Greatest Chase Scenes
in Film History

Part 2

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

The Fast and the Furious (1955)

Future "King of the B's" Roger Corman (28 years old) served as the producer and writer (and bit actor as a stunt driver) in this inferior John Ireland-co-directed film noirish action film - the first film for American International Pictures (then known as American Releasing Corporation or ARC). It was shot for $50,000 in nine days.

Some of the car chase footage was stock footage, since special effects were not very well developed in the 1950s. It advertised "WIDE-SCREEN THRILLS!" and tauted that it was "filmed at the Pebble Beach International Sports Car Races" - in Monterey, California, where some of the footage was borrowed from.

Its tagline was:

HIGH SPEED EXCITEMENT! When a Wanted Man -- Meets a Wanting Woman.

[Note: It was remade as The Chase (1994) starring Charlie Sheen as fugitive Jackson "Jack" Davis Hammond and Kristy Swanson as his kidnapped hostage and California heiress Natalie Voss. The title rights to this film were used for the 'remake' sequel - The Fast and the Furious (2001).]

It starred John Ireland as an innocently-convicted, escaped murderer Frank Webster (originally a truck driver) who met and kidnapped attractive, independent-minded blonde society girl Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone) at a roadside diner. He also drove off with her in her late-model white Jaguar XK120 sports car for his flight to Mexico. As part of his escape plan, Frank participated in an international, across-the-border sports car rally from California to Mexico.

In the final moments of the film, Frank led a police car on a wild chase. Police officer Faber's (Bruce Carlisle) car crashed, but Frank stopped and saved the man's life - and then Connie arrived (after breaking out of a shed where she had been locked up by Frank). She admitted that she had turned him into authorities, to help him get justice, as they heard police sirens coming closer:

Frank: "How'd the cops find out?"
Connie: "I turned you in."
Frank: "How'd you get out?"
Connie: "I set the building on fire."
Frank: "You're a pretty dangerous character yourself."
Connie: "You could've run away instead of helping him. Why didn't you?"
Frank: "'Cause you're right, Connie, and I'm goin' back. Besides, I'm gettin' used to you."
Connie: "Oh, Frank, what you really are is worth fighting for. And it isn't too late."
Frank: "For us, it's just the beginning." (They hugged)

Thunder Road (1958)

Director Arthur Ripley's b/w noirish, low-budget B-film from a story written by the film's star/producer Robert Mitchum, advertised itself with the apt tagline:

"You'll Need Shock Absorbers!"

As part of his vanity project, Mitchum also wrote the film's theme song Ballad of Thunder Road ("Thunder was his engine and white lightnin' was his load..."), and his real-life look-alike son James played a role as his younger mechanic-brother Robin.

[Note: The film had glaring continuity errors - i.e., in the opening car chase, Mitchum rolled his black car on its side, but then in the next shot, the vehicle appeared undamaged, and as he returned home, the car changed from black to white! And when Doolin visited Kogan in Memphis, he pulled up in front of an Asheville, NC pharmacy. However, the influential film was the impetus and inspiration for many car-crash "good-ol' boy" films in the 60s and 70s.]

This definitive film (a cult drive-in favorite) was about transporting or running moonshine from the Appalachian Mountains area of backwoods rural North Carolina (Rillow Valley) and Harlan County (KY) while pursued by US Treasury (T-men) agents, including Troy Barrett (Gene Barry). Interference was also provided by ruthless crime syndicate city boss Carl Kogan (Jacques Aubuchon) from Memphis, Tennessee, who was threatening to consolidate all of the "action" of the local moonshine-bootleggers.

Sleepy-eyed, cigarette-smoking, disillusioned tough-guy Mitchum played the romanticized but anti-hero role of a returning Korean War veteran named Lucas "Luke" Doolin, who resumed helping in his father Vernon's (Trevor Bardette) family business of bootlegging. He was a transporter ("those wild and reckless men") illegally carrying moonshine alcohol on the road to Memphis, in his souped-up 1950 gray stock-car Ford coupe with a modified 250 gallon tank in the trunk (carrying moonshine worth $1400), and an oil-slick device in the rear to waylay pursuers. He refused to bow to either the federal agents or to Kogan and quit his ways ("Why don't I quit breathin'?...I want to stop the clock, turn it back to another time in this valley that I knew before").

Bachelor Lucas was involved with two females (teenaged hillbilly Roxanna "Roxie" Ledbetter (Sandra Knight) and Memphis nightclub singer Francie Wymore (Keely Smith)) in the romantic subplots, but it was the few fast-driving road chases, usually at night, that were the highlight of this film. [Note: The bootleggers' cars were actually sourced from the local community.]

Evading stakeouts and roadblocks, government treasury agents (revenuers) driving Chevys, other moonshine competitors and organized crime gangsters/racketeers, were only some of the challenges, as Lucas dared Barrett: "you've got to catch me - if you can." In one attempt after his 1950 Ford was car-bombed by Kogan's men, he blasted his new 1957 Ford (with Tennessee plates) at 90 mph through a Treasury inspection roadblock consisting of two vehicles.

The film's inevitably-deadly and tragic conclusion found Luke in one final run into Memphis after an intense crack-down, in which the daring and head-strong transporter was pursued by one of Kogan's henchmen. Driving alongside, Luke flicked his cigarette at the driver through his open window, causing the thug to careen off the side of the road. But then his own car was sabotaged by a T-agent nail-strip, and his car overturned and crashed into a utility station - killing him. Barrett provided Doolin's epitaph as electrical sparking occurred: "Mountain people. Wild-blooded, death-foolish. Yeah, that was Doolin, alright. He was a real stampeder."

In the film's closing scene without dialogue, Robin returned to Roxie and took her hand, as a long stream of car headlights signaled Luke's body being brought back to the valley (the "Whippoorwill" song was reprised on the soundtrack).

Ben-Hur (1959)

The film has been most heralded for its classic, memorable and spectacular 11-minute chariot race scene around a central divider strip composed of three statues thirty feet high, and grandstands on all sides, rising five stories high. The battle between the competitors was highlighted by a series of close-ups of the action. One by one, Messala (Stephen Boyd) eliminated the other drivers in the ferocious race, shattering their chariots.

The climactic ending to the race occurred when the chariots of arch-rivals Messala and Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), in hateful rivalry toward each other, ran neck-and-neck and slashed at each other. At one point, Ben-Hur's horses jumped over a crashed chariot, throwing the hero (stuntman Joe Canutt, son of famed stuntman Yakima Canutt) high into the air, yet he landed on his feet. Messala tried to destroy Ben-Hur's chariot by moving close with the blades, but as the wheels locked and he lost one of his wheels, Messala's chariot was splintered. He was dragged by his own team, then trampled, and run over by other teams of horses. Defeated, he was left bloody in the dirt, his body broken and horribly injured.

The Great Escape (1963)

One of the most iconic chase sequences involved the exciting (but unsuccessful) escape attempt by Allied POW loner "Cooler King" Hilts (Steve McQueen, but performed by stuntman Bud Elkins) - he sped away from the Nazi prison camp by vaulting a stolen German motorcycle over a six-foot barbed-wire prison fence at the Swiss border.

The Naked Prey (1966, S.Afr./US)

The amazing race-for-his-life chase scene by the Man (a naked and unarmed safari tour leader/guide) (Cornel Wilde) as six tribe warriors give him a head start of 100 yards into the bush, in this adventure/chase film set in 19th century Africa co-directed by Cornel Wilde and Sven Persson.

Bullitt (1968)

One of the screen's all-time best car chase sequences (at up to 110 miles per hour) was a 10-minute sequence filmed with hand-held cameras up and down the narrow, hilly streets of San Francisco as police lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) chased after criminals in his car through hazardous intersections.

