Why you should care
Because sometimes you have to cut to the chase.
The point of a chase scene is never the suspense. Whether it’s The French Connection or The General, the chase scene is the ultimate journey-not-the-destination set piece: You are supposed to sit back and enjoy the antics unfolding before you, not be worried about whether the person’s going to get away. Because you already know.
Nobody knows better than Ming Hon, a Canadian theater artist who’s the creator of the hour-long play Chase Scenes, a hit at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and exactly what it sounds like. In it, she and two other performers explored the chase scene device across film genres — something Hon got to know well in a former job as a film classifier. That meant she spent all day every day watching movies, which made it easy to pick out the tropes that recurred over and over.
Her piece looked at the chase scene from a gender perspective: “We started collecting all of the classic tropes of running away on foot in a chase scene,” she says. “Women are always the ones running away in fear and terror. It usually ends in their demise, but … men get to get away, and they get to survive.” But in any genre, she says, “We all know what a chase scene looks like.”
We do, and that’s part of the beauty of it. But here are a few that take a comedic perspective (and, of course, are hilarious).
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
This is, in any genre, the greatest chase scene ever filmed. It has everything: bicycles, San Francisco hills, a Chinese dragon, a gun, snazzy one-liners, a giant sheet of glass! Oh, and Barbra Streisand in spectacular wide-legged white trousers. The whole Peter Bogdanovich-helmed film — which has been unjustly ignored — is a total joy, a nouveau screwball comedy that follows a nerdy scientist, the singing stranger who’s inexplicably intrigued by him and several identical overnight bags. But the final sequence, which supposedly cost $1 million (or 25 percent of the film’s budget), is a full ten minutes of knowing-exactly-where-you’re-going-and-taking-the-maximum-possible-delight-in-getting-there … and should be playing in everyone’s brain on repeat forever.
Blades of Glory (2007)
This Will Ferrell comedy about competitive ice skaters will delight fans of all those sort-of similar Ferrell comedies made in the late aughts. Which, admittedly, is not everybody. But everyone can surely get behind the chase scene on ice skates, which starts out fast and furious (on ice) and continues at spectacularly low speed through a mall as the two skaters find that their grace and speed don’t really work while glumping up an escalator on blades.
This was one of the highest-grossing comedies of 2015, and Melissa McCarthy (the second-highest grossing actress of that year) delivered a showstopping performance as Susan Cooper, a desk jockey at the CIA who’s thrust into the field with little preparation. Spy actually has several spectacular chase scenes around various European cities — one where Susan’s Italian fixer almost gets them killed multiple times because he can’t stop groping her is a particular favorite, as is a zippy scooter chase that ends up pushing through wet concrete.