen movie?

wstroby said...

I don't know about the PAL version, but the U.S. edition of the SEVEN-UPS DVD has a short behind-the-scenes featurette on the filming of the chase, the kind of thing they used to show on U.S. TV when games were rain-delayed.

The other reason the film sticks in my memory is that it was rated PG - unlike THE FRENCH CONNECTION and its counterparts - which meant, as a newly minted teenager, I could actually get into the theater to see it when it first came out.

A couple years back, my friend Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a revisionist piece on the original FRENCH CONNECTION. I don't necessarily agree with it, but it's interesting reading.

wstroby said...

*pattinase (abbott) said...
We saw 110th Street recently and were reminded of that time. The novel Desperate Characters by Paula Fox always brings it home too. It was odd watching NYC change over the years, both in person (my husband goes to the NYPL for research) and in movies. Where did all the people living in dumpsters in the eighties go? Who paid to turn it into a Woody Allen movie?*

I'm not one of those who thinks N.Y. was more charming when the crime rate was higher, but it is interesting to see how the city was reflected in the films of the time. However, it was sometimes exaggerated for dramatic purposes as well, as in Michael Winner's DEATH WISH, where gangs of homicidal muggers freely roam even the best neighborhoods.

The homeless shelter initiative didn't really get off the ground until 1979, when an advocacy group filed suit against the city. That was finally resolved in 1981 and led to the city and state's Right to Shelter law, if I have my facts right.

tintin said...

Not a car chase in it but "Loving"with George Segal was shot in NYC as the Trade Center was under construction. Also, Roy Scheider has a small part - - maybe his first in a film?

Great scenes of '68ish NY and a story long overdue for a remake. Some pretty snappy sports jackets as well.

wstroby said...

Actually, for Scheider's first film you'd have to seek out the 1964 classic CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE.

JMags said...

Definately interesting to see NYC during that time period. The car chase is a classic, obviously. Nice to hear screeching tires. I thought the plot was a little hard to follow. Two other actors of note, for myself, were Joe "Gazzo" Spinell and Richard Lynch. I never knew his name, but that's a face you don't forget. I recognize him from a variety of TV shows from the 80s. Also, Tony Lo Bianco went on to play Rocky Marciano in a made for TV movie (not released on DVD). That scene with Roy walking around the Italian neighborhood, I think that could have been Arthur Avenue in the Bronx ("Little Italy of the Bronx"). If so, it's the only film I know that filmed there.

wstroby said...

Actually, I think SEVEN UPS has one of Lo Bianco's weaker performances. In his scenes with Scheider, he seems to mumble through a lot of his lines, though that very well may have been the direction he was given. He's much stronger in FRENCH CONNECTION.

JMags said...

That was a weak performance by Lo Bianco, as a matter of fact I had to turn up the volume when he spoke. I heard Sonny Grosso on the Joey Reynolds Show a while back. Roy Scheider's performance was exactly how you described him in your tribute to him when he died.

JMags said...

Upon further investigation by members of the Old Country and the zoom feature on my DVD player, that is Arthur Avenue in the Bronx that Roy Scheider is walking through. I know of no other movie (though it may exist) that filmed there. The first overhead shot shows the Arthur Avenue Retail Market listed at 2344 Arthur Avenue. The old lady is standing in front of the Market, then the guy who whistles "Hi" looks like he's standing in front of Teitel Brothers.

wstroby said...

You know your Bronx!

Jmags said...

Actually I forgot the story about the Bronx butcher played by Ernest Borgnine in MARTY.

Will Errickson said...

Dug your write-up. Big fan of Scheider, SEVEN-UPS, and NYC movies of the '70s as well.

Marc Brankovitch said...

Where is (or was) the garage at which the chase started?

Wallace Stroby said...

Marc: Don't know for certain, but I suspect it's West 45th St. in Manhattan betw. 10th and 11th. Across from the garage you can clearly see a sign that says "Capitol Lighting Company," and a little detective work shows that's where the company was in 1972-'73. I'll throw it out to my NYC friends on FaceBook as well and see if someone can pin it down any better.
Best, W.

Wallace Stroby said...

However, this YouTube vid seems to feel it's 56th St. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzJMhmZRSC0