Written by Double Dragon
Friday, 22 June 2012 19:34


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)- see entry for THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

BLUES BROTHERS (June 20, 1980)

BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (Feb 6, 1998)- see entry for BLUES BROTHERS

BULLITT (Oct 17, 1968)

DRIVE ANGRY (Feb 25, 2011)

THE DRIVER (July 28, 1978)


FEAR IS THE KEY (Dec 26, 1972)


GONE IN 60 SECONDS (July 28, 1974)
GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS (remake June 5, 2000)

ITS A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (Nov 7, 1963)

THE LAST RIDE (June 2, 2004)

RED LINE (1995)
RONIN (Sep 25, 1998)


TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (Nov 1, 1985)

USED CARS (July 11, 1980)

VANISHING POINT (Mar 13, 1971)

VANISHING POINT (Remake TV movie Jan 7, 1997)



Unlike MESSAGE ROAD TRIP movies or CRIME ROAD TRIP films, the main focus in these chase films is not about going anywhere but rather the excitement of speed.

THE GETAWAY or DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY almost fit into the chase category, but these films go beyond the chase. In both films the characters interact and evolve over the course of a road trip. Both these films appear in the ROAD TRIP CRIME MOVIES section of this website. A case could be made for GONE IN 60 SECONDS being in ROAD TRIP CRIME MOVIES too, but despite realistic depictions of the tools and methods used by a car theft ring, there is no roadtrip.

The chase film isn't about the road. The place or destination is irrelevant. The chase is a moment of excitement in a thriller or even the whole purpose of escapist films where even characters are subsumed to action. The ultimate chase films dispense with everything and make the chase the entire point.

Sometimes the memorable chase scene is merely a small fragment of a film insofar as onscreen time goes, but becomes one of the defining features of the movie. BULLIT and FRENCH CONNECTION are two famous films which have plenty of story and character outside of the chase, but are remembered for their chases. If those chases were housed within a low budget badly written movie, it's possible these films would still have achieved legendary status. It is certain that without the chase scenes these two films would still be regarded as classics. The chases merely bump them up a notch.

Many high adrenaline car chases of the 1960s and early 1970s gradually gave way to comedic action instead. The Burt Reynolds films of the 1970s probably did more to cement the "jumping car stunt" into a genre of action than any other films. Burt Reynolds made so many car chase films that his autobiography humorously recounts the time he introduced himself,

"I'm that asshole from all those car movies."

Reynolds starred in a successful series of chase films which gradually became cartoonish to a ridiculous degree. His early chase film WHITE LIGHTNING has stood the test of time as an exhilarating film that mixed believable action with good acting and suspense. Even Reynolds later slapstick humor films weren't as easy to pull off as it looks. Just like no one else can do Errol Flynn, no one else can do what Burt did so naturally. When SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT PART 3 (Aug 12, 1983) came out, Jerry Reed took over the Burt role with the car, the clothes and attitude but his version of the 'Burt good ole boy Southerner routine' was clownishly awkward and forced.

Burt's 'Southern good ole boy' films served as a bit of a template for the TV show THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (1979-85). The link was openly acknowledged when Burt landed a bit role in the movie version years later.

These Reynolds 'Mustache Movies' obscure the memory of how good he was in his dramatic earlier films. Reynolds earlier films combined his good ole boy persona with serious acting in dramatic situations combined with believable action. Reynolds enjoyed a short stint at the top. In the 1970s he graduated from TV and low budget action films to quality roles and then just as quickly slid into obscurity beneath an avalanche of slapstick chase movies.

In the early 1970s the three big new male box office action stars were Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson. All three appeared in a few quality films that could have turned the corner for them.

Bronson scored with HARD TIMES (Oct 8, 1975) which was incidentally written and directed by Walter Hill who later directed THE DRIVER. Burt Reynolds hit a credibility peak with DELIVERANCE (July 30, 1972). If Reynolds and Bronson had maintained the high-water mark of these films, they could have alternated action films with mainstream films the way Clint Eastwood did.

Clint Eastwood managed to preserve his action audience while gradually extending himself into regular viewing demographics. Bronson and Reynolds had to wait until they were has-beens to impress audiences with small dramatic 'come-back' parts in THE INDIAN RUNNER (Sep 20, 1991) and BOOGIE NIGHTS (Oct 31, 1997).


BLUES BROTHERS (June 20, 1980) set the high-water mark for a hilarious chase film. This is the first film of the series. When Elwood Blues picks up his brother Joliet Jake Blues from prison he is driving an ex police car instead of the Cadillac that Jake drove when the two were front men for a band. Elwood dispels Jake's disapproval of the 1974 Dodge Monaco by jumping a drawbridge as it raises up. He explains that it has "a 440, cop suspension, cop brakes" etc.

