Superman 1.61: Thrill of the Chase

I’m just going to come right out and say it — it’s not a compelling car chase.

The crooks’ car turns around a corner, then does a hairpin turn, and then goes down an alleyway to the docks. The police are two yards behind them the entire time.

People shoot off guns throughout the scene, constantly and pointlessly. People in both cars shoot and shoot and shoot, to no apparent effect, except to blow out the crooks’ back window, which doesn’t seem to make a difference. There’s one shot where it looks like the officer driving the car is just shooting straight up into the air.

The scene doesn’t seem to feature either the crooks or the cops; neither of them are giving us much in the way of reaction shots. The only one that we see is the guy driving with a ski mask, who flinches when the back window is shot out.

We don’t see anyone on the street reacting to this event, either; this section of Metropolis appears to be zoned for car chases only. The police car careens straight through two different breakable obstacles — the second one involving tanks of live fish, which have been left unattended and very much in the way — and the cops keep on going, unperturbed.

When the crooks’ car screeches to a halt, the film is obviously sped up to make it look like it’s happening faster. Everybody keeps shooting at each other, bang bang bangity-bang, and nobody even gets wounded.

The cops appear to be armed with handguns, but they’ve got an endlessly refreshing supply of bullets; they point and shoot, again and again. I tried to count the number of bangs that are definitely produced by the two cops with one handgun apiece, and my total was around thirty-five.

Four guys get out of the car, but then there appear to be six guys — when four of them get into the boat, there are still two guys left on the dock. The two on the dock give up immediately, for reasons that aren’t clear. It’s hard to see exactly what happens…

because the guy in the foreground moves toward the camera and puts his entire crotch onto the screen.

But it doesn’t matter. The fact that this is a not-compelling cops and robbers sequence is kind of the point.

Superman: The Movie keeps trying out different genres — space opera, screwball comedy, James Bond, heist movie — and then Superman shows up, disrupting the proposed style and taking charge of the movie again. This could have been a pivotal scene in another movie, but for Superman it’s hardly worth spending time on.

He’s suddenly on the boat, this amazing new phenomenon, and he takes care of the situation in a heartbeat. A guy sneaks up behind him and conks him on the head with a crowbar, he turns and makes a quip…

And then the boat is sitting in the middle of a Metropolis street, the bad guys already captured, tied up and read their Miranda rights. We didn’t need to see the rest of that scene, because this is nothing for Superman. He’s been doing heroic stuff for four minutes, and already it’s routine.

And what do the cops feel, as they watch him disappear into the sky? Do they understand that their genre is wounded? With superheroes and sci-fi laser battles arriving at the multiplex, films about mindlessly driving around behind people and shooting off guns aren’t going to be interesting anymore. Superman can solve their problems without breaking a sweat.

“Mooney,” the cop says, en route to the bar, “the first bottle’s on me. Let me get my hat.” And the abyss gazes back.

Why did it take Superman two days
to get a cat out of a tree?
1.62: Catching the Cat

Movie list

— Danny Horn

12 thoughts on “Superman 1.61: Thrill of the Chase

  1. Thank you for the crotch arrow.

    Doesn’t Donner talk in the commentary about how these were all guys he worked with on Kojak? The fact that it’s lifted from a TV show might speak to why it’s not great on film.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A Kojak car chase wouldn’t have been so sloppy. The only 70s detective show anyone remembers that could have shown a segment including so many shots where the camera is simply pointed in the wrong direction is Cannon, and in that case it would only be because they had despaired of finding an angle from which William Conrad wouldn’t look like he was having a heart attack. And no network show of the period would be so lazy as to signpost “Action Scene” with so many meaningless gunshots- for one thing, Standards & Practices wouldn’t let them. Not that they couldn’t be super-violent, but they would have to be prepared to defend each discharge of a weapon in terms of story development.

      I’m sure Danny’s right that the scene isn’t supposed to be exciting, that it marks a refusal to continue with the familiar crime drama conventions. But that doesn’t mean it has to be poorly executed- Donner and everyone he knew had studied the works of filmmakers like Antonioni and the French New Wave directors, who made whole movies that were explicitly intended to be dull. Surely he could have executed two minutes of a tedious car chase without losing his basic professional competence.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s to be hoped that The Big Red ‘S’ will return to that particular precinct to remove the yacht from the street; I believe it’s illegally parked.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You mention that this scene is unimportant – it’s so unimportant, in fact, that I had zero memory of it. And two months later, maybe you don’t either.

    Liked by 1 person

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