By Rob Vaux, Matt Hoffman and Loren Dean
September 21, 2012 Source: Mania.com
With James Bond and Indiana Jones arriving on Blu-ray this month, Mania counts down the 50 greatest chase sequences of all time. They include cars, trains, planes, stagecoaches, and spaceships, as well as a few scenes of good old-fashioned shoe leather. A chase here is defined as a pursuit of any kind involving at least one chaser and one chase-ee. (This disqualifies a few films, such as Jan de Bont’s Speed which technically has no pursuer.) We've finally reached the top ten, and I'm sure you'll all let us know how well (or poorly) our selections sit with you.
“I'd like to report a truck driver who's been endangering my life.”
“Twenty, twenty-five minutes out of your whole life and then all the ropes that kept you hangin’ in there are cut loose,” thinks mild-mannered David Mann (Dennis Weaver) in Steven Spielberg’s debut feature. “And it’s like, there you are, right back in the jungle again.” Or, more literally, in the desert, where Mann’s 1971 Plymouth Valiant is inexplicably and relentlessly harassed by a hulking tractor-trailer. At this early stage in his career, Spielberg showed an impressive knack for sustaining tension, even over the course of a 90-minute chase scene with only one major human character. If Duel doesn’t stir your own primal survival instincts, you aren’t watching it closely enough.
“If there's anything I don't like, it's driving a stagecoach through Apache country.”
Ask any stuntman who the greatest is, and one name will come to their lips: Yakima Canutt, who improved upon rodeo techniques to provide new safety devices for use in the movies. His daring and audacious stuntwork still holds up today… especially this extraordinary scene in which the film’s heroic stagecoach is besieged by attacking Indians. Canutt himself plays an Apache warrior who leaps from his horse to the galloping team, only to be shot down by John Wayne. He falls from the team, and the coach thunders right over him: an extraordinary stunt made even better by director John Ford’s lingering camera which shows a real honest-to-God human being stagger to his feet afterwards. It was so good that no one could duplicate it for decades; stuntman Terry Leonard almost lost his legs while attempting it on a film called The Legend of the Lone Ranger. (Luckily, Terry got another shot; see our #1 below.)
8. The Empire Strikes Back
“You don’t have to do this to impress me!”
Considering the patent unreality of most visual effects, it’s astonishing that a chase composed of nothing but effects shots could be so gripping. Irvin Kershner took George Lucas’s obsession with speed to its logical apex by throwing the Millennium Falcon into the middle of an asteroid field with the Imperial fleet on its heels. It’s an example of pure editing in action – bolstered by ILM’s groundbreaking effects that create the illusion of pursuit in an environment conjured solely out of make-believe. Even more importantly, the chase took place in a full three dimensions, as asteroids and meteors zoom in from all sides and the Falcon dips and weaves to stay clear of them. Almost every other chase on this list works on a flat plane. Kershner and Empire turned it into a box... then gleefully played in every corner.
7. The Blues Brothers
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
“Use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of the Blues Brothers has been approved.” You bet your sweet bippy it has. In an abstract sense, The Blues Brothers is just one big chase, albeit a chase punctuated with some of the greatest showstopping musical interludes on screen (Hey, cast of Glee, this is how you do it). But then there's the last 20 minutes or so, where they just blow the roof off. Michael Bay can only watch this scene with envy, as even he can't outdo this one. Every police car in the city of Chicago gets destroyed. The National Guard shows up. Horses! And Illinois Nazis, too (Jake hates Illinois Nazis, but we kinda like 'em… as long as they’re confessing gay love for each other while falling off a bridge). This sequence is America in the Carter administration, all rolled up in one ludicrous package being carried to chase-scene heaven by two orphaned blues musicians on a mission from God.
6. The Road Warrior
“We’re gonna crash… or crash through.”