Later, Elwood runs a red light. The police run a check on his license which is suspended. They are about to enforce an arrest warrant/ impound order when Elwood floors it away. The chase proceeds through a parking lot and through the wall of a Toys R Us store and then into the interior of a shopping mall smashing out storefronts while pedestrians leap for cover. A cop car ends upside down spinning on its roof, others flip and crash and the Blues Brothers escape.

The Blues Brothers circumvent a police roadblock to charge at a group of Neo Nazis demonstrating on a bridge. The whole group leaps into the river vowing revenge.

After impersonating a country band and skipping out on a bar bill the Blues Brothers create a new batch of enemies. The real country band, 'The Good Ole Boys' and the bar owner chase the Brothers down a dark highway. The same cops who wound upside down at the end of the shopping mall chase are staked out behind a billboard when the Blues Brothers go screaming past. They tear out in pursuit in perfect time to t-bone the Good Ole Boys truck.

The grand finale chase runs south to Chicago with dozens of cop cars piling into one another when they try to follow the Blues Brothers off the highway down an embankment. The cop cars pile up and smash over and into each other insanely. The cops who ended upside down and later t-boning the Good Ole Boys truck now end up flying over a guard rail and spearing their car through the side of a moving cargo truck.

The Blues Brothers weave through a Chicago Police roadblock inciting the entire roadblock group of cars to give pursuit. This is the most exciting part of the chase where the Bluesmobile tears along under the Elevated train tracks at 120 MPH with dozens of cop cars on their tail. Long shots show the incredible speed. After the cop cars miss a turn and pile into one another even more outrageously than the prior pileup the Blues Brothers are pursued by Neo Nazis in an orange Pinto and a green full size Ford wagon.

This is where the chase becomes so deliberately exaggerated that is is hilarious. The 440 engine throws a rod and for the rest of the chase Elwood has his windshield wipers going to try to clear the oil spraying onto the windshield. The car doesn't slow down at all despite oil and smoke pouring everywhere.

Elwood runs through a construction zone and at the last second screeches to a halt where an uncompleted concrete overpass ends above the abyss. The front end of the car is hanging over the tip. He floors it in reverse and the car races back, and then flips over on its back and sails 100 feet over top of the Pinto chasing them. The Pinto goes off the ramp and flies upwards over the city, then falls hundreds of feet straight down. It lands on a city street plowing a deep hole in the pavement similarly to the way Wile Coyote in the Bugs Bunny cartoons would hit the ground after a fall. The Pinto coincidentally plows into a street that the Blues Brothers are driving on. The Monaco accelerates over of the pit in a wild jump while the green Ford Wagon disappears into the pit.

When the Monaco makes it to its destination the Blues Brothers jump out and the entire car disintegrates spontaneously. Elwood takes off his hat. The movie also works in appearances by giants of soul and blues music and some very good comedy scenes equal to the hilarity of the chase scenes.

The sequel attempted to revive the original spirit but unfortunately didn't create the same impact. BLUES BROTHERS 2000 seemed like it would be a winner since John Goodman can hit a nerve just like John Belushi did. Goodman was a major force in BIG LEBOWSKI but in this movie no one seems to come through the writing which is softer than the original movie.


BULLITT (Oct 17, 1968) is so famous for its chase involving a Dodge Charger pursuing a green Mustang throughout San Francisco that it has been revived in various nostalgic formats over the years.

The lead star of BULLITT Steve McQueen enjoyed racing in real life and was keen to incorporate exciting chases into his films starting with the motorcycle chase in THE GREAT ESCAPE (July 4, 1963). His star status forced him to relinquish driving duties to stunt men but his true life involvement in speed and cars ensured that the action was authentic.

The Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT 390 fastback 2+2 used in BULLITT was beefed up to withstand the punishing jumps and abrupt endings to steep hills. The legend is that the heads were milled and a race cam was installed. The Mustang also sported fatter tires mounted on black American Racing mags. Apparently the black 1968 Charger R/T with 440 engine didn't need anything done to the stock drivetrain and suspension to survive the pounding.

There has been criticism over the editing of the chase because too many hubcaps fly off the Charger and the same VW Bug re appears a few times but no one watching the chase for the first time will notice any of this. The excitement is still fresh for new viewers coming up on 50 years.

Proof of the appeal of the chase scene in Bullit can be seen in various tributes to the original. Ford Motor Company has released two limited edition 'Bullitt' tribute Mustangs in 2001 and 2008 which are somewhat collectible cars and is rumored to have a 2018 version in the works.

The TV show ALCATRAZ (2012) was sponsored by Ford Motor Company. The show was set in San Francisco and provided the main character Rebecca Madsen (played by Sarah Jones) with a Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback meant to evoke the McQueen Mustang. It even had the same American Racing mags mounted on it.

