Having produced Bullitt and The French Connection, it’s no surprise that Phillip D’Antoni’s only film as director has a scorching car-chase to offer, making full use of the areas in and around New York. Roy Scheider is Buddy, one of the Seven Up team whose name comes from the length of sentence given to the criminals they pursue. They’re up against a group of mobsters who are impersonating policemen to shake down the locals as part of a protection racket, and with Sonny Grosso’s real life exploits providing the source material, as with The French Connection, the details reek of authenticity. Tony Lo Bianco, Joe Spinell and Richard Lynch add to the hard-boiled credentials, but the chase sequence is what elevates The Seven Ups to greatness; there’s no jolly high-flying stuntwork, just speed and grit, leading to a punchy climax involving a stationary truck. The Seven Ups is scarcely remembered today, but fully deserves a cult following.
Having made his name as a choreographer, Bob Fosse made the grade as a director with Sweet Charity and Cabaret, and his prowess at staging electric dance routines was integrated into a strong dramatic engine in his final musical, 1979’s All That Jazz. Inspired by Fosse’s own experience of a heart-attack, the film features Roy Schneider as Joe Gideon, a successful Broadway choreographer with problems in terms of booze, coke and women. All That Jazz mixes the abrasiveness of Fosse’s Lenny Bruce biopic with ironic Broadway razzle-dazzle, and the script takes continual side-swipes at real-life theatre legends that Fosse encountered. This is cinema as autobiography, therapy and catharsis, and while the open-heart surgery and musical numbers sit awkwardly together, that’s part of the point; Gideon’s taste of external excess causes his own internal collapse, and his constant repetition of the phrase ‘it’s showtime” marks another step towards self-destruction and self-realization. A key film in understanding why the name Fosse is now a brand, All That Jazz is an intense personal reflection on love, life and death.
Post Saturday Night Fever, John Badham made quite a name for himself as a thriller director (Dracula, Wargames, Stakeout), and his 1983 airborne action film has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment. Roy Scheider is officer Frank Murphy, the pilot of a new, super-stealthy helicopter designed to keep the piece at the 1984 Olympics. When Murphy discovers that the authorities have plans for this powerful tool, he ends up using Blue Thunder for his own purposes, helping Kate (Candy Clark) evade the authorities in the hope of revealing the truth about their real intensions. Malcolm McDowell has fun as a rival pirate, and the copter chase scenes are vividly captured without the use of CGI.
With The French Connection and The Exorcist under his belt, William Friedkin was a front-runner in 70’s cinema, but the failure of Sorcerer, a big-budget version of French thriller The Wages of Fear, set his career back several notches. The troubled production is well detailed in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, but the result has its adherents. After a lengthy 40 minute sequence setting up the backstories of the men charges with driving trucks of nitro-glycerine through dangerous South American countryside, Sorcerer settles down to a long, hard drive, with considerable tension derives from the obstacles set in the way of the delivery. Steve McQueen turned it down, but Roy Scheider provides a strong centre, and the on-location footage still sets a high-water mark for gutsy cinematic action.