Greatest Chase Scenes
in Film History

Part 1

Greatest Film Chase Scenes
Title Screen
Film Title/Year and Description of Chase Scene

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Edwin S. Porter's early silent western classic, with fourteen primitive scenes, comprised a narrative story with multiple plot lines.

It contained prototypical elements that have been repeatedly copied by almost every western - a train holdup with six-shooters, a daring robbery accompanied by violence and death, a hastily-assembled posse's chase on horseback after the fleeing bandits, and the apprehension of the desperadoes after a showdown in the woods.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

D.W. Griffith's monumental technical masterpiece of epic film-making (although decidedly racist) included an exciting conclusion involving the KKK's race to restore order. The Klan on horseback were summoned, assembled and gathered for reinforcement. Ben Cameron (Henry Walthall), "the Little Colonel", led the Klan to the rescue of white womanhood, white honor, and white glory, in a 'head-on' tracking shot.

It was an intense, action-packed, stupendous, last-minute rescue finale, a thrilling climax - interweaving the siege on the cabin, the chaos in Piedmont, Elsie Stoneman's (Lillian Gish) fate at the hands of Silas Lynch (George Siegmann), and the onrushing rescue by the Klan. During the rescue, the most famous sequence in the film, excitement was heightened by shots of the Klan alternating with shots of the endangered Elsie - the film exhibited masterful parallel editing.

Way Down East (1920)

This film was memorable for the last minute, climactic scene in which David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess) chased after cast-out love interest Anna Moore (Lillian Gish) who had fled into a blinding snowstorm. She fainted on one of the ice floes in the midst of an icy river, with her hand trailing into the freezing water. As the ice thawed the next morning and broke apart ("the great ice-break"), her lifeless form was caught unconscious on moving ice-floes and was swept downstream toward a precipitous waterfall.

David nimbly jumped from ice block to ice block to try to reach her before the ice jam gave way - rushing to the falls. As Anna regained consciousness, but started to sink into the frigid water at the edge of the falls, David scooped her up and saved her, running perilously upstream on unstable blocks of ice to reach the shore.

The General (1927)

This chase comedy was written and directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, and filmed with a huge budget for its time ($400,000). It was memorable for its strong story-line of a single, brave, but foolish Southern Confederate train engineer Johnnie (Buster Keaton) doggedly in pursuit of his passionately-loved locomotive ("The General") and the blue-coated spies who had stolen it, AND the woman he loved.

Each half of the film was predominantly composed of two train chases over the same territory. Each scene in the chase of the first half had a counterpart in the film's second half.

In the first chase, Johnnie pursued his stolen locomotive taken to the North by the Union forces. In the second half, the Union spies chased Johnnie in his re-possessed General back to the South.

The film concluded with a climactic battle at a river gorge, with the dramatic crash of the pursuit train into the Rock River in the film's most spectacular scene.

Stagecoach (1939)

The John Ford western had a spectacular, climactic hair-raising, dangerous stunt (a horse-leap and coach-slide) during the stagecoach chase across the alkali flat by Apache Indians. One of the Apaches (Enos Yakima Canutt, a famed stuntman) leapt from his mount alongside the moving stage onto the galloping lead horses of the stagecoach's team (a stagecoach was pulled by three pairs of horses: the lead, the swing, and the wheel teams).

As he tried to grab the reins of the lead horse to control the stagecoach, Ringo (John Wayne) shot at him with his rifle from over Buck's shoulder. The Apache was struck and fell down among many sets of thundering hooves. He hung onto the rig's shaft or tongue (the projection on the bottom front of the wagon that connected the vehicle to the horses) while dragging along the ground.

Then, after being shot a second time, the Apache warrior let go and slid between the wheels of the moving coach - the six horses and the stage's carriage rolled right over his prone body. The camera panned back to show that it wasn't a stunt dummy - the wounded Indian rolled aside and climbed slowly to his knees.

The Bank Dick (1940)

This W.C. Fields film concluded with a memorable, zany slapstick, getaway car chase scene, reminiscent of the silent Mack Sennett Keystone Kops films. Egbert Sousè (Fields) was taken as hostage by a bank robber, used as a shield, and forced to drive a getaway car.

Following in three other chase cars through the city and country were the local police, the bank president, and a representative from the movie company. It was a superbly-timed chase - the cars zoomed and circled around, barely avoiding crashing into each other or other obstacles in the path.

The getaway car careened through streets, over ditches (over the heads of ditchdiggers), around curves and up a mountainside, missing collisions at every turn with the pursuit vehicles. An unruffled Sousè gave non-chalant comments about the traffic and scenery. As his car started to fall apart, he joked: "The resale value of this car is going to be nil after you get over this trip." When asked by the thug in the back seat to give him the wheel, Egbert matter-of-factly pulled it off the steering column and gave it to him. When the rear tires started falling off, he calmly stated: "That's what I thought - going to be very dangerous."

The robber was struck by the bough of a tree as he stood up and the car came to rest at the edge of a steep precipice. Sousè mumbled: "Have to take the boat from here on anyway." The unconscious thief was apprehended, and Sousè was a hero once again for thwarting another heist.

Greatest Classic Chase Scenes in Film History

(chronological, by film title)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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