The final episode of ALCATRAZ staged a chase through the streets of San Francisco using modern counterparts to the original muscle cars used way back in BULLITT. Amusing touches such as the Charger driver doing up his seatbelt and the ubiquitous VW bug are included as main character Rebecca Madsen pilots a 2013 Blue (not green) Mustang in hot pursuit of a black Charger culminating with a massive roll over of the Charger.

Chrysler got into the act and released a series of commercials showing a 2013 Dodge Dart being chased by the black Charger through the streets of San Francisco. Bill Hickman, the stunt driver is shown 'then' and 'now' when a modern actor playing his part steps out of the new Dart at the end of the commercial.


DRIVE ANGRY (Feb 25, 2011) stars Nicholas Cage as John Milton who escapes from hell in a 1964 Buick Riviera intent on saving his daughter's baby who is slated to be sacrificed by Satanists. The film was made in 3-D and uses a lot of CGI graphics. The film is filmed in comic book style riffing off the 'retro trash' themes popularized by the Quentin Tarrantino films.

Cage chases down 3 cult members in a pickup truck which flips when it hits the side of the Riviera. The over the top stylized chases and shootouts are well orchestrated. The characters are exaggerated with wanton available woman more blatant than the 1970s versions they are channeling from all those grade Z drive in car films.

Cage teams up with Amber Heard chasing cult members using her 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440. A closeup shows an aftermarket shifter unit for the automatic transmission. That car gets the radiator shot out in a motorhome chase with cult leader Billy Burke.

Cage's old buddy lends him a Red 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 which eludes a squad of cop cars. Cage later shoots apart a Satanic ritual in an abandoned Louisiana while the car is flaming and beat up.


THE DRIVER (July 28, 1978) was written and directed by Walter Hill who takes a minimalist approach for his story of the battle of wits between The Cop (Bruce Dern) and The Driver (Ryan O'Neal). Great chase scenes fill the screen. This film preceded the era of fast cut editing which obscure the action. The camera stays on the action long enough for you immerse yourself in the speed.

The first chase follows a casino robbery somewhere in a large California city; likely Los Angeles. The Driver steals a blue four door 1974 Ford Galaxie 500 and eludes various Plymouth Fury police cars. He finishes off by 'playing chicken' driving straight at the two cops who veer away at the last instant and crash. He hires The Player (Isabelle Adjani) who is a young kept woman. She accepts a payoff to not identify The Driver from a police lineup.

A short chase scene shows a younger wheelman for two 'shooters' veering crazily all over the road as they flee a supermarket robbery in an early 1960s black Mustang with red interior. This group of amateurs is offered a free pass by The Cop for setting The Driver up in a trap on a bank job. The Driver meets the young wheelman and the two scumbags in a parkade. The three arrive in an orange 1970 Mercedes four door.

"How do we know you're so good?"

O'Neal says, "Get in."

He terrorizes them in a wild race around the parkade stopping the Mercedes inches off cement posts to demonstrate his precision. Then he proceeds to rip off the bumpers, smash into walls, tear off the driver's door etc. Then he refuses to work with them.

The Cop directly challenges The Driver to join his battle of wits. The Driver accepts. The Player sums it up,

"This isn't about the money."

The Driver agrees,

"I might mail it to him."

The Driver sets his terms to the crooks, excluding one of the shooters that he particularly dislikes:

"He doesn't come."

The shooter protests,

"I don't like it."

The Driver retorts,

"That's the whole idea."

In the bank robbery, Glasses (one of the two scumbag shooters) kills the young wheelman who assists him in the robbery. Glasses gets into The Driver's 1977 Pontiac Trans Am getaway car and then directs him to a different drop off site than arranged with The Cop. He then sneers at The Driver,

"For someone with an attitude like yours it's stupid not to carry a gun."

As he pulls the trigger, The Driver blows him away shooting him through the driver's glass of the Trans Am. This scene recreates THE GETAWAY showdown between the McQueen character and Rudy.

The hot money is exchanged for unmarked bills with The Player making the tradeoff on behalf of The Driver. The second shooter staked her out and escapes with her purse containing the locker key where the money is stashed. A wild chase follows. The Driver pursues the shooter using a red pickup that started out as a four speed and is now magically a column shift automatic. The shooter's new driver pilots an old silver 1976 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with black flame type graphics painted on it. They weave in and out of traffic and play cat and mouse among crates until The Driver does his 'chicken' maneuver and the Firebird veers away and flips over, destroyed.

When The Driver appears at the bus terminal to pick up his money The Cop is waiting for him with an army of officers but they can't arrest him. There is no money. The Driver was ripped off by the exchange man. The Cop ends the film tossing aside the empty satchel The Driver retrieved from the locker.


THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (June 22, 2001) spawned seven sequels and started a whole series of modern 'tuner' race movies with some chases thrown in. Some classic musclecars were introduced into the mix but unfortunately a black 1970 Dodge Charger is totaled when it hits a truck during a street race. There is also a 1970 red Chevelle with the black SS stripes along the top of the car. The series lifts some of the elements of the OCEANS remake films with the 'family' of thieves interplay providing some subplots.

