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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Car-Chase Connection

Cinema's best high-speed scenes

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When The French Connection burst onto screens in 1971, moviegoers were transfixed by its amazing car-chase sequence in New York City. To lovers of cops-and-robbers flicks, good guy/bad guy car chases are where it's at—and we've seen many, many over the years.

In alphabetical order, here are 15 of my favorites (and better than most anything on big screens this summer):

The Blues Brothers
(1980): Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi careening through a shopping mall in their Bluesmobile at the outset was hard to top. But watching them flee dozens of police cars through Chicago's Loop at the end took the cake. Plenty of hot music by a host of legendary black performers makes this one a real hoot.

Bullitt
(1968): Hard-boiled detective Steve McQueen tooled through hilly San Francisco in a sports car while eluding hit men in this classic. The ups and downs had us on the edge of our seats—and who better than McQueen, who drove race cars as a hobby? Scintillating.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
(1974): This unsung gem features race-car driver Peter Fonda picking up sexy Susan George and mechanic Adam Roarke and robbing a supermarket. They destroy every car in sight trying to escape a detective (Vic Morrow) down country roads, en route to a tragic end. It's fast, furious and memorable.

Drive a Crooked Road
(1954): Mickey Rooney stars as a loser garage mechanic yearning to drive race cars. He gets duped into taking a perilous route at breakneck speed following a nighttime holdup. Aided by femme fatale Dianne Foster, a devious Kevin McCarthy cajoles Rooney into beating the clock for the girl and the money.

The Driver
(1978): Ryan O'Neal, as an unsmiling, ice-cold getaway driver, scares the hell out of crooks while auditioning for their heist in a parking garage. When the robbers try to stiff him following a big-bucks caper, he wreaks havoc behind the wheel on dark city streets.

The French Connection
(1971): This granddaddy of urban chases—a speeding car pursuing a runaway subway train—is a wonder to behold. Popeye Doyle, played by Gene Hackman in an Oscar-winning role, pulls out all the stops on the trail of a coldblooded assassin under elevated tracks in the Bronx.

Hell Drivers
(1957): This taut account of daring drivers hauling ore on narrow British country roads provides one thrill after another. Good guys Stanley Baker and Herbert Lom compete for Peggy Cummins. Sean Connery and Patrick McGoohan, at their nastiest, are out to kill both of them along the way.

The Italian Job
(1969): This offbeat comedy features filmdom's biggest traffic jam. In a caravan of cars, an eclectic gang of thieves, led by Michael Caine, flees police throughout the city of Turin. The neat cast includes Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Maggie Blye and Raf Vallone. This version is far superior to the 2003 remake.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
(1963): Laughs abound as Edie Adams, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Peter Falk, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Dorothy Provine, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas and Jonathan Winters race for Jimmy Durante's hidden bank loot. Crooked cop Spencer Tracy joins in.

Robbery
(1967): Planning to rob the Royal Mail train in the 1960s, mobsters flee London police as their speeding car nearly mows down schoolchildren. Its thrills inspired director Peter Yates to do likewise a year later in Bullitt.

Ronin
(1998): This film offers an exciting story of tough mercenaries duped by a double-crossing client in Paris and several scorching car chases on narrow streets. Director John Frankenheimer, who helmed Grand Prix (1966), outdoes himself. The hard-boiled cast includes Robert De Niro.

The Seven-Ups
(1973): The unofficial sequel to The French Connection (with several actors reprising their roles) provides a jolting finish to a scary car chase. New York cop Roy Scheider, again behind the wheel, spars with gangster Tony Lo Bianco.

Sorcerer
(1977): On-the-lam New York mobster Roy Scheider joins three other fugitives in a seedy Central American town driving trucks loaded with nitroglycerin over horrible jungle roads. There are thrills aplenty as they deliver deadly cargo for use in putting out oil-well fires in this jolting remake of 1953's classic The Wages of Fear.

Thunder Road
(1958): Robert Mitchum, as a moonshine runner in a fast hot-rod, races revenuers on bad mountain roads in Kentucky and Tennessee. Bootlegger boss Jacques Aubuchon will kill him to gain control. Mitchum's real-life son, Jim, plays his younger brother.

To Live and Die in L.A.
(1985): A hotshot Secret Service agent (William L. Petersen) dogs a slimy counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe). The agent and his partner (John Pankow) careen their car through dangerous areas of Los Angeles while being pursued by gun-firing bad guys.

Richard G. Carter was a columnist with the
New York Daily News and has appeared on “Larry King Live” and “Donahue.”
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