By on September 9, 2016

blazing magnums

Very few people enjoy Canadian films, and there’s damn good reason for it. Public funding is heavily bureaucratized, giving birth to movies essentially “filmed by committee.” Artsy, yes. Depressing? Very often so. But Scandinavia already has that covered!

This wasn’t the case in the glorious, sleazy 1970s. For a brief era, Canada was a free-wheeling, balls-out orgy of low-grade filmmaking, all thanks to insane tax write-offs. Slasher flicks and soft-core porn, lewd sex comedies and gritty crime dramas, this era had it all — and most of it was awful.

One film crew, who probably saw Bullitt way too many times, knew what audiences — American audiences especially — wanted to see, and set about filming one of the most un-Canadian films ever shot north of the border.

They also produced one of the greatest and least-known car chases ever filmed.

The 1976 movie Strange Shadows in an Empty Room (a.k.a. Blazing Magnum, a.k.a. Blazing Magnums, a.k.a. .44 Special, a.k.a. Una Magnum Special per Tony Saitta) saw an Italian director partner with a Canadian film crew to make a movie filled with guns, car chases, killings, and ’70s camp.

Box-office gold, right? Well, with the 100-percent write-off allocated to film expenses during the “tax shelter era,” it wasn’t hard to make a buck.

With director Alberto De Martino at the helm (famous known for garbage flicks like Holocaust 2000 and Puma Man), the team hired character actor Stuart Whitman and it was off to the races.


Blazing Magnum (1976) 1971 Ford Mustang VS… by Z-cinema

Blazing Magnum is the story of a hard-nosed, .44-packing Ottawa cop (think Dirty Harry) who travels to Montreal to solve his kid sister’s murder. Along the way, the detective finds himself involved in multiple car chases, numerous shootouts, and is attacked by a gang of Kung Fu transvestites. (See the trailer below for excerpts.)

The film’s genre is poliziottesco, a popular ’70s Italian movie trend featuring violent loners rebelling against bureaucracy, vigilantism, graphic violence, organized crime, and corrupt politicians. So, basically Montreal in the ’70s.

The hallmark chase through the south side of Montreal’s downtown covers every cliché in the book. Completely over the top, accompanied by cheesy, twangy porn chase music and filled with continuity errors, the chase pits our anti-hero’s 1968 (or ’69) Buick Special against the bad guy’s 1971 Ford Mustang.

Like Bullitt or Gone in 60 Seconds, the two cars pass the same car more than once, plow through stacked boxes filled with air, upset a motorcycle rider, launch themselves into the air with no undercarriage damage, and have surprising off-road prowess.

Exploitative, bloody and very lowbrow, the movie is anything but polite. Sadly, the tax shelter era ended in the early 1980s and movie production dwindled (as did audiences). Some will tell you it was for the better — that quality and meaningfulness blossomed in Canadian films — but I don’t hang out in those circles.

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74 Comments on “Freaky Friday: Is This The Greatest Under-appreciated Car Chase Ever Filmed?...”


  • avatar
    VoGo

    1970’s Car Chase Checklist:

    -Cars jumping over hills? Check
    -Bystanders scurrying for cover? Check
    -Cheesy chippa-wow-wow music? Check
    -Cop in suit and tie with amazing driving skills? Check
    -Motorcylce sent crashing into mountain of empty boxes? Check
    -Jump over moving train? Check
    -Fire hydrant hit, resulting in spray of water? Check
    -8 minutes of car chase, with not a single cop in sight? Check
    Greasy bad guy caught in the end? Check

    Rating: 100%

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      If you really want to see a list of films that Russ Meyer would have been proud to have made himself, google: Alberto De Martino.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      Don’t forget cop stops, perp goes on, 10 seconds later, cop is on perps bumper again.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      Australia throws in actual race cars . The protagonist has an old NASCAR
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4wIRmI9_Z0E
      In Shaker Run from New Zealand, a Trans Am like car built in Australia used as the Chase car in the Movie, was just restored and now still races in New Zealand. No the car is NOT a Camaro being chased, but a Holden with a Camaro body!
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5jCIWNXHG8c

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Don’t forget the 70’s / 80’s standard.
      – Car front bumper hits rear bumper of other car, causing an air-born spin. CHiPs couldn’t go an episode without doing this multiple times.