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003) brings the main characters back together. A classic musclecar appears and once again is completely totaled. Walker races along a dirt road parallel to the villain's yacht with the speedometer indicating 120 MPH and jumps off the dead end of the road and crashes into the top of the boat destroying the car.


FEAR IS THE KEY (Dec 26, 1972) was based on an Alistair MacLean adventure book and directed by Michael Tuchner. Barry Newman had just finished VANISHING POINT when he starred as John Talbot in this film. Talbot is undercover to revenge his brother's death. Talbot fakes a fight and shootout in a courtroom. Present in court is the daughter of of an important player unwitting enmeshed in the plot.

Suzy Kendall plays the daughter who Talbot kidnaps. She hangs on for dear life as Newman makes his escape in a red 1972 Gran Torino Sport 2 door hardtop with hood scoop and factory Magnum 500 mags. He weaves through traffic of a Louisiana town then hits open 2 lane blacktops at speed raising dust cutting through fields and a construction site.

Louisiana State Police chase him in red and white painted 1969 Pontiac Catalina 4 door post sedans. The chase careens along wood roads, and through fields. The obligatory jump (onto a ferry that has already departed) bends the front fenders, cracks the windshield and pops the trunk lid open.

One of the more dramatic shots occur when the chase tears along the slanted cement dyke flanking a lake. Cars are thrashed over an embankment onto a sandy beach down to a lakeshore. Talbot switches cars to a 1971 Mercury Marquis Colony Park station wagon. Intrigue and fights ensue before Talbot can unearth the killers of his brother.


THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Oct 9, 1971) is a very strong suspense film with powerful character acting from the lead, Gene Hackman as obsessive cop Popeye Doyle. Doyle pursues a villain who escapes onto a subway. Doyle doesn't give up: he hijacks a 1971 Pontiac LeMans 4 door hardtop and follows the subway. Doyle drives below the rails through crazy busy New York traffic at incredible speeds. His near misses and miscalculations keep you on the edge of your seat through the entire crazy chase. The chase is staged so that you really feel that these are the actions of a desperate and obsessed character. It is scary as hell. Audiences hold their breath watching this chase.

In his memoirs, THE FRIEDKIN CONNECTION, director William Friedkin explained that the chase was filmed between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM during December, 1970 and January, 1971. The chase occurs beneath the Brooklyn, New York Coney Island El Train beginning at the Bay 50th Street stop and ending at 62nd Street. Much of the chase depicts real cars and pedestrians. Stuntmen drove the other cars in the scenes where the LeMans ran into another car or object. The woman with the baby carriage was also a stunt person. But much of the other footage was shot with real people reacting to the insanity of the car racing through red lights, weaving around other cars and so on.

The high speed point of view shots came from one 90 MPH run through 26 blocks with stunt driver Bill Hickman piloting the LeMans using a siren on top of the car to disperse real life traffic. Friedkin credits that run for supplying the final 'extra' he was looking for in the chase.

Miscalculations resulted in the LeMans getting hit harder than intended. The battered car had to be straightened out a few times in order to finish the shooting. The crew used the one LeMans for the entire chase scene. Friedkin notes that the El car can go 50 MPH top speed so the wild speeds employed by the LeMans would be necessary to catch up in real life.


GONE IN 60 SECONDS (July 28, 1974) is the high-water mark for chase films with an insanely extended chase that lasts for over 40 minutes. There are some spectacularly crazy stunts. The producer, director, writer and star Toby Halicki did the stunt driving, too. He also made a few miscalculations in his stunt driving which are left in the film because these moments augment the style of chase he wanted to depict.

Toby wanted the chase to create a feeling of being 'unhinged'. Toby's goal was to present a rough and dangerous chase rather than a choreographed series of stunts. He succeeded in his mission to film the ultimate chase despite this being a 'do it yourself film'. Despite some painful soft focus 1970s hokum and poorly acted 'dramatic' scenes all is forgiven. We allow terrible acting to awkwardly fill in time before the chases begin. Toby gets away with wooden scenes played by Toby's friends who are not actors because Toby achieved his goal of putting one of the most exciting crazy chases of all time on screen.

Being an independent allowed Toby Halicki to put stuff on film we can't see nowadays. Most car chase films now have brief glimpses of what might be construed as high speed but it's really hard to tell. Part of the problem derives from the modern trend in editing with quick cuts which don't allow you to ever really see what is going on. Part of it is apparently an unwillingness to depict blatant sustained high speeds on public roads. It's IMPLIED but never shown. GONE IN 60 SECONDS holds you captive to genuine full throttle speed and never looks away. There is no Much Music editing to distract you from the thrill of the chase.

The sequel to the spectacular 1974 GONE IN 60 SECONDS named JUNKMAN was also loaded with more mayhem and speed.

