James O. Born
Wandering around he internet the other day I found a post on my friend Wallace Stroby’s site that was both nostalgic and made my critical police side come out. Wally, a connoisseur of noir and crime movies from the seventies, posts this clip from the movie The Seven Ups. The scene is simple. Roy Scheider chases a pair of cop killers through the streets of New York. Wally points out the geographical errors in the chase. He also covers the cinematic issues.
Now watch the movie. C’mon, it’ll take about ten minutes.
or, if this works here:
I watched this as a teenager at the old Rocking Chair Theater that is now a car dealership in West Palm Beach. I got sucked into the movie even if I didn’t understand the issues and emotions tied to events that unfold.
Now almost thirty-five years later (Ouch, that hurts to write) I look at this chase scene in an entirely different light. I’ve been in a few car chases in my career. Not many. But the ones I have experienced made a lasting impression.
Let me also add that I occasionally make a living advising writers and others about what’s real and what’s not in police work. I answer gun questions, jurisdiction questions even legal questions. I don’t mind helping out, especially if I can put food on the table with advice. But it’s made it almost impossible to watch a TV police show or movie.
The Seven-ups is typical of the time period. But focusing on the chase, first of all there is absolutely a legal reason to chase in the movie. A fellow police officer has been killed. The standard here in Florida is a violent crime. Generally an agency won’t authorize a high-speed pursuit for non-violent crimes. The liability just isn’t worth it.
The chase itself captures the intensity and concentration needed as well as the fear on the cop’s part of hitting pedestrians, especially kids. Think of what Roy Scheider, as a cop, is thinking. His friend is dead. The killers are about to escape. He must safe guard the public. Holy cow, you could overload on just those things, then add in personal danger and it makes you want to pee in your pants. Maybe that was just my issue. I think I might have just shared to much.
The other thing I liked is that these aren’t race cars. Just ordinary street cars for the time; a Ventura Hatchback and a Pontiac Bonneville. No one looks like Brad Pitt and there are no stunts in the cars that are wildly improbable.
Now the logical criticism. When he starts the chase you assume he has no radio and it’s a one on one chase because Roy never calls for help. Then, when a patrol car jumps in he has a radio and tells them “he’s on the job”. Why wait? The call of an officer shot goes out through a whole city, sometimes a state, and everyone jumps in. An assault on a police officer is an assault on order and society. It cannot be tolerated in any society and the bond among cops, like soldiers, is strong. The call for help is answered like nothing you could imagine.
The next logical problem I have is with the bad guys. At one point the passenger, I believe played by Richard Lynch (And I swear to God that’s from memory not Google) sets a trap and fires a double barrel shot gun at Roy. Then, minutes later, when they are bumping cars right next to each other he doesn’t bother to make the much easier shot. He’s not compelled by policy to never shoot at a moving vehicle like most police are.
Just thought I’d take you through an often-overlooked part of police work. Chases are relatively rare anymore and I’m glad of it. But I don’t mind seeing a good one in the movies.
Got any police scenes that have stuck with you?