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Famous Movie Car Stunts Part 3

August 21, 2013

The motion picture industry and the automobile industry were born alongside each other at the end of the 19th Century, forever intertwined and associated with one another to this day thanks in large part to the visceral thrills cars provide when used in movies. The last 45 years in particular are noteworthy as the complexity and danger of car stunts and chases has been upped considerably during this time. Advancements in technology has allowed cameras to be placed just about anywhere in or on a moving vehicle, which in turn opens up the possibilities for film makers and stunt choreographers to provide even higher levels of adrenaline inducing excitement and destruction on the screen. During this same period, stunt drivers and stuntmen have also gotten braver and more determined to continually re-set the bar on action sequences. Safety regulations and improved safety equipment have also allowed for even higher stakes antics to be recreated by the drivers and stuntmen, and computer effects have pushed the stuntmen, choreographers, and drivers into an altogether new realm of spectacular stunts - there is almost no limit to what can be recreated on screen. But it was not always this way.

Throughout the last 45 years there have been numerous stunt and car chase sequences that have, in hindsight, proven to be major benchmarks in the evolution of the art of auto based cinematic trickery. Consider that before the 90s there was no digital effects being used in car chases and stunts - everything that you see was physically re-created with real sets, cars and people. (1985), was directed by William Friedkin, most famous for The Exorcist. provided Friedkin with the opportunity to go for a different sort of thrill - the high speed, four wheeled kind. Secret Service agent (CSI's William Petersen) who is attempting to infiltrate and take down a counterfeit money ring (lead by Willem Dafoe). Friedkin was a stickler for detail, even going as far as consulting actual counterfeiters to add to the authenticity on screen. One other area of dazzling authenticity is the 10 minute car chase sequence in which Petersen drives on the wrong side of the freeway through Los Angeles at high speed while in pursuit of Willem Dafoe. According to Wikipedia, Friedkin was inspired to have the car travel the wrong side of the road after he'd fallen asleep at the wheel driving home from a wedding. When he awoke, he saw oncoming traffic and headlights coming towards him at top speed. The incident stuck with him for years and he collaborated with the film's stunt co-coordinator to come up with the sequence used in the film.

Adding to the intensity is the fact that Petersen and co-star John Pankow did much of the driving themselves - the stressed out look on Pankow's face is 100% real. The entire sequence took three weekends to complete on a closed part of the Terminal Island Freeway near Wilmington, California. In between takes, it normally took the crew four hours to set up each sequence. hit the screens; there was another noteworthy car chase and climax in a movie entitled Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974). Mention this movie to the initiated and it will immediately bring about breathless recollections about the films stunning and spectacular climax, and rightly so, up until then it was not a common sight in a movie to see a high speed collision between a train and a muscle car.

In fact, the crash sequence was so spectacular it was integrated into the credit sequence of the 1980s television series "The Fall Guy" (*a series about a stuntman, played by Lee Majors). While the collision sequence has been enjoyed by two generations of fans across two visual mediums, it is the chase sequence leading up to the collision with the train that is what most people remember of the film itself. The budget for the movie was very small, even for the early 70s, but director John Hough was able to create an action packed sequence due to some very skilled drivers and some effective editing. The late actor Vic Morrow, playing a sheriff, pursues then films three protagonists, who are driving a Chevy Impala, through a walnut grove using a Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter to do so. The resulting chase is a wonderful sequence with high speed driving and pursuit intercut masterfully by the film's editor. The protagonists eventually evade the sheriff and his aerial pursuit and assume their escape is imminent only to meet their end in the aforementioned train collision.

 

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