      I was worried watching this clip, but they did manage to do it once. Check.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Another criterion not applicable in this case, but still part of the checklist: The sound of squealing tires when the chase is on gravel (Dukes of Hazzard, I’m looking at you).

  • avatar
    VoGo

    By the way, I am going to say something blasphemous, but true: As a movie, Bullit does not hold up well.

    • 0 avatar
      RedRocket

      As a reflection of its times, it holds up beautifully. If you mean it looks old because there are no computers or cellphones, then that’s too bad.

    • 0 avatar
      rcx141

      Serious? I actually enjoy it more now than when I first saw it in the 70s. I love how economical everything is. Watch how there’s barely even any dialogue!

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        I could never figure out if Robert Vaughn was supposed to be in cahoots with “The Organization” (they didn’t have “The Russian Mafia” to be the all-around PC villain in those days) or if he was merely supposed to be a pettifogging bureaucrat.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Not much of a plot in Bullit, something about the ‘Organization’ aka Mafia. But despite its shortcomings, Bullit is actually a very entertaining movie. The cinematography was top-notch. Bullit is a time capsule of an American era long gone. San Francisco was captured in all its pre-hipster beauty, when it was still a real, working city. Steve McQueen could not have been cooler, he pulled off that ‘man of few words’ act better than anyone before or since. Eastwood is a pale imitation by comparison. All the principal actors were good looking. Nobody drove like Bill Hickman. Lets not forget that drop dead gorgeous 1968 Mustang Fastback. I defy anyone to see Bullit and not wish they could get into a time machine and go back to 1967-1968 San Francisco.

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        1967-1968 San Francisco was a cesspool of crime. The Summer of Love happened here because it was so cheap to live in SF, and it was cheap because the economy was not so great and the middle class had decamped to the suburbs. There’s a reason why Dirty Harry was set in SF.

        There’s a helluva lot more working going on in SF today, despite the city government’s arduous efforts at strangling everything productive.

        • 0 avatar
          skor

          You have statistics to back up your claim? Most urban areas were experiencing a surge in crime starting in the 1950s and peaking in the 1980s. Some urban areas never saw a reduction…Detroit is the most infamous example. In any case, I can’t imagine SF of that time being any worse off than NYC, where I grew up.

          • 0 avatar
            amca

            I remember than when I got out of school in ’83, SF was a expensive. Not quite Manhattan expensive. But still expensive. And well more than Chicago expensive. Not sure SF has ever been cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          05lgt

          As a kindergarden age kid I got to see several Hells Angels gang rape a girl who had been dancing naked at a free concert in Golden Gate Park. The cop I ran off and got pretty much hid, radioed, and ran away. My parents dragged me off to do the same thing. 69 was a hell of a year in SF.

      • 0 avatar
        TheDoctorIsOut

        At the LA Auto show about 20 years ago I noticed there was a crowd of about 15 men deep at the Ford stand where they were showing the first Fox chassis based Bullitt Mustang. But it wasn’t the car they were mobbing to see but instead a 25″ TV with the Bullitt car chase on a continuous seven minute loop. Guys, self included, must have watched and commented on that at least 10 times each.

        The closest collective reverence I encountered since then was at the Petersen Museum where they had collected and gathered as many of McQueen’s cars; against one wall was a glass case that displayed the wardrobe he had worn and some of the props from Bullitt. The background buzz of noise in the vicinity of this display vanished while men of all ages were quietly standing in awe in front of this as if it were the Shroud of Turin, walking away slowly commenting about moved they were by the experience.

