Roy Scheider is one of the “seven-ups”, a renegade police team who use unconventional methods to arrest New York City’s biggest criminals. Dan Stephens reviews this fine slice of 1970s gritty, urban street cinema that gladly evokes the spirit, and ostensibly the character, of The French Connection…
Philip D’Antoni might not be a household name but he was responsible for a handful of films which remain classics of their generic persuasion. Bullitt, for example, the super-cool Steve McQueen flick or William Friedkin’s The French Connection were fruits of D’Antoni’s labour in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These slick, urbanised police procedurals developed their own niche around renegade law enforcers, the city and their cars. Oh, yes… the cars.
In D’Antoni’s world the car chase is king. Hence we get an excitable sequence that probably appeared in the script as a single line of exposition: Buddy chases bad guys through New York City (note to director: devote 10 minutes to the scene and a significant portion of the budget). But it’s what D’Antoni’s fans want to see. After all, the producer of The French Connection and Bullitt had proven his love of burnt rubber, exhaust fumes and the low, undulating growl of internal combustion. Indeed, off the back of his encouragement William Friedkin would concoct arguably the greatest car chase in movie history in To Live and Die In L.A.
D’Antoni, relieving his collaborators from directorial duties in 1973, can’t boast the exquisite execution of his more seasoned helmsmen but The Seven-Ups remains a distinguished piece of 1970s urban street cinema thanks to its kinetic depiction of man and automobile. Here, the great Roy Scheider is the cop behind the wheel, pursuing born-to-be-bad Richard Lynch’s Moon and his crooked partner-in-crime.
The chase takes them through the city’s urban jungle, D’Antoni’s camera relentlessly cutting from front-mounted point-of-view, tarmac disappearing below our line of sight, to sweat-smeared reaction and the understandable sign of mild panic. The money shots are the wide angles, cars skidding around corners and weaving through traffic. It’s all filmed on location where the talented stunt drivers are let loose – their lives on the line – without a digital effect in sight. That phrase – they don’t make them like they used to couldn’t be more apt.
The sequence is the high point of a commendable thriller about a group of New York police detectives – led by Scheider’s Buddy – who utilise unconventional methods to trap and arrest their targets. Their name comes from the fact they target crimes that warrant prison sentences in excess of seven years. In their latest case they find themselves tackling a criminal group who have set up a kidnapping business targeting high level mob bosses who can be held for ransom. When one of his team is shot and killed during their investigation, things become personal for Buddy and his gang.
Director D’Antoni is a producer rather than a director. That’s highlighted in The Seven-Ups through an unevenness that halts the film’s ability to captivate through mystery. It’s messy, confusing and a little over the top. But D’Antoni’s skill behind the scene ensures the film gains points for its casting – Scheider’s the obvious one, recalling his role from The French Connection only this time not having to share screen time with Gene Hackman. Lynch’s Moon is also great – a ready-made baddie with a Hitler Youth appearance. The director also promotes on-location shooting – a mark of films made in America during the 1970s. Here, the seedier side of New York gets a grimy run-out, the city becoming as much a character as any of the spoken parts.
With Scheider evoking memories of his turn in The French Connection and plenty of the film’s staff adding their skill to The Seven-Ups (including technical advisor and screenwriter Sonny Grosso and stunt co-ordinator Bill Hickman), the comparisons are hardly unfair. While Friedkin might have made a better stab at channelling the film’s component parts into a more complete and satisfying “whole”, D’Antoni nevertheless delivers a film that aesthetically pleases with its gritty point-and-shoot style while boasting a thrilling car chase.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Philip D’Antoni
Written by: Albert Ruben, Alexander Jacobs
Starring: Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Larry Haines, Richard Lynch, Ken Kercheval
Top 10 Films watched The Seven-Ups courtesy of Signal One Entertainment’s brand new region B Blu-ray release.