THE SEVEN-UPS from 1973 is one of many crime dramas of its era flavored with considerable grit and fine location shooting. It is not the most well known of its type, despite having the team responsible for THE FRENCH CONNECTION behind the camera. Director Philip D'Antoni had produced the 1971 classic and 1968's BULLITT prior. The earlier films, when discussed, are often distinguished for their skillfully orchestrated car chases. THE SEVEN-UPS also features such a chase, and it may well best the earlier ones. Its hold-your-breath exciting, 10 minutes of adrenaline is enough reason to invest your time.
But before you decide to just watch that clip on YouTube, let it be known that the rest of the picture is pretty good, too. A quartet of NYC cops led by Buddy (Roy Scheider) known as the "Seven-Ups" stage elaborate cons to trap some the city's most elusive criminals. They get their name as the criminals they apprehend are usually sentenced to 7 or more years in the can. The Seven-Ups are not above ignoring that inconvenience known as The Law to get their man. As the film opens, the team busts a counterfeiting ring using an antique store as a front. Before the cuffs come out, there's a lot of yelling and a lot of merchandise gets damaged.
I expected the yelling to continue into the next scene, with Buddy getting chewed out by his boss for his unorthodox ways, sorta like Dirty Harry always did. Instead, the boss pats him on the back and is quite proud. The other cops, however, are concerned of the dangerous precedents being set. This is an interesting story idea that, as expected, was not explored in any great detail. The ad campaign of THE SEVEN-UPS describes the team as willing engage in "dirty tricks", but their methods don't seem that shocking, especially in 2013.
The movie spends most of its time with the guys on tedious stakeout detail, or with Buddy as he meets with his informant (Tony LoBianco), a childhood pal who gives him the lowdown on Mob activity. Things are busy of late as several of the mafiosos are being kidnapped by 2 guys posing as cops who collect large ransoms right inside of a car wash (during the rinse downs). Before the climax, there will be many twists in this story. Pure popcorn, though. Nothing that will get under your skin as in SERPICO. Or the great FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, my top rec for harsh early 70s crime pic.
But the story isn't that important. This is no Joseph Wambaugh expose; this is a bread and butter cop thriller. That's not to say that the story is without interest, or that the actors aren't good (Scheider, virtually reprising his role from FRENCH CONNECTION, is believably tough), but THE SEVEN-UPS lives and dies by its atmosphere and action. The film has a gritty texture, a real feeling for dumpy apartments and parks and junkyards. This is not a lightning paced adventure like today's films, mind you. The film spends several minutes just trailing its characters as they talk along the river, or in police stations. That thing known as character development. So when people die, it means something.
But then there's that chase. It truly is one of the best I've seen. Having the camera mounted inside the vehicles, on the dashboards, makes the difference, just like in FRENCH CONNECTION. The location shooting begins on the Upper West Side over the George Washington Bridge into Jersey. Jerry Greenberg's expert editing (he worked on the earlier films) is what really makes it all click.