SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Chase scenes have always been an integral part of movies, a perennial time filler when writers run out of story or dialogue. Westerns were naturals for that kind of action since what else of interest can be done with a horse except ride after someone and waste a lot of bullets. Cops and robbers or spies and counterspies are equally suited because in reality the good guys and bad guys are nothing but urban versions of cowpunchers who drive Cadillacs instead of riding palominos and pintos while still using up tons of ammunition.
As a boy I never realized that every horse opera, regardless of plot, was comprised of two chases, one near the beginning where the bad guys somehow escaped and the other at the end when the cattle rustlers or Indians were caught and brought to frontier justice, wrapping up the film. This revelation hit me when a ½ hour show in the early days of TV took a Grade B oater, excised everything from the first chase on, stuck in the inevitable capture after the 2nd pursuit, and signed off. It cost the station nothing and filled air time. Of course there were a few cowboy movies that didn’t need chases but those were actually morality plays, only with six-shooters and spurs.
Crime dramas had always been a parallel source of entertainment until The Godfather came along to not only kill rival gang members but Westerns once and for all. The screen writers had enough material for three movies so no chases were necessary, but The French Connection which came out about the same time brought careening cars and crashes back with the mother of all chase scenes in which a detective drove through the streets of N.Y. after the bad guy who was trying to escape in an elevated subway train. After that, every police or cloak and dagger film contained at least one obligatory chase involving every type of conveyance from limos, taxis, sports cars, trucks, vans, buses, motorcycles, bikes, and skis. Can scooters or snowboards be far off? Each new film tried to outdo the others but The French Connection still remains the best of all.
It always amazes me how many vehicles are destroyed in these films, or at least appear to be, far exceeding those in any demolition derby, and despite being aware of why the devices are used I have to admit that the cheap and mindless entertainment is fun to watch. Whenever I see one I’m immediately reminded of the W.C. Fields film “If I Had A Million”, where Fields inherited $1,000,000 and bought a car. This was back in 1932 when autos were still relatively new so audiences could relate. During the initial ride he got hit by another auto and out for revenge madly drove around smashing into every car he saw. Near the end of his escapade Fields said to his wife who was riding by his side, “The resale value of this car will be nil.”
Though the crime dramas are meant to be serious, I can’t help myself but laugh every time.