The classic film, The Seven-Ups, is an old-school look at policework back when some cops played fast-and-loose to make cases. With a real feel of authenticity — and often none-too-pretty — the movie is like climbing into a time machine and heading back to the grit-and-grime of 1970’s New York City.
Released in 1973, it follows an elite squad of plainclothes detectives known as “The Seven-Ups” (because they’ll only do cases that result in seven years or more in prison). A collar and a conviction is the goal and whatever means necessary is the method.
The team is led by hard-charging Detective Buddy Manucci (Roy Scheider, “Chief Brody” of Jaws fame) (he had a thing for playing cops, apparently). Some bosses don’t like their methods, but top brass likes the results.
The film portrays how this specialized squad go about their investigations. The ruse they play in the opening scene is not by the book, but it is a masterpiece. But while investigating a kidnapping ring the squad suffers a setback that shocks even these hardened officers. They then pull out all the stops to crack the case.
The car chase is the stuff of legend, with Scheider pushing his Pontiac Ventura past the breaking point. The movie was directed by Phillip D’Antoni, who had just had a big hit with The French Connection (hence the wild car chase). D’Antoni brought back actor Roy Scheider along with several members of The French Connection crew. Most significantly he retained legendary Detective Sonny Grosso of the NYPD Major Case Squad, who provided the story and did consulting for the film.
Grosso’s experience comes through most particularly in the interactions and banter between cops. He perfectly captures the feel of the squad room and precinct. If you were ever on a crime team or in a detective bureau, you will feel like you are home. And the 1970’s New York setting makes this a classic cop film.
(NOTE — Paul butts in to add: I met Sonny Grosso a couple of times, and in fact came close to collaborating on a project with him [the studio didn’t bite, alas]. He told me this story: On the set of The Godfather, they didn’t have a gun to use in the scene where Michael [Al Pacino] comes out of the bathroom, sits down, and starts shooting. For some reason [I forget why], Grosso was on-set. He let them use his actual service revolver. That’s Grosso’s NYPD .38 taped up in the bathroom. When I first met Grosso, he had the gun on display in his office. I believe I might have held it, but I can’t remember now!) (PS: He was a super-nice guy).
If you’re looking for a time-capsule experience this weekend, give this one a try. It does that thing film does best — takes you to a different place and time. You’ll feel like part of the squad.
I couldn’t find it on any streaming service, but it’s available for purchase on Amazon. You can get the DVD for 12 bucks, with a one-day turnaround.
Enjoy your weekend! And we’ll see you Monday morning.