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"