A long-overdue appreciation of a lost art form.
Pointless. Arguably polemic. Undeniably watchable. The on screen car chase has been with us for many a year. This isn’t to be a internet best of, a list of you have to see this or indeed real-life chases, they have no place here. My leanings are courtesy of (frequent DTW contributor) Matteo Licata – the more European-centric film chase from the late sixties and nineteen seventies.
Through Matteo’s lovely website “Roadster Life” he introduced me to some, in my eyes, positively excellent entertainment from dubiously acted, scripted and quixotic movies. These films are definitively of their time but have, akin to the cars used, become amenable in their advancing years.
Whereas today we have computer generated or green screen action scenes in films just as dubious but far more lavish, wind back thirty five years or more to where choreography was for dance routines. Most of these car chases were in real time, real streets and most definitely real and interesting cars and locations.
Our American cousins have their power, oversteering and screeching tyre smoke (that had childhood me along with the Italians, transfixed) but for panache, effortless style and brimming with brio, let’s beat a hurried path to downtown Rome. Plus, you have to let your hair down once in a while. Like enjoying your favourite tipple in their logo-ed glass. Doesn’t alter the taste but enhances the feeling.
“Italia a Mano Armata,” has a story purporting to kidnapping, bank robbery, double crossings and general everyday gangster behaviour. Step forward Maurizio Merli, the Commissioner who, as luck would have it, can drive like Gilles Villeneuve regardless of steed. Be it chasing the bank robbers in his actual police car, the eternal olive green Giulia or commandeering the ubiquitous grocer’s Fiat 124 coupé in a fetching blue to pursue the bad guys in their BMW2002: In this film, the policemen helpfully identify both charges for us.
Watch the chase unfold but keep that peripheral vision open too; some of the locations and even parked cars are stunning. Perhaps directly because the streets are not boulevard straight or wide or have Chicago’s suspended railway above, the action does involve a sense of truth combined with speed.
Is this because they are cars of our childhood? How can seeing a Giulia, rapidly becoming more bent, battered and bruised yet still maintaining incredible progress as the chase continues make me feel invigorated? We secretly want the bad guy (with the Black Mercedes 114) to escape for that will enforce another chase but we know the good guy will win out; our more mature selves crush that delinquency to subside.
Although our egos will still have it that we can drive like the proverbial and again secretly wish to be involved in such derring-do but baulk at the insurance claims and jail sentence.
But check out those roadside beauties! Naturally Fiats are first and foremost with Alfas to be expected and even then Lancia being more circumspect. Sprinkle in a 2CV or deux, Renault 4’s and even a Mini and Beetle share some screen time with our protagonists, however fleetingly.
In context they are pivotal, revealing the nature of the mean streets as was. Were the cars treated to a course of enhancement before filming? Beefed up suspension and considerably better brakes than Seignior Lampredi would get from his Fiat garage?
The punishment dished out on these poor creatures makes one wince. Or just very accomplished helmsmen (for the women are simply not allowed to drive) who get no recognition? And let’s face it, you could just pop round the corner to get another 131 should the driver actually break it.
There must have been an element of staging, for these days with our cynical eyes actively seeking continuity errors, one involving turning a ninety degree left or right with a truck on the “racing line” one second and the next shot has miraculously disappeared. Stick with it though for the next scene involves those most famous of car chase staples; the stack of boxes, the industrial area along with a dockside.
Who doesn’t want to drive through a stack of pointlessly placed (just there) cardboard boxes? Who wouldn’t dearly love to tear around some disused factory stirring up dust like a reverse vacuum cleaner? Who could resist the chance to avoid the cranes and huge drops to the deep blue briny below if you knew you could without reclaim?
Glissading in style, steely stares abounding, never breaking sweat nor having a single hair of your perfectly bleached blonde locks out of place or nary a moustache twitch, heaven forbid. Should you take all this as total and complete nonsense you would miss the scene where Commissioner is thrown from a getaway Alfa on the autostrada, suffering but a small gash to the forehead. His suit and medallion are a-ok, thankfully. Later in a rare non-car chase scene his shirt is cut in a fight causing him some distress, a disdainful glance at the torn silk. The perpetrator dealt with.
There are numerous films with ever more extravagant sequences along with ridiculous outcomes. Longevity (or brevity) of the chase is immaterial. Just indulge the child within to some quality motors, fender bending antics and Italian flamboyance, thank you.
See you on the dock-side, Matteo. I’ll be wearing a kipper tie and be driving a, well, you’ll hear my tyres stridere…