The underground cult status of the original movie reached the ears of large studios spurring a big budget remake in 2000.


GONE IN 60 SECONDS The remake was released June 5, 2000 starring Nicolas Cage. The professional acting is so far advanced beyond anything seen in the original that you expect the movie to work that much better than the original. But it doesn't. The remake uses in vogue fast cuts and blurry shots that convey nothing of the speed and adrenaline of the original. You squint to try and figure out what is happening as the shots jump around instead of showing the car in relation to something and hence giving a sense of speed.

The remake film is cluttered with endless shots of the driver shifting or some closeup of the vehicle making a skidding turn. Each shot lasts for an instant at most. The chase is also much shorter than in the original. The climax of both films is the big jump. In Toby's original 1974 film the jump was real. The distance he jumped was small but the whole car crumples from the impact. Toby had compressed vertebrae from that stunt. In the remake the big jump is clearly a CGI effect and covers an unbelievable distance.



There are a whole slew of action films in which a car chase scene runs in between all sorts of other action and explosions. Every James Bond film has some kind of car chase scene but they degenerated into farcical events during the 1970s. The series has become a bit more grounded and now the films with Brosnan and Craig depict the James Bond character driving in some hair raising realistic chases.

The Roger Moore flip approach to the James Bond character seeped into the action sequences and some spectacular but unrealistic stunts appeared in his films, most notably the jump in an AMC over a river. The viewer is awed by the technical ability of the stunt drivers and the coordinators who set up the stunt but it's akin to watching any well choreographed sports event. You are fascinated by the skill involved but the artistry makes it look almost easy and distances viewers from the moment. Stunts go wrong and stunt men die when mistakes happen but you don't get a sense of this danger when watching those Moore Bond stunts. The chase scenes that grip us place characters in uncertain and unstable scenarios and don't necessarily involve elaborate jumps.


ITS A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (Nov 7, 1963) featured one of the wildest slapstick chases that infuses everything with white knuckle tension. A harrowing chase opens the film when a gangster races around hairpin turns down a mountain passing cars. The terrible shocks and springs in domestic 1960s cars make the wallowing car terrifying to watch. After flying right off the mountainside the dying driver reveals some clues as to where a stash of money is buried.

The witnesses to the crash make a pact to split the money. The witnesses can't agree on the split which incites a free for all with the cars racing insanely against one another. A crazy fight in a gas station ends up with the entire station completely destroyed; a couple locked in the basement of a hardware store just about kill themselves trying to escape. The race culminates with an on-foot chase up into an abandoned building with a dozen people hanging onto a fire escape that is ripping off the side of the building. Everyone ends up in hospital with jail terms pending upon healing.


THE LAST RIDE (June 2, 2004) was a Pontiac GTO commercial disguised as a TV movie. The film was presented on the USA channel by Pontiac Division in 2004 as a tie-in promotion of the new GTO. The film manages to wrap a reasonable story around the product placement although it will infuriate GTO faithful with the unnecessary destruction of a classic 1969 GTO. Directly influenced by the FAST AND FURIOUS young set with rice rockets the film tried to weave modern trends with the retro GTO concept which was updated by Pontiac.

Director Guy Norman Bee tackles generations of fathers and sons starting with a flashback scene using a young actor who plays the Dennis Hopper character as a youngster. The actor has strong resemblance and is a very good mimic of Dennis' vocal delivery and style. The setting is California 1970 at the Mexican border. The Hopper character surrenders after a high speed chase involving his 1969 GTO Judge (Carousel Red with a black interior). It is later described as a RA IV with four speed. The grandson picks him up upon his release from prison in 2004. The grandson races an intentionally de-badged rice rocket which Hopper disdainfully dismisses for being foreign and lacking a V8.

Some high speed race scenes with the unidentified rice rocket intersperse the necessary scenes needed to tell the story of betrayal and revenge. A big police chase occurs when the grandson steals a new 2004 black GTO off the stage at a car show unveiling. He eludes police going airborne over steep inclines and mainly relies on excellent handling qualities of the car to escape. In keeping with the modern 'drifter' mania most of the chase consists of sideways cornering shots. Once the stolen car is off the street his car artist girlfriend alters the car to evade detection. This provides an opportunity to showcase the car modified to look like a modern day Judge wearing a spoiler and Carousel Red paint.

Hopper has his final day of reckoning driving the 1969 GTO off a cliff killing himself and his nemesis trapped in the passenger seat. The movie which is itself not much more than a long commercial also played regular commercials announcing the new GTO throughout the airing of the film.

The GTO was used as a halo for the entire Pontiac line which was showcased in the commercials, too. The movie features cameos of one of the final year Trans Ams in silver driven by one of the bad guys. Another character drives a red Pontiac and the end scene features the main character being picked up from prison by his cop dad in a newly purchased yellow 2004 GTO. Cop vehicles and other cars were usually Chevrolets in this film.


