Off the record, there were two sequels to William Friedkin's 1971 action-packed Oscar-winning cop thriller The French Connection. Officially, only John Frankenheimer's 1975 follow-up French Connection II ‒ a film which has always failed to live up to its predecessor in my opinion ‒ falls into that category. From a decidedly less official point of view, however, Philip D'Antoni's 1973 action classic The Seven-Ups is a motion picture that many feel is entirely more deserving of the honor.
Though neither film shares the same director, the late Mr. D'Antoni was nevertheless one of the most significant denominators (or, "connections", if you will) between Friedkin's classic and his own. After producing both Bullitt and The French Connection, D'Antoni sat in the director's chair for the first and only time to craft this exciting chapter in a series of gritty police pictures from the early '70s inspired by the real life adventures of NYC supercop Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan. In The French Connection, actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider portrayed Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo ‒ highly convincing (if a tad sensationalized) versions of Egan and Grosso, respectively.
Hackman ‒ minus co-star Scheider, producer D'Antoni, or technical advisors Grosso and Egan ‒ reprised his role in the entirely fictionalized French Connection II. The result was, well, entirely fictionalized; a tale far-removed from its source material which seemed to abandon (or at least confuse) "gritty" for "sleazy". D'Antoni's The Seven-Ups, on the other hand, returns to most of the qualities that made the first Connection so damn popular: rogue cops (this time with the input of Grosso, channelling his own real life exploits once again), a variety of vicious villains, and thriller car chase sequences which frequently tend to a cause a series of soiled seats whenever the movie is shown to the elderly and the easily excited.
In The Seven-Ups, Scheider ‒ once again portraying a rogue plainclothesman detective named Buddy, though this time with the surname of Manucci ‒ finds himself going even more off-script. Figuratively speaking, that is. Here, he's part of an elite squad affectionately known throughout the precinct as "the Seven-Ups," whose nickname hails from their tendency to go after criminals whose crimes earn them a good seven years and up in stir. Following a highly unprofessional, illegal (and, yes, funny) smash-up of an antique store at the beginning (the proprietors of which are playing around with funny money), Buddy and the gang wind up getting involved in a ransom scheme wherein bigger-fish mob men are kidnapped by crooks posing as cops.
Alas, when the kidnappers kill one of Scheider's boys, it Ups things significantly. Behind the crimes are two crazed hoodlums, chillingly played by Richard Lynch (Scarecrow) and stunt coordinator Bill Hickman. The latter gent provided most of the stunt driving for The Seven-Ups, which ‒ I should point out ‒ was filmed guerilla style in the streets of New York on the fly (and man, do they fly!) much to the imagined surprise of pedestrians and other drivers. Also returning from The French Connection ‒ though this time in a deliberately different role ‒ is Tony Lo Bianco. A mobster in the first film, Tony plays Schedier's informant pal here, with a secret connection (damn, I said it) to the whole sordid affair.
Featuring the greatest car chase since The French Connection ‒ concluding with an exasperating crash inspired by the death of Jayne Mansfield, all of which is done with real cars and real drivers ‒ The Seven-Ups was adapted for the screen by frequent Kojak writer Albert Ruben (who, interestingly, also wrote a TV-Movie for producer D'Antoni in '73 entitled Connection) with credited work by future French Connection II screenwriter Alexander Jacobs. Appearing here as part of Scheider's crew are Ken Kercheval (Dallas), Victor Arnold, and real life NYC homicide detective Jerry Leon. (Not surprisingly, all three of 'em appeared on Kojak at one point or another.) Larry Haines and cult fave Joe Spinell are also featured.
Released to cinemas by 20th Century Fox (who also paired the film with The French Connection during a limited double-bill re-release campaign), The Seven-Ups makes its long overdue High-Def release in the US from Twilight Time. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode ‒ on loan from the Fox vault ‒ presents the film in its intended theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The contrast of this Region Free issue is a bit of a let-down here (especially when compared to the Region B 2016 UK release), but it manages to give the movie a decided "grindhouse" look. Frankly, that kinda helps sell a gritty '70s NYC cop flick all the more. The grand DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (because '70s cop movies sound better in mono) soundtrack is complimented by an optional English (SDH) subtitle track.
Special features for this release are in abundance; the majority of which hail from the 2016 UK BD. First is an audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith. Next up are two (yes, two) isolated scores in DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, which are exclusive to this Twilight Time offering. The first presents the bulk of the score by composer Don Ellis (who also did the score for The French Connection); the second presents us with an interesting curio in the form of a partial score by Johnny Mandel (M*A*S*H) which was not used outside of the trailer (and for good reason, too, as Mandel's music is very formulaic). With the exception of Julie Kirgo's liner notes, all of the (magnificently plentiful) extras from hereon in were assembled for the Signal One UK Blu-ray.
The late Philip D'Antoni introduces the film in a brief clip, and also pops up in several well-made featurettes, beginning with The Seven-Ups Connection. Mr. D'Antoni had a lot of memories to share with us (including Joe Spinell's taste in younger women which I'm frankly surprised didn't get cut out altogether!), and also discusses his other works/properties. Tony Lo Bianco recounts his time spent on the film in A Tony Lo Bianco Type ‒ titled to mock the reported casting call description. Real to Reel, finds former NYPD homicide detective Randy Jurgensen (who served as a technical adviser in addition to doing some of the amazing stunt driving in the film) discussing his experiences (and, to a minor degree, frustrations) working in the film industry.
D'Antoni, Lo Bianco, and Jurgensen re-appear (individually) in the final new featurette, Cut to the Chase, which is followed by a vintage promotional clip entitled The Anatomy of a Chase. Next up is something I'm generally only used to seeing in German home video releases of horror movies for some reason: the original Super 8mm version of The Seven-Ups, gloriously preserved to those of us who enjoy such things. It's a fascinating view, to say the least, presenting us with a drastically edited, 17-minute abbreviation of the movie where Richard Lynch is essentially the main antagonist. Randy Jurgensen's narrated scrapbook is also included, as is a gallery of artwork, stills, and media releases (including a nice close-up of the Super 8 box art).
Lastly, Twilight Time's presentation of The Seven-Ups includes a handful of trailers and liner notes by Julie Kirgo. Like virtually every Twilight Time Blu-ray, this Limited Edition title is reserved to only 3,000 copies while supplies last. So be sure to get connected with this release, or you may have to spend seven years or up waiting for a re-issue.