        There will never be another, or anyone cooler than Steve McQueen.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick

      Have to agree…it’s a decent movie, but not outstanding, and the car chase was good but not stellar. AND they wrecked a perfectly good Charger…unforgivable.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      The chase scene is what makes Bullitt. Period.

    • 0 avatar
      quasimondo

      Not blasphemy, completely true. The car chase in Bullitt was overrated and so was The French Connection. The gold standard to me was The Seven Ups. The cars were forgettable (a Pontiac Ventura versus a Gran Ville) but the chase wasn’t.

  • avatar
    Keith_93

    That’s hilarious. Sometimes a demolition derby beats an attempt at having a plot.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Canadia gave us Zap Rowsdower, bitches. We lowly Americans could never be worthy.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Canadians can also appreciate having the Official Languages Act, which came into force on 9/9/1969.

  • avatar
    Alfie

    And nary a mention about John Saxon who was in this movie!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Martin Landau – of Mission Impossible and Space 1999

  • avatar
    Joss

    H B Halicki all the way. 70’s real stunts no CGI. The canuck looks like a cash in on Gone in 60 Seconds or Repo Man.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I gotta go with the car chase from “The Seven Ups”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBxasFPEuDs

    This one is downright silly.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    70s Canadian action films? Nice!

    How did I miss this genre before?

  • avatar
    gmrn

    To Live and Die in L.A. is a splendid chase

    Panther vs. B-body
    Pre-bariatric William Petersen
    Wang Chung

  • avatar
    rcx141

    Stuart Whitman’s eyebrows rate an Oscar IMHO

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Italian-directed B-movies are a treasure.

    So many Road Warrior and Escape From New York knockoffs.

  • avatar
    MoparDave

    One of the best car chases in a Canadian flick is in 1990’s ‘Short Time’ (Vancouver,British Columbia filling in for Seattle).A classic!

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    As long as we’re on the subject, there is a pretty good chase in one of the early seasons of “Trailer Park Boys”

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I appreciate movies like Bullitt more now than when they were newer. The hospital and morgue scenes were more realistic without all the dialogue that many of today’s movies have. Steve McQueen was a cool actor and did not need to say a lot to get the audience interested in his character. McQueen did most of his own stunts and was a stuntman before he became an actor. McQueen also was an avid car and motorcycle collector and had an extensive collection.

  • avatar
    roger628

    I’m surprised nobody (AFICS) has mentioned the travesty of the BS sound effects in this. The engine sounds are of 4 cylinders with manual transmissions
    , I remember watching this years ago and it was almost unwatchable because of this. Surely the tech exists to redub the sound track.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    GREAT opening paragraph, Steph!

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    No one has mentioned Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle chasing a hit man in the French Connection.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      That one gets special consideration because they didn’t get permits and just filmed it on the street, without traffic closures or multiple takes, or so I’d been told.

  • avatar
    SnarkyRichard

    There is a cut scene in Vanishing Point (shown in the UK and Canadian versions) where Kowalski picks up a hitchhiker who symbolizes death . She’s played by actress Charlotte Rampling , gets Kowalski stoned and tells him she has been waiting for him only to be gone in the morning when he wakes up . That version is only on the flip side of the 2004 region one dvd release , but not on the blu ray version .

    Another good Canadian film is the 2007 movie YPF which stands for Young People Fu….. well it’s not as dirty as it sounds , a funny R rated movie about different couples in relationships with even a post end credits funny scene . Also good is the 2004 Canadian film Saint Ralph , a coming of age comedy about a Catholic school kid planning to run in the 1954 Boston marathon .

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I still content that, though technically not a chase scene per say, the opening segment from the “Un Homme et Une Femme, 20 ans de ja” (A Man and a Woman, 20 Years Later) is the best.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a27pCW2DPc0

  • avatar
    skor

    Neither one of those cars would have been driveable after only a fraction of that kind of abuse.

  • avatar
    Delta88

    1. Needs moar flying hubcaps. Boo, hiss!

    2. As a kid in the 70’s, when those Buick Specials and Skylarks were more common, I was puzzled by their styling. It looked to me like they’d all been rear-ended because of those wacky tail lights, angled down and slightly concave.

