Monday, August 12, 2019

The Seven-Ups: More Than a Great Car Chase

Roy Scheider as Manucci.
The late 1960s and early 1970s was a banner period for gritty, urban cop pictures. Philip D'Antoni produced three of the best, which all incidentally featured nail-biting chase sequences: Bullitt, The French Connection, and The Seven-Ups. The least famous of that trio is The Seven-Ups (1973), which serves as a sort of follow-up to The French Connection (1971) and also stars Roy Scheider.

He plays Buddy Manucci, a single-minded detective who heads a secret police unit called the Seven-Ups. He and his three team members focus on mobsters who commit major crimes...and earn sentences of seven years or more. Buddy's success hinges in large part on his childhood friend Vito (Tony Lo Bianco), an undertaker with mob connections who serves as an informant.

Tony Lo Bianco and Scheider.
Vito needs money--a lot of it. His wife may have tuberculosis and his day job isn't paying all the bills. He gleans information from Buddy to hatch a scheme to kidnap notable mob bosses and hold them for ransom. It's a profitable venture until one of the kidnappings results in the death of one of the Seven-Ups and Buddy makes it a personal vendetta to find the killer.

The character of Buddy Manucci is based on real-life NYPD detective Sonny Grosso, who also served as the inspiration for Scheider's character in The French Connection. In a 1971 interview in The New York Times, producer D'Antoni stated that Grosso told him a "weird and fascinating story" that became the basic plot of The Seven-Ups.

Roy Scheider, who always excelled at playing obsessive characters, is convincing as a driven cop willing to cross the line to get the job done (e.g., he withholds oxygen from a severely injured criminal to get information). However, Tony Lo Bianco nearly steals the film as the too-smooth-for-his-own-good Vito. When he uses his wife's illness as justification for his crimes, it's unclear whether he's sincere or just using his family tragedy as an excuse.

A shotgun blasts removes the hood from Scheider's car.
The famous car chase occurs almost an hour into the film and lasts for ten minutes. Unlike Bullitt, there are no muscle cars involved, as Scheider drives a Pontiac Ventura Sprint coupe and the bad guys are in a Pontiac Grand Ville sedan. That doesn't mean there is any less suspense as the cars careen through crowded streets at high-octane speeds. In my opinion, it's the best car chase in movie history. Much of its impact can be attributed to the facial expressions of Scheider and Richard Lynch (as one of the villains). There's a great sequence showing a group of kids playing in the street who scream and scatter as the first car zips through them. They reconvene in the street only to go running for the sidewalks again as Scheider zooms past.

Richard Lynch and Bill Hickman.
Stunt driver extraordinaire Bill Hickman helped choreograph the car chase and also plays the unflappable baddie behind the wheel of the speeding sedan. Hickman also served as a stunt driver in Bullitt and The French Connection. Jerry Greenberg, who won an Oscar for editing The French Connection, likely had a hand in the editing though he's listed solely as an associate producer for The Seven-Ups.

In addition to his producer duties, Philip D'Antoni also directed The Seven-Ups--it was his only directing job. He obviously learned a lot from watching William Friedkin (French Connection) as he makes superb use of his New York locales. The snowy streets, whistling winds, and frosty breaths all contribute to the film's realism. It's a shame that D'Antoni didn't make more gritty action pictures. Instead, he moved to television where he co-created the 1974-76 TV series Movin' On, with Claude Akins and Frank Converse as truckers. He also produced a TV series pilot movie called Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside starring Tony Lo Bianco (again) and Hal Linden as big city cops.

Incidentally, if one of Scheider's Seven-Ups team members looks familiar, then you must have recognized the late Ken Kercheval. He would achieve his biggest success five years later as Cliff Barnes in the long-running Dallas TV series.


  1. Not only do I agree that Seven-Ups is a superior car chase to Bullit and The French Connection, but I think it's a far better movie. I don't understand how Scheider isn't more appreciated as an actor. He starred in the best movie of the 70's, JAWS, and in my opinion deserved the Best Actor award for All That Jazz. Throw in Sorceror, The French Connection, and Marathon Man and he's the Best Actor of the Decade. Though of course, he did take a check for Jaws 2.

    1. Yes, Roy Scheider had a great run in the 1970s. I'm a big fan of SORCERER, a nifty thrill ride that doesn't get the credit it deserves.

  2. A great (and underrated) crime thriller that holds up well on repeat viewings. The car chase wows me every time I see it. I agree with Randy that Scheider often doesn't get his due as an actor. In addition to the films mentioned, he was also great in Klute. Sorcerer is amazing. I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen at the TCM Film Festival in 2014, with introductory remarks by director William Friedkin.