“When Mayor John Lindsay began his efforts to attract the movie-production business, it probably didn’t occur to him or his associates that they were ushering in a new movie age of nightmare realism.” So wrote Pauline Kael, negatively assessing The French Connection in the October 23 1971 New Yorker. The sainted film critic didn’t stoop to review The Seven Ups, the de facto sequel released in late 1973. Directed by Philip D’Antoni, who produced The French Connection, and featuring Roy Scheider, who co-starred in the previous film, The Seven Ups works the same theme on the same blasted urban terrain: organized crime VS the cops in New York City. Scheider heads an outlier investigative unit pursuing violations good for seven years or more in prison. In The New York Times, Vincent Canby described The Seven Ups as a “vicious, mechanical, clumsy thriller” that portrays the city as “just a lot of geography, even when it’s flipping by in the obligatory chase sequence.”
I beg to differ. The Seven Ups is nightmare realism perfected, deft and energizing to watch if not exactly artfully rendered. It’s only gained resonance, and depth, with the passing of time. The outer-borough settings are especially evocative, capturing the isolated industrial sections of Queens and the Bronx in their rusted-out pre-gentrification desolation. Check the scene where a mafia renegade chops wood while wearing a flannel shirt with the remnants of a three-piece suit: the New York hick look. Scheider’s cop character engages in a fraught exchange of secrets with his mob-connected boyhood pal played by Tony Lo Bianco, a relationship which inevitably sours. It’s a cliched plot, I suppose, but not handled all that differently here than in many more-respected movies. And then there’s that car chase: if you want an authentic ten-minute drive through ’70s Manhattan, here it is. Like I said before, watching this put me off city driving for 30 years.