[Note: Continuity errors in the sequence included an oft-viewed green VW Beetle, and the 6 hubcaps that fell off the Charger's wheels.]

Bullitt's car was a Highland Green, 1968 four-speed Ford Mustang Fastback GT (California yellow-on-black license JJZ 109) powered by a 390/4V big block engine, in pursuit of a black, 1968 four-speed Dodge Charger 440 R/T. The classic chase ended when the bad guys lost control and crashed into a gas station - with a fiery explosion.

The Love Bug (1968)

In the first Herbie film, starring the self-aware, intelligent 1963 Volkswagen Beetle named "Herbie," the small VW became a race car. The famous car would star in four theatrical, chase-filled sequels in 1974, 1977, 1980 and 2005 (the last starred Lindsay Lohan in Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005)) and a TV series.

The Italian Job (1969, UK)

This film had a climactic, well-choreographed car chase in Turin, Italy after an audacious heist of $4 million in gold bullion by Charlie Croker (Michael Caine). It involved three Mini Cooper S's (patriotically painted red, white, and blue). The Italian police were in hot pursuit as the little Cooper S's drove up and down stair-steps, through a shopping plaza, via sewers and over the rooftops and a reservoir for their getaway. They even completed a lap on the Fiat's famous test track in Turin. Remade in 2003.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969, UK)

There were a number of exciting chase scenes in this sixth James Bond film, with the 007 agent played by George Lazenby for the only time. As Bond escaped from the SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld's (Telly Savalas) mountaintop headquarters Piz Gloria, he was chased downhill by a multitude of machine-gun wielding thugs on skis. Two of the henchmen fell to their deaths from a steep precipice when Bond ambushed them. [The ski chase would be reprised in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).]

The pursuit continued into the small valley village, where Bond met up with love interest Tracy (Diana Rigg), and she rescued him driving her red Cougar, leading to an exciting car chase from there and onto the snowy race track of a stock-car race. After the demolition derby on the track, the pursuing car overturned and exploded, although everyone survived.

The next morning, there was another downhill ski chase after Bond and Tracy. Blofeld caused an avalanche which engulfed and killed three of his own men and Tracy was also partially buried and taken prisoner.

The final chase scene was Bond's pursuit of Blofeld downhill on racing bobsleds. Bond was blown off his bobsled by a thrown hand-grenade. They engaged in a brutal hand-to-hand fight when Bond jumped onto the back of Blofeld's bobsled - and the SPECTRE chief was severely injured when he became snared and entangled in the low-bough of a tree, breaking his neck in the V-shaped branch (Bond: "He's branched off") - but he survived!

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

In this seventh Bond film, but the sixth and final official Bond film with Sean Connery as James Bond, the 007 agent was pursued throughout the film by competing diamond smugglers and henchmen. The trail of diamonds, being smuggled out of South Africa through Europe and eventually to Los Angeles (and Las Vegas), was part of a world-domination scheme devised by SPECTRE villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). Everyone who touched the diamonds was becoming a victim.

Bond eventually teamed up with co-conspiratorial diamond smuggler, seductive Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), when she finally realized that each link in the smuggling pipeline had been killed, and she was the next target.

When they came upon a billionaire entrepreneur's remote Las Vegas desert facility, Willard Whyte's Tectronics factory involved in Blofeld's plot, Bond was discovered to be an intruder, and was forced to steal a Moon-buggy from a simulated moonscape used for testing. He crashed through the security gate and evaded pursuing cars through the rough desert terrain. He then stole one of the three-wheeled Dirt-bikes from Whyte's security guards following him, to return to the facility's entrance where Tiffany was awaiting him.

After they drove back to Las Vegas that evening, they were pursued in Tiffany's red 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 by the alerted local police. After weaving through the neon-decorated fronts of the casinos on the Strip and causing multiple crashes/pileups in a parking lot, they eventually escaped when Bond steered Tiffany's car onto two-wheels down a narrow alleyway.

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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