  • avatar
    Delta88

    Funniest chase ever? “What’s Up Doc?”
    A delivery tricycle, an early 50’s Cadillac limo, a Plymouth Taxi, A DeVille Convertible, a Beetle…

    A Beetle joins the melee

  • avatar
    baconator

    This scene is basically how I imagine Jack Baruth in a NASA American Iron race!

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    No matter how drooling-stupid, contrived and shamelessly derivative of First World movie trends a clown fest like this film may be, car chases still afford the opportunity to see way righteous relics along the way in decent cinematography.

    • 0 avatar
      GS 455

      “Films” like this as well as the whole low budget slasher genre are made with only one motive and it’s not even profit. It’s so that some wannabe film-maker can call himself a director. They make schlock by begging, borrowing and stealing money from friends, neighbors their brother in law just to have a film on their resume. Then they try to approach producers and studios with a pitch to try to get funding for their next project to further their aspirations. Art or even money is not their point, it’s just so everyone involved has something to add to their resume.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    The classic 1971 TV movie, “Duel,” starring Dennis Weaver driving a Plymouth Valiant sedan and being chased and menaced by a dirty Peterbilt tanker truck (whose driver we never see). The whole movie is a chase scene and takes about an hour and a half.

    The low-budget TV movie was adapted from a short story written by Richard Matheson that had originally appeared in Playboy magazine. It was the first movie directed by Steven Speilberg (who had previously only directed episodes of TV shows) and, being quite good, he went on to much bigger and better things.

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    The older I get the more I appreciate actors like Stuart Whitman. Nice to know I can still be cool at 50.

    What I really enjoy about films like this are the gritty locations and extras/walk-on actors that look like real people, because they were. You see odds and ends that remind you of things that were around when you were a kid; product labels, cars, clothes, signs, etc.

  • avatar
    Nick

    My vote goes to the ‘The Seven-Ups’ car chase scene.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Agree;
    the golden era of car chases died with CG.

    For me, one of the better chases, besides what other posters have already mentioned, is Ronin.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    People listing all these car chase movies, and not one mention of “The Blues Brothers.”

    A sad day.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Yep, the 70s tax-shelter era produced a ton of horrible crap. But it also produced David Kronenberg and an absolutely top rank production industry that’s filmed some of the biggest Hollywood movies. Sadly, a thriving (at least in English Canada) film industry never really happened, but, not surprising when you look at who is just next door and welcomes all your talent to work there. As for car-chases, I always wanted to see one filmed on Groat Road in Edmonton – if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. As for Canadian cop shows, check out the beautifully filmed “Motive” from Vancouver, the cinematography is amazing for series television.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I b still prefer Ronin. The sound track with the chase footage made it so much more immersive.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Rendezvous.

    Where the protagonist races time and has to contend with early morning Paris traffic. Shot in 1 take. Dubbed-in Ferrari motor and shift sounds (as the camera was mounted on a big Mercedes.)

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Driving the Special, Stuart Whitman! Star of the late ’60s CBS western, “Cimarron Strip”. Plus, John Saxon and Martin Landau. Lots of great mid ’70s carspotting in this chase.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    The film speed makes it look like bad CGI, I couldn’t watch the whole thing. Is this where they learned how to do CGI?

  • avatar
    FalcoDog

    I was pretty sure that Groucho Marks was gonna catch Roger Waters in the end. I was right.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Great watch ! .

    I’d never heard of this one before, liked all the links too =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I saw this at a drive in when it came out. The Seven Ups was the second, and IMHO, vastly superior movie. My GF at the time had never seen any of the big chase movies and really seemed to enjoy the airborne cars in Blazing Magnum, and the end of the chase in the Seven ups really shocked her. I don’t think she hated the movies I picked to see as I did the ones she picked. Damn, I hate chick flicks so much.


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