RED LINE (1995) is a little known video film cashing in on the McQueen name. Produced by and starring Chad McQueen (son of Steve McQueen) the film acknowledges the heritage without making an issue out of it. Chad's character drives a Mustang fastback painted up like a GT350 and later a Green Mustang Fastback in obvious homage to his famous father's film BULLIT. But Chad doesn't ape any of the McQueen mannerisms nor use endless references in this film. He channels the BULLIT chase but other than that expected sequence he does his own thing.

Unlike his famous father Chad is not wound tight as a wire. He is loose and smart assed without seeming snotty. The story is stilted in places, acting from supporting cast can be variable. Chad's character Jim is an orphan employed at a garage (the real life Coast Corvette) by a former member of his deceased father's pit crew from NASCAR. Implausibly wearing a distinctive red ski mask to pull off multiple liquor store robberies convenient police cars on the scene provide the first chase. Jim eludes police by backing his Mustang hard into the side of a car thus blocking the alley. It is later revealed that his character is a champion demolition derby driver.

Jan Micheal Vincent plays a scary looking crime kingpin Keller whose genuinely damaged face (post real life car crash) is explained as an attempted murder against his character. Jim pulls a robbery in Keller's modern bulletproof Chev Impala which leads to work stealing a red Ferrari from the mountain compound of Keller's former partner Mr. Lawrence. The inevitable chase with a white Porsche through a winding switchback laden two lane road ends as the Porsche dodges an oncoming car and ends up in the water.

Jim's next assignment is to liberate a blue Corvette from a police impound lot north of L.A. After having his Mustang intentionally towed into the lot Jim cases out the place and has an amusing encounter with a belligerent yuppie demanding his black Porsche 911 be brought down. Jim obliges soon enough when he crashes the gates in a stolen red rear wheel drive 1970s Cadillac 2 door behemoth which he uses to crush the Porsche, then shove it over the wall. He races off in the C4 Vette and indulges in his customary post chase car wash and flirtation with car wash girl, Jem. After extricating her from the clutches of Dick, her motorcycle thug boyfriend she goes along for the ride when the Vette eludes the police.

Jem's father was a career criminal so she quickly deduces that there is something stashed in the Vette and pushes Jim to bargain for more money from Keller. Jim steals a BULLIT green McQueen Mustang fastback at the ferry terminal in Santa Barbara to outrun one of the thugs in a white Jaguar which stands in for the white Charger of BULLIT. In a play on the original, the thug fastens his seatbelt and Jim uses the instant of distraction to blaze away. They manage to find some steep hills to go airborn over and there is a nice sustained driver's point of view coming up and down several steep roads. The Jaguar is hit by a car and flips, catches fire and blows up same as the Charger.

Jim takes Jem with him to bargain with Michael Madsen who plays Larry (Kellers ex partner Mr. Lawrence) who dismisses their offer, "Kill them." When Jim mentions the Corvette which he has discovered is registered to Larry, it is shrugged off. Larry's men can find it, "Kill them." Jim pulls out the Larry's girlfriends' panties and offers to trade information on who is cuckolding him. That ploy works.

In the next chase with Keller's men the Mustang takes out a row of headstones ripping through a huge graveyard with the director John Sjogren's trademark zip sounds of the car passing objects. A camera circles the car a full 360 degrees up close on the actors as it traverses the cemetery. After setting the two factions against each other the actual guy who is screwing around with Larry's girl chases him through loading docks in a black Porsche. When Jim runs the Vette through a fence he goes parallel and blows up upon impact with a parked Torino. Missing a pedestrian Jim crashes into a wall. In the wreckage diamonds spill out the frame of the exploding Vette. The thugs kill each other off while Jim and Jem ride a greyhound out of town diamonds in hand.


RONIN (Sep 25, 1998) is famous for a chase scene filmed at incredibly high speeds including narrow European streets. The film's reputation as a good film has been eclipsed by the chase. The chase is incredible but only uses up a small portion of the film's running time.

The chase places the viewer into the moment. Bucking the modern trend of fast cuts and indistinct chase scenes which plague modern films, RONIN sits you in the driver's seat while cars scream down narrow tunnel like streets.

Significantly, the film was directed by John Frankenheimer who broke new ground with the Dec 21, 1966 release of GRAND PRIX which used split screens and driver point of view shots to impart a sense of the excitement of racing.

The actors were strapped into cars with fake steering wheels while hidden stuntmen piloted through narrow streets at real speed to achieve the reality Frankenhemier was seeking.


The first SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (May 27, 1977) film stopped Burt's career dead in its tracks. Forever more he was associated with the 'Bandit' character and the comedic style of film.

