Best car-chase movie is 20 years old

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Twenty years ago, the best motion picture car chase was released. 

Wait just a minute, fella. Wasn’t it 50 years ago that they released Bullitt? 

True. And I know this will read as heresy to many, maybe most of you, but the car chase in Bullitt wasn’t the best. The best was the chase – actually, there were quite a few of them – in Ronin, culminating with that amazing wrong-way, against-traffic run through the landmarks and streets of Paris. 

To refresh your memory, and hopefully to send you to Netflix or whatever service might stream the movie to your television or other viewing device, Ronin was directed by John Frankenheimer, whose previous work included works such as Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and, in 1966, Grand Prix, which still stands, albeit perhaps in a tight race with Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, as perhaps the best auto racing movie of all time.

John Frankenheimer | SenseofCinema.com photo

Movies such as Bullitt, Grand Prix, Le Mans and Ronin were filmed before computer-aided graphics were available, though there were tricks the director and stunt team could use. For example, we’re told that for filming that breathtaking wrong-way chase through Paris, racing drivers such as Jean-Pierre Jarier did the driving, and at speeds up to 100 mph, and for some scenes right-hand drive vehicles were used with the actors — Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone — appearing to drive with dummy wheels in the left-hand seat.

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By the way, that Paris chase involved 300 stunt drivers, and was shot — for the most part — at the standard 20 frames per second. 

Perhaps the realism also was enhanced by the fact that due to budget constraints, Frankenheimer filmed the chase using the same camera mounts he’d employed back in 1966 for Grand Prix.

So, how good is the action of Ronin’s car chases? Note that there’s no loud music playing during the chases in an attempt to heighten the drama. The chases themselves are that good.

 

 

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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