Crossing the line movie car chases: Gone In 60 Seconds

We're looking at some of the finest car chases in cinema, in conjunction with Need For Speed Rivals. Here's 1974's Gone In 60 Seconds.

The 2000 incarnation starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie may be the Gone In 60 Seconds more people remember these days, but it was director HB Halicki who got their first, with his 1974 low-budget, gonzo car chase movie of the same name.

As part of our celebration of crossing the line movie car chases, which provide the build-up to the release of EA’s latest racer, Need For Speed Rivals, here’s our look at Gone In 60 Seconds’ death-defying extended car chase.

The film

Of all the films we’ve covered in this crossing the line series, Gone In 60 Seconds is by far the cheapest, with a budget of just $150,000 – a miniscule sum of money for a car chase flick, even by 1970s standards. But Gone In 60 Seconds also the most ambitious, with HB Halicki writing, producing and starring in this daring story about an insurance investigator who also happens to be an expert car thief. The rather thin plot sees him tasked with stealing 48 desirable vehicles in just five days – a pretext, really, for a series of spectacular car chases, culminating in a 40-minute driving sequence which still holds the record for the longest in movie history.

The rivalry

Predictably, the car-jacking antics of the brilliantly-named anti-hero Maindrain Pace (Halicki) soon gain the attention of the police, and his foes through much of the movie are a pair of dishevelled detectives played by Butch Stockton and Phil Woods. A tip-off results in the detectives spotting Pace as he makes off in Eleanor, a 1973 Ford Mustang belonging to a local DJ – and so begins the most protracted chase sequence in the movies.

The driving

As Pace attempts to make his escape, with the law hot on his tyres, a spectacularly messy chase ensues on the streets and highways of Los Angeles. Pace drives with courage, if not a lot of precision – almost as soon as he pulled out of the a car park, he’s collided with another vehicle before skittering off down the road. Then again, the bouncy suspension on the stolen Mustang doesn’t exactly help – look how it bounces and rolls with every undulation and tight corner.

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Then again, the ungainly nature of American 70s cars is what makes these chases so thrilling to watch – particularly in Gone In 60 Seconds, where the damage the Mustang takes is quite breathtaking. As it bounces off cars and other bits of scenery – including, at one point, a sofa – we’d be forgiven for thinking that the car’s likely to fall apart at any moment.

Crossing the line

A true cinematic outlaw, Pace screeches around Los Angeles without a thought for the safety of himself or anyone else – in a scene we’re unlikely to see repeated in a low-budget indie film these days, he even drives through a park while mystified sunbathers watch from the sidelines. But it’s when Pace escapes onto a California freeway that Pace’s real appetite for destruction becomes apparent – here, he gleefully causes wince-inducing pile-ups in his efforts to evade capture. Notice, for example, how he manages to flip one innocent bystander’s car onto its roof – not exactly heroic, you’ll surely admit.

The miniscule size of the film’s production becomes apparent when we learn that not only did Halicki do all his own driving and stunts, but he also purchased all the cars we see destroyed during the course of the escape – each one purchased second-hand for around $200 each. In total, 93 vehicles were destroyed in this crash-happy dervish of squealing tyres and twisted metal.

Gone In 60 Seconds’ car chase concludes with a gigantic jump, which Halicki again pulled off himself in his Mustang. As you can see in the final cut of the movie, the height and distance he managed to achieve is quite remarkable – and also ends quite painfully for both car and driver. It’s said that Halicki managed to damage his back in the process of performing the stunt – and looking back at the film now, it’s remarkable that his injuries weren’t more serious still.

It’s the raw, rough quality of the film’s action and stunts that gives Gone In 60 Seconds its texture. The throaty roar of the engines, the crashes and jumps performed without CGI all make for a gasp-inducing movie – one where we get a real sense of danger from each set-piece, which is often lost in modern films with their CG-assisted stunts. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a maverick filmmaker like Halicki making a film like Gone In 60 Seconds today (sorting out the insurance would be a nightmare all by itself), but that’s partly why it’s still such an entertaining chase movie, even 40 years later.

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