With The Need for Speed racing into theaters this coming Friday, March 14, it's time to revisit my favorite movies with car chases from the 1970s, a particularly rich decade for vehicular mayhem.
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The French Connection (1971; d. William Friedkin)
The anger and desperation in Gene Hackman's face and body language -- the way he pounds on the steering wheel -- adds to the tension created by a car chasing an elevated New York subway. It's crazy!
The Getaway (1971; d. Sam Peckinpah)
"Pump it, pump it!" Steve McQueen reunites with wife Ali MacGraw and the tension is high long before they behind the wheel. She got him out of prison, through means that stirred up his blood, and he has yet to calm down.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971; d. Monte Hellman)
Often described as an existential road movie, Monte Hellman makes this a movie that roars with life and vitality, in contrast to the deadpan expressions on the faces of driver James Taylor and mechanic Dennis Wilson.
Vanishing Point (1971; d. Richard C. Sarafian)
If you've ever driven across the vast highways of the American West, where ribbons of pavement look like tiny strings against the empty landscapes, then this is a movie that speaks to your soul, as it does to mine.
Live and Let Die The Man With the Golden Gun (1973 1974; d. Guy Hamilton) *
Roger Moore's first outing as 007 was a loose-limbed, 'try anything' edition, epitomized by a rather ridiculous -- but in its own way, truly awesome -- jump.
* Corrected: Thanks to the Facebook commenter who pointed out my error, the result of too many alcohol-fueled corkscrews, obviously.
The Seven-Ups (1973; d. Philip D'Antoni)
Dueling engines. The whine of those engines, and the squealing sounds emanating from eight tires under extreme pressure, provide the soundtrack for this mesmerizing chase as Roy Scheider pursues the bad guys, leaving the friendly confines of Manhattan for the unbridled spaces of (slightly) upstate New York.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974; d. John Hough)
Peter Fonda is the crazy one, Susan George is the dirty one, and Adam Roarke is the other one. The wild abandon of a careening car is irresistible.
Freebie and the Bean (1974; d. Richard Rush)
James Caan is such a nutso driver that his police partner Alan Arkin feels compelled to wear a helmet for safety, a move that is shown to be prescient and quite wise when Caan is behind the wheel.
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974; d. H.B. Halicki)
Sheer, anonymous vehicular mayhem is the order of the day. Really, nothing else matters, which is why the big-budget remake rather missed the point.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974; d. Guy Hamilton)
The image speaks for itself.
(: Rewritten to eliminate previous errors.)
Death Race 2000 (1975; d. Paul Bartel)
A movie so influential that it continues to influence people who don't even realize that they're influenced by it. David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone are among the combatants in a movie that embraces its cartoon violence and revs up the spirit of running over strangers for money.
The Man From Hong Kong (1975; d. Brian Trenchard-Smith)
In a movie filled with incredible action set-pieces, it might seem odd to focus on its automotive chases, but, dang it, I love this movie, and deserves a place of honor wherever it can get it. Brian Trenchard-Smith forever!
Race with the Devil (1975; d. Jack Starrett)
Peter Fonda again, though it's strange to see him as an ordinary citizen. Unlikely as it might sound, the casting is brilliant; Fonda and Warren Oates are "normal" people with wives traveling in an R.V. (?!) when they see something they shouldn't, something that puts their lives in danger, and requires great feats of engineering on the part of the people charged with staging the action in this movie.
The Gauntlet (1977; d. Clint Eastwood)
Much of this movie is a chase by corrupt law-enforcement authorities trying to stop Clint Eastwood from bringing in Sandra Locke to testify in an important trial. Clint, who also directed, armors up a bus. Poster by Frank Frazetta.
The Driver (1978; d. Walter Hill)
One of my all-time favorite movies, Walter Hill's modern noir is built around its action scenes, none of which take predictable paths. With Ryan O'Neal and Bruce Dern. Greatness.
Mad Max (1979; d. George Miller)
The sequel expanded and widened the world created by George Miller. But it's here that everything started, with Mel Gibson welded to his car and his family. When separation occurs, it's wrenching, and deserving of revenge.