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Guest Programmer: George Pelecanos
Remind Me
suppliedTitle,Seven Ups, The

The Seven Ups

Though Bullitt may have officially kick started the car chase craze on American movie screens in 1968, it was undeniably the 1970s that perfected it. For an entire decade, films ranging from wholesome Walt Disney films to gritty urban actioners were packed with high-octane, outrageous set pieces that turned stunt men into superstars. Of course, the car chase in Bullitt begat another, equally famous one in William Friedkin's 1971 Oscar®-winning classic, The French Connection, which turned the streets of New York into a harrowing collision course.

What those two films had in common was the same producer, Philip D'Antoni, as well as stunt coordinator Bill Hickman. Both men reunited for a third film, The Seven-Ups (1973), which remains more of a cult film than its better-known predecessors; in fact, its lineage is a somewhat tangled one. The credited source is a story by Sonny Grosso, the real-life New York police detective turned producer who was portrayed (with some fictional embellishments) by Roy Scheider in The French Connection (renamed as Buddy Russo, nicknamed "Cloudy"). An official sequel, French Connection II, was released in 1975 without the Grosso/Russo character and with John Frankenheimer taking up the directorial reins, but for many The Seven-Ups is an equally valid follow up.

Apart from being based on another Grosso story, the film brings back Scheider as Buddy Manucci, essentially the same character he played in the previous film with a slightly more crooked morality. Here he runs the title organization, a group of cops who use underhanded tactics to nab culprits whose offenses garner seven years or up in prison. After a counterfeiting bust, Buddy and his men become involved in an increasingly dangerous crime network involving the mob, inside informants, and kidnapping.

For the first and only time, D'Antoni actually moved into the director's chair for this film, which necessitated a car chase worthy of his two previous main credits as producer. The end result, a ten-minute spectacular tearing through the streets of New York with real vehicles violating a countless number of safety codes, is often cited by devotees as perhaps the greatest of all time with Hickman devising a string of gasp-inducing vehicular stunts.

Another French Connection alumnus returning here was late jazz composer Don Ellis, whose work on that film earned him a Grammy. However, he wasn't the initial choice; the original score was written by Johnny Mandel, who had scored hits with his soundtracks to films like M*A*S*H (1970) and The Sandpiper (1965). However, his work was rejected and Ellis was brought in to write a replacement score. Both of these iterations received their debut soundtrack releases in 2007 (on a CD paired up with Mandel's score for 1982's The Verdict), offering a fascinating contrast between the film we know and the one that might have been.

By Nathaniel Thompson



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