Most movie car chases can be measured in terms of the gross tonnage of destruction they create. It's much tougher and rarer, however, for a chase to be both exciting and free of sheet metal carnage.
"Against All Odds" was intended to be a re-invention of 1940s film noir, but no one remembers the film's amoral protagonist and venal heavies. Instead, they remember the chase along L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard between a Porsche 911 Cab and Ferrari 308 GTS Quattrovalvole that takes place early in the film.
Strictly speaking, the chase wasn't really a chase, but an impromptu street race between two old friends played by James Woods (Ferrari) and Jeff Bridges (Porsche).
Starting as the two cars crest the intersection of Sunset and Hilgard and streak toward the camera, the race just gets hairier and hairier as the two weave in and out of traffic. The car control is impressive as the Ferrari darts with instant reflexes and the Porsche's tail swings with the inertia inherent in its rear weight bias. There's not a moment where the camera is under-cranked to increase the sense of speed, and the mid-day setting means all the action is easy to follow.
Eventually, Woods ups the ante and takes the 308 into opposing lanes of traffic to pass the 911. When the Ferrari looks like it's about to be strained through the radiator of a large Ford van, it's only by the slimmest margins that it makes it back into the correct flow of traffic.
Sunset Boulevard between UCLA and the 405 Freeway is one of the most spectacular roads in Southern California. With its sweeping, banked curves and wide lanes, it's possible to sustain velocities there that would be unthinkable on most roads. But it's also a busy thoroughfare crammed with traffic. That the producers of this film were able to get the permits to shut any of it down, if only for minutes at a time on consecutive Sunday mornings, is amazing. And it's a credit to director Taylor Hackford and editors Frederic Steinkamp and William Steinkamp that they sustain so much suspense. There's never a lag in the action. Hackford also gets credit for how real all the traffic looks. Rolls-Royces and Mercedes are perfectly mixed in with beater Chevys and pickups.
Still, most of the credit for the scene has to go to stunt coordinator Gary Davis, who drove the Porsche, and Cary Loftin who drove the Ferrari. When "Against All Odds" was filmed, Loftin was already 70 and a veteran of such legendary car stunt films as "Vanishing Point" (1971) and "Grand Prix" (1966). Loftin was, even at his advanced age, clearly the best stunt driver in Hollywood. And today, seven years after his death, he's considered to be the best stunt driver who ever lived.
This is a chase worth seeing over and over again.
Tale of the TapeFilm: "Against All Odds" (1984)
Cut to the Chase: 18 minutes, 3 seconds into the film (Chapter 5 on DVD)
Length: 2 minutes, 25 seconds
Total Cars Wrecked: 0
Coolest Car: '84 Ferrari 308 GT Quattrovalvole
Coolest Dialogue: "Let's see if you still got balls, Terry."
Look For: Reflections of each car in the other's door and the cameras filming them.
Location: Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, Calif.
Available: $9.95 at Amazon.com