Clint Eastwood was able to do a few films in the same good ole boy genre that branded Burt forever. Clint actually got away with it: he made his humor movie and then carried on with action and drama. Clint's EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (Dec 20, 1978) had some orangutan humor and brawls and wildly farcical chase scenes involving a vengeful but utterly buffoonish motorcycle gang. The chases involve sight gags and an unreality much like a Roadrunner cartoon.

Burt's SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films relied heavily on staged 'jumps' which became a standard feature in every episode of the TV series DUKES OF HAZZARD (1979-85). It set a tone for 'chase' films for quite awhile. Of course, these weren't the first films to create humor from wildly outrageous chase scenes. All the way back to the silent era this type of 'zany chase' has been refined and reinvented. If you want to laugh and don't want white knuckle true excitement these films offer fun entertainment.


STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (Mar 9, 1976) This film was shot in Canada. It features an Ottawa, Ontario cop but it was made by Italian film makers and originally released in Italy. It was re titled BLAZING MAGNUM when released in the United Kingdom.

The film was directed by Alberto De Martino and stars Stuart Whitman as a tough guy cop avenging his sister's murder. His partner is John Saxon. Martin Landau adds some flavor to the proceedings. Tisa Farrow who is Mia's younger sis also appears in this film.

A convincing looking pockmarked scumbag makes a break for it from his shabby apartment room and tears away in a Green fastback Mustang with aftermarket slot mag wheels. The detectives give chase in a 4 door post Buick Skylark with poverty caps. The cars race through city traffic at top speed. Some great full bore shots on wet roads keep things tense.

The only downside to the chase is that occasionally the cars will turn in synch with one another reminding us that this is a well choreographed chase. In real life the microsecond of time required to notice that the villain has done a u turn will cause the chase car to u turn further down the block but the cars maneuver in tandem like a pair of synchronized skaters.

Taking a technique used in H B Halicki's GONE IN 60 SECONDS when the two racing cars flank a car and go airborn over a steep humped hill the stunt is shown from various angles several times just like the Eleanor jump at the end of of Halicki's movie. This is repeated when the Mustang leads the Skylark down a virtually 90 degree angled dirt cliff.

Both cars jump a CN rail train taking out some boxes on the boxcar that they leap over. Eventually both cars flip over and race along on their roofs before the bad guy is apprehended.


TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (Nov 1, 1985). Going against the grain by putting a chase into everyday traffic which William Friedkin pioneered in FRENCH CONNECTION is just the start. William Friedkin took his own concept and amped things up even further by pitting the chase vehicle going the wrong way against freeway traffic. A Beige 1985 four door Chevrolet Impala is being chased by various thugs in cars. The Impala has the back window shot out while weaving through trucks, racing through a railway yard, dodging cars in a viaduct until boxed in. In a desperate inspiration, he races up an off ramp against traffic and races into freeway traffic going the wrong way. The pile up blocks the highway to his pursuers and he jumps the median to escape going in the right direction.

Friedkin recalls in his memoir that the Impala was an F41 car with modified suspension and engine. The scene was shot on the Terminal Island Expressway. Stunt driver Buddy Joe Hooker ran against other stunt cars head on at speed. For some point of view shots, the cars that he weaves in and out of were actually not moving, but viewers can't tell from watching.


USED CARS (July 11, 1980) is a humor movie about rival South West California car dealers. The wildest driving stunt involves a demolition derby driver hired to 'test drive' a rival car dealers' 1955 Chevy and drive the owner to a heart attack. He jumps curbs, drives head on at other cars playing 'chicken' and scrapes along freeway walls ending the ride by flipping it over.

In retaliation Kurt Russell's group engages in crazy advertising commercials that are cut into regular broadcasts (including President Carter's speech). One of Kurt Russell's salesmen in costume declares that the prices at Jack Warden's lot are,

"Too fuckin' high!"

He shoots out Cadillac and Lincoln windows and lights. He winds up blowing up a Mercedes. Warden nearly has a heart attack watching this commercial showing the cars on his lot being destroyed!

Kurt evades a murder charge by sending an Edsel past witnesses with the corpse of his dead boss inside to convince them he was still alive. The Edsel races full speed into an electrical power transformer and explodes.

The final scenes depict 250 beaters driven by a school full of new drivers through the desert to meet a deadline to park 'a mile of cars' on the lot before a judge arrives to determine if false advertising was made. The Kurt Russell character flies off the back of a pickup and lands in the backseat of a car ripping right through the convertible top. He leaps from car to car and leads the pack off a steep hill where a bunch of cars go sailing airborne. The big stunt of this film depicts a four door Ford jumping over a train using the flatbed of a tow truck as a ramp.


VANISHING POINT (March 13, 1971) stars Barry Newman as an ex racer, ex cop who is working as a car deliveryman. He makes a bet that he can deliver a White 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 to the coast in record time. He starts flashing across the country raced by a beat up Jag XKE and innumerable cop cars and motorcyles. The film contains great sustained long shots of the car streaking across the desert on empty highways.