Borrowing a big page from #5 on this list, director George Miller use a straight line to chart the path of a massive tanker truck and its mohawked assailants during the climax to The Road Warrior. He then shows us just how much a straight line can do. The heroes on the truck have tricked it out like a moving Fort Apache, leaving the bad guys to play marauding Indians on monstrous four-wheeled horses. Their battle takes place on and off the rumbling hulk, wreaking havoc with snuff-film levels of intensity. It’s almost a relief when we learn that the tanker’s a decoy; it’s the only thing to make the dwindling number of survivors stop.
5. The General
“Heroes of the day.”
Riddle me this, Caped Crusader: how do you create a chase scene involving a pair of railroad cars, each traveling the same length of tack and forced to follow the same precise set of moves? Silent star Buster Keaton took the problem and turned it into a masterpiece of comic mayhem as Civil War engineer Johnny Gray and his girlfriend races toward the battle lines in front of an enemy engine. In an era before stuntmen, Keaton made it look so easy as he zipped up and down the train seeking new ways to slow down his foes or remove obstacles in his path. He keeps it going long after we believe his bag of tricks has been exhausted, and despite its comic tone, the spectacular nature of his physical acrobatics is nothing to laugh at. As the commentator on this clip notes, it was a real Buster on a real train, and the cameraman just kept rolling no matter how much danger he seemed to be in. The Silent Era piece set the pace for decades of future chases and stunts, and influenced everyone from Jackie Chan to Steven Spielberg in the decades to come.
“You work your side of the street, I’ll work mine.”
A rogue detective played by Steve McQueen, a jazzy score by composer Lalo Schifrin, a few big-ass explosions and not one but two (count ‘em) Ford Mustangs—does it get any cooler than this? Bullitt basically invented the modern car chase with this ten-minute tour de force, which starts as a subdued cat-and-mouse game in the sloping city streets of ‘Frisco and ends as a pedal-to-the-metal freeway drag race. The editing, which cuts fluidly between long shots and windshield’s-eye views of the action, immerses viewers in the scene and earned the film a well-deserved Oscar. Producer Philip D’Antoni would go on to outdo himself with 1971’s The French Connection, bringing stunt driver Bill Hickman (who plays one of the hitmen pursued by McQueen) along for the ride.
“Why didn’t you just shoot her!?”
The greatest chases don’t rely on flashy effects or outlandish stunts: just professional drives who know exactly what they’re doing. Case in point: the legendary pursuit through the streets of Paris, with Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in hot pursuit of their former employers. Director John Frankenheimer hired every race car driver in France to chart their careening course, and like The Bourne Identity which followed a few years later, didn’t skimp on the authentic locales. The result is the textbook definition of a car chase, so good that they could probably retire the concept and we would still be left satisfied.
2. The French Connection
“I’m a police officer!”
“[T]he whole movie is a chase,” said Roger Ebert in his review of 1971 Best Picture winner The French Connection, and while this is an astute observation, the film’s white-knuckle suspense undoubtedly peaks with Detective “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) careening through the streets of Brooklyn in pursuit of an elevated subway train carrying a panicky French drug trafficker. Zooming cinematography and precise editing helped to make this sequence a classic, but part of its appeal lies in its down-and-dirty authenticity; at least one of the car crashes shown onscreen occurred when a neighborhood resident on his way to work accidentally drove into the path of Hackman’s speeding Pontiac LeMans. Director William Friedkin claims that the scene was originally edited to the tune of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” but the soundtrack needs no embellishment beyond the noise of roaring engines and rushing wind.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
“Meet me at Omar's. Be ready for me: I'm going after that truck…”
The greatest chase of all time features a typical pair of participants, with a plucky loner out of his league on one end and a convoy of sinister bad guys on the other. But in one of Steven Spielberg's true acts of genius, he reverses the equation: the loner's the one doing the chasing, with the convoy attempting to shake him loose. It sets up a flawless array of stunts, crashes and death-defying peril, perfectly realized and topped by stuntman Terry Leonard's crawl underneath the chassis of a moving truck. As Indy moans afterwards, "it's not the years; it's the mileage." Spielberg and Raiders ensure we feel every white-knuckle inch of it.
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