Saturday, March 18, 2017
(December 1973, U.S.)
William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) remains my favorite cop/crime thriller of all time. That's quite a testament to its staying power when you consider just how many thrillers of the same genre have been held by far more physically brutal-type movie stars with far greater salary demands than Gene Hackman ever cleared. But really, let's not forget just how important Roy Scheider's role was to that monumental film, as well.
In 1975, there was a direct sequel called FRENCH CONNECTION II (naturally!) that brought back Hackman and took him to France to continue his pursuit of the one he called "Frog One". That sequel by John Frankenheimer was certainly not one of his better career moments, in my opinion, so I don't give it too much credit. Although it's not directly related to THE FRENCH CONNECTION, I would consider THE SEVEN-UPS a far superior sequel-like follow-up to the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1971. The film is not a sequel, but it's character of NYPD Detective Buddy Manucci as played by Roy Scheider is based on the same character of Detective Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo in THE FRENCH CONNECTION. So really, you can view it anyway you choose. It still doesn't deter from the fact that THE SEVEN-UPS is a great police thriller in its own right.
As a corrupt and crusading New York City policeman who is the leader of "The Seven-Ups", Buddy leads a squad of plainclothes officers who use dirty, unorthodox tactics to secure arrests that inevitably lead to prison sentences of seven years and up upon prosecution (hence the name of the team). Despite having to endure criticism and endless bullshit from the other cops who regard the team as renegades, Buddy still appears to be a good cop. When a rash of kidnappings and ransoms for high profile Mafia and white-collar criminals points to other cops and his own untrustworthy informant (and cousin), the pieces of the complicated puzzle ultimately leads to the murder of one of the Seven-Ups cops. As matters become unraveled and the pieces start to fall apart, Buddy's life is in jeopardy and must rely on his years of experience and tough street smarts to survive.
Now, bearing in mind that this film is an indirect follow-up to THE FRENCH CONNECTION and is directed by Phillip D'Antoni, also the producer of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and BULLIT (1968), the thrilling car chase sequence is inevitable. While the chase in this film doesn't surpass the one in its 1971 predecessor, in my opinion, it holds its own very well throughout the streets of upper Manhattan, over the George Washington Bridge and onto the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey. Roy Scheider is exciting to watch as he commands his 1973 Pontiac Ventura Custom Sprint Coupe. In fact, if you look carefully, you can even see where Scheider is doing his own driving, as opposed to stuntman Bill Hickman (also from THE FRENCH CONNECTION). The conclusion of the chase is almost horrifying to watch, as Scheider's car smashes into the back of a parked tractor-trailer, peeling off the car's roof. I mean, geez, you'd have to be good to survive this...
As thrills go, there's also a great sequence in a car wash that takes on a great deal of suspense as it's accompanied by the music of Don Ellis (again, also from THE FRENCH CONNECTION). In my opinion, this particular scene does for car washes what Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) did for showers and what Henri-Georges Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE (1955) did for bathtubs (just what is it about water in general that makes for such good suspense??).
Roy Scheider was, no doubt, one of my favorite actors of the 1970s, and next to Al Pacino, nobody played a cop quite like he did. He was tough, brutal, and sometimes even corrupt, but you always believed that he was on the side of righteousness and justice, whether on the streets, on the oceans of Amity Island, or flying the "Blue Thunder" super helicopter! And as it turned out, when he wasn't fighting crime (or sharks!), he made a very viable song-and-dance man in Bob Fosse's ALL THAT JAZZ (1979). He died nearly ten years ago and I still miss him (I met him in Southampton in 1997). Thankfully, films like THE SEVEN-UPS keep his memory and staying power alive and well. Though I must say, I wish I'd been old enough in the 1970s to catch a great double bill like this in theaters...
Damn, that's some good stuff!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Buddy Manucci: "You don't have to worry about me. I'm not gonna bag ya. But I think you better think about this...you better worry about Kalish's pals, Festa's pals, because word has a way of getting around."
Vito Lucia: "What are you talking about? You're gonna let them know? You can't do this to me, Buddy!"
Buddy: "No? You watch me!"