The politically correct remake released in Jan 7, 1997 as a TV movie provided a serious motive for Kowalski's race against time. Instead of popping speed and racing in an existential bet the new age Kowalski is trying to make it in time for the birth of his child. The sanitized remake brought in a black Dodge Charger to the mix.


WHITE LIGHTNING (Aug 8, 1973) was released during the Burt Reynolds period of ascension, merging Burt's acting intensity with his 'Good ole boy' charm. This film has great car chase scenes that flow through the story.

Burt plays Bobby 'Gator' McKlusky intent on avenging the death of his younger brother Donny, a college protester. Ned Beatty is perfect as Donny's murderer; J. C. Connor, the Sherriff of Bogan County, Arkansas. Before we were awash in caricatures of big bellied redneck Southern Sheriffs, Beatty plays Connor as an intelligent, real person who truly believes in his corrupt system. He is often sinister and paranoid but never a buffoon.

After a failed impulse escape attempt following news of his brother's murder, Gator McKlusky is released from prison to gather tax evasion evidence for the Feds. Gator establishes himself as a blocker for a moonshine runner in order to infiltrate J. C. Connor's operations. The Feds provide a four door brown Ford LTD with a 429 race engine, four speed with Hurst T handle, and white letter wide tires on plain black steelies.

Movies use multiple cars and at some points in the film, Gator's car is a column shift automatic most noticeably when he slams it into park when he arrives at his parent's farm. Aside from that detail, every other part of the film rings true. When Gator evades police by leaping across the water and landing the car on the edge of a barge the Ford doesn't drive away unscathed. Gator is shown riding with moonshine runner 'Rebel Roy' while the 'barge car' is in a body shop with extensive undercarriage damage.

After a fight scene, a gauze bandage covers half of Gator's face. When he's shot in the arm, he doesn't prevail with 'just a scratch' but instead passes out incapacitated. Gator is saved by the lead female actress, Jennifer Billingsley who plays Lou. Lou takes him to a home for unwed mothers where nuns tend to Gator. The hallucinatory point of view fisheye lens scenes shot at this time are as disorienting as anything John Frankenhemier did in SECONDS.

Without delving too deeply into it, the film portrays the clash between the 'Northern' activists and the Southerners. Connors is convinced that hippies are undermining his world. He views the Federal tax collecting legal tactics as a Communist threat. Bo Hopkins as 'Rebel Roy' sums up the popular Southern attitude when he sees Gator questioning college kids about his brother, "Why do you want to talk to them for? All they do is raise dissension... protesting this and protesting that, pot smoking hippies ain't never done a day's work in their lives..."

Dabbs Greer plays Gator's father who disowns him in a dramatic scene on the porch when he demands to know,

"Are you taking down the names of 'likker' people and turning them into the Federals?"

Later in the film, reminded of his father when a bar owner asks him to say 'Hi' to the elder McKlusky, Gator's Southern loyalty surfaces. In defiance of the Federals, who are seen as distant outsiders, Gator burns his notes on liquor suppliers.

R. G. Armstrong is fantastic as Big Bear, the menacing giant moonshiner who has a hint of geniality within a sinister surface. Big Bear delivers some great lines. He says with disdain,

"By Jim! Federal sons of Yankees coming down here stool pigeoning around and every other damn thing..."

When Gator is slated to be drowned like his brother, Big Bear says,

"You know, you're a good ole boy aren't you? It's a crying shame you had to be a lying sneaking behind the back stool pigeon."

Of course the main point of WHITE LIGHTNING is fast cars and it provides that in spades. When Gator is released from jail he is given a new suit and a Federal file folder of information. He gets behind the wheel of his new Ford 429 and hits it. He throws the prison suit jacket and tie out the window while slamming home shifts. Reynolds' face perfectly expresses the exultation of freedom and catharsis of pent up rage a fast car on an empty highway provides.

Exciting long sustained shots show the car flashing along a typical Southern Interstate raised on cement stilts to clear the swamps below. Gator gets into a high speed chase evading police through crazy screeching turns and dumps them down a side street. The tone of the film is set.

Later chase scenes are always realistic without gimmicks. Gator is a blocker for 'Rebel Roy' and manages to squeeze in between a cop car and the ditch, cutting them off. Once Roy is free, Gator evades the police by racing in front of a train, weaving around stacks of lumber, and finally jumping onto the ferry. The later big chase between Gator and J. C. Connors has a cat and mouse feel to it. Every time Gator ditches Connors, he then comes racing back to slam into the side of his car to get him back in the chase.

This marked the last Reynolds film where the chases were exciting mainly because they were believable and the outcome for the characters had consequences. Later films were fun but more along the lines of a Buster Keaton film where improbable crazy stunts assail your senses without any connection to characterization.





Last Updated ( Friday, 01 September 2017 21:39 )