RIP Producer/Director Philip D’Antoni
Between my revisit of The Seven-Ups via this Twilight Time release and this writing, we’ve lost producer/director Philip D’Antoni. D’Antoni was involved in a series of tough guy law enforcement films that were an absolute sensation and remain highly influential even today. D’Antoni produced Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, multiple Oscar-winner The French Connection, and today’s focus (where he netted his one and only directorial credit) The Seven-Ups.
These films are perhaps best known for the gripping car chases that were crafted for each, all of which routinely come up in conversation when the all-time greatest cinematic car chases are being discussed. And for my money, I’d submit that The Seven-Ups features the most fun and action packed chase of the bunch. More on that later.
D’Antoni, hot off the meteoric success of The French Connection in 1971, continued his collaboration with former NYPD officers Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan to bring a gritty realism to 1973’s The Seven-Ups. The French Connection (one of the greatest cops and robbers movies ever committed to celluloid) in part succeeded so wildly thanks to the on set consultation by (and real life story of) Grosso and Egan, who were portrayed in that film by Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman, respectively (as thinly veiled approximations of the real men). Hackman went on to win an academy award for the role, and took his “Popeye” Doyle character one film further in an official French Connection sequel in 1975 helmed by master action filmmaker John Frankenheimer. But The French Connection II only follows Doyle. Scheider’s Connection character, Buddy Russo, never featured in any sequels. However, Scheider’s Seven-Ups character (also Buddy, believe it or not), is also based on Grosso, and The Seven-Ups is more or less a sequel to The French Connection in all but name only.
The Seven-Ups’ Buddy is a consummate tough guy. Born and bred on the streets, he’s the respected cop he is today because he’s a part of the community. He’s friends with cops and crooks alike. Also jumping over from The French Connection, character actor Tony Lo Bianco here plays Buddy’s childhood friend and occasional underworld informant Vito. There’s an unknown crew boldly kidnapping and robbing “made” wise guys all over the city, and Buddy’s crew The Seven-Ups (named for only going after crimes that carry a punishment of seven years or more in prison) are on the job. Veteran stunt coordinator, stunt driver, and character actor Bill Hickman plays one of the loose cannon kidnappers, right alongside famed big screen creep Richard Lynch. With the mafia and Buddy’s team in hot pursuit, Bo and Moon (Hickman and Lynch respectively) wreak havoc on the streets and The Seven-Ups is a pulse pounding thrill ride as a result. Juiced up on cinema perhaps a bit more than The French Connection, The Seven-Ups is the action movie variation on Connection’s gritty realism. Still loaded with street knowledge and detail-specific accuracies, The Seven-Ups retains an heir of legitimacy even as it aims to thrill and entertain its viewers.
D’Antoni only ever directed this film. So it’s tough to compare his chops to those of William Friedkin and John Frankenheimer, two of the greatest in their craft. But D’Antoni’s entry to the loose French Connection trilogy is handily the most fun. I’ll watch French Connection more times in my life, and French Connection II is admirably bleak and grimy, but The Seven-Ups is the film to show someone who wants to have a good time cruising around 1970s New York City.
And you will have a good time. There are real stakes and relationships at the core of The Seven-Ups. But after Bullitt and Connection, D’Antoni had to deliver the goods when it came to car chases. And, together with Hickman, he succeeds wildly. With a kidnapped teammate in the trunk of Bo and Moon’s car, Buddy is in hot pursuit from the congested inner city streets, across a major NYC bridge, and out into the outskirts of the city. Gun fire, the sounds of burning rubber, and the distinct feeling of real danger permeate the sequence, and it comes right at the end of a nail-biting stake out, and doesn’t go how you’d expect it. It’s got all the muscle and burnt rubber you could ever ask of a chase scene, and D’Antoni should feel proud to stand among giants in this regard.
Fans of gritty 1970s New York City crime cinema (and who isn’t, really?), should absolutely seek out The Seven-Ups, both as a fascinating piece of a larger crime cinema tapestry, and as a thrilling action film in its own right.
1970s New York City as captured in films of that era are perhaps some of my favorite aesthetics in all of cinema history. I could just look at films like The Seven-Ups or The French Connection with an endless fascination that this was indeed an era that really existed. Needless to say, this high def scan gorgeously captures that aesthetic and allows the grit and grain of that era to shine.
Not all Twilight Time releases are loaded with extras, but here you get multiple bonus featurettes, a commentary, and all the bells and whistles. Perhaps most significantly, there are new interviews with D’Antoni which, now that he’s gone, feel more essential than they might have otherwise.
Don’t sleep on The Seven-Ups. It’s a lesser known crime film of its era, but also an absolute gem that’s done justice by this stellar release.
And I’m Out.
The Seven-Ups is now available in limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time