The French Connection meets Bullitt. That’s the first thought that came to my mind when I saw director-producer Phillip D’Antoni’s The Seven-Ups. Antoni was the producer on both those films and he made his directorial debut with this lean and mean quasi-sequel to William Friedkin’s 1971 film The French Connection. The film is every bit as exciting, thrilling, gritty and ferocious as its predecessor and is based on the story of a real-life cop named Sonny Grosso, who was played by Roy Scheider in the Friedkin film alongside Gene Hackman’s character. Scheider’s character was named Buddy Grosso in that and here, he is named Buddy Manucci. There is no mistaking the fact they both are based on Grosso, who also served as the technical advisor on this film. His presence lends an authenticity to the events depicted in it. Scheider looks more stylish here and his get up resembles that of Steve McQueen’s from Bullitt.
There is so much here that reminds you of The French Connection and there is so much that reminds you of Bullitt as well and you could tell that this is exactly what Antoni intended. He wanted it to look like a combination of both. I liked the fact that Antoni doesn’t try to ape Friedkin’s raw, frenzied and shaky cam style and instead shot the film in his own distinct and elegant way. However, the film still has that documentary realism which Friedkin did so well. What we get here is a film that looks similar to the aforementioned films yet at the same time, it remains a different beast and successfully manages to stand on its own. Antoni does a terrific job of not spoon-feeding the audience with too much information and instead shows you everything bit by bit until you are finally able to put two and two together. It takes a full 60 minutes for you to fully understand what exactly is going on. But you won’t find it very complicated if you’ve seen plenty of cop movies.
The film focuses on a secret task force of the New York police called “The Seven-Ups”, which is headed by Manucci. They employ unconventional methods and go after criminals who are wanted for crimes that would get them sentences of seven years and upwards. And this explains the film’s title. Two guys are kidnapping some of the city’s hoodlums and ripping them off. The mob bosses are furious. They want to know who is behind these. Manucci wants to know too. So he asks an informant of his named Vito (played by Tony Lo Bianco), who also happens to be a street-level wiseguy and his childhood pal, to keep sniffing around and see if he can find anything about what’s going on. There is a small twist in here that I won’t reveal. But I think it’s safe to say this: One of these kidnappings go wrong and a partner of Manucci is killed. And all this happened because the mob bosses thought the cops were behind these kidnappings. Naturally, Manucci is pissed off and is determined to find out the man responsible for this. There are some neat tricks up Antoni’s sleeve and he is as good as some of the best in the business when it comes to delivering some really tense sequences.
This is a very impressive film for a first-timer and it’s funny how some critics point out the reasons why he should’ve let someone else direct it instead. I thought it was one of the best cop thrillers I’ve ever seen. I’ll even go so far as to say that I found it slightly better than The French Connection and Bullitt. Having said that, TFC still remains one of my favorite films. However, I never understood the appeal of Bullitt and thought it was a dull and overrated film. The Seven-Ups is constantly mentioned whenever someone makes a “Best Car Chases of All Time” list and its place in these lists is very much justified. It has one of the most viscerally exciting car chases ever put on film. Is it better than the one in TFC and Bullitt? Yes! You see, that’s one of the reasons why I said it’s better than those two films. It has a different outcome too. Some of the actors who appeared in TFC are in this as well but in different roles. Again, I repeat that this is a different story and the only connection it has with the Friedkin film is Scheider’s character. These three films share a common composer too: Don Ellis. The Seven-Ups is one of the most overlooked films of the 70s. I had a great time watching it.