Cinematic car chases

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Cinematic car chases

Steve Macqueen driving his special Mustang in the film Bullitt /

Steve Macqueen driving his special Mustang in the film Bullitt /

There are second-unit directors whose speciality is the car chase. These are usually urban, but the countryside has also seen some hair-raising examples. I have chosen two of my favourites – so popular with me that I even inflict them on my friends.

The first occurs rather a long way in to a first-class thriller with Steve McQueen driving his own special supercharged Ford Mustang. The bad men are in a Dodge Challenger. Each car has a very special exhaust note, and the director Peter Yates uses these exhilarating sounds as the accompanying sound loop to Lalo Schifrin’s music. Of the two automobiles Steve’s Mustang is the more obvious racer, but the Challenger has a bigger engine, and a very good bespectacled driver inside. When the car chase becomes obviously crucial, there is a good shot of the passenger in the Challenger fastening his safety belt. Mr McQueen uses no safety belt that we can see, just a very concentrated expression.

The music by Lalo Schifrin is quite perfect, especially as the chase begins. In fact it begins with the Challenger going after Steve in the Mustang, but then our hero reverses the process and becomes the hunter. All the shooting was done in the hilly streets of San Francisco, and the director uses these steep ups-and-downs to full effect. On many occasions both cars take-off from tierra firma, only to crash down on the poor tyres and shock-absorbers with an awful bang.

The sequence only lasts a few minutes, the baddies are burnt to a crisp in a gas station, and the rest of the movie is, I am afraid to say, despite the presence of Miss J. Bisset (who looks lovely) very boring. The name of this film, made in 1968, is Bullitt.

    The second sequence is actually one of two brilliant car chases in one film, Ronin, directed by an ancient but superb John Frankenheimer in champion’s mode in 1998. The first begins when Robert de Niro and Jean Reno wish to relieve some nasties of an aluminium brief case which contains – well we never learn what it contains. Reno is a witty French heavy, and de Niro may have left the CIA – or not as the case may be . . . the chase involves Mercedes-Benz, Renaults, a wonderful Audi S8, a super-rapid Citroen . . . and their different exhaust notes on the soundtrack. God know what it must have cost, but the excitement leaves your mouth dry and your heart palpitating. One would like to know if the second-unit director on this sequence was the same as the chap on the Jason Bourne series, because the work is identical.

Can anyone tell us via the Comments section if it is the same fellow?


By | 2013-01-20T16:12:26+00:00 January 20th, 2013|History of the Cinema, Today|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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