Philip D'Antoni, Oscar-Winning Producer on 'The French Connection,' Dies at 89

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Philip D'Antoni

He also was the guiding force on 'Bullitt' and 'The Seven-Ups,' two other films with great car chases, and on NBC's 'Movin' On,' about truckers.

Philip D'Antoni, who won an Academy Award for his work on The French Connection and produced two other crime thrillers also renowned for their amazing car-chase sequences, has died. He was 89.

D'Antoni died April 15 of complications from kidney failure at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, his son-in-law Mark Rathaus told The Hollywood Reporter.

D'Antoni also produced the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt (1968), famous for its 11-minute car chase in and around San Francisco, and he produced — and directed — The Seven-Ups (1973), which featured a NYPD cop (French Connection actor Roy Scheider) in hot pursuit of a bad guy on the streets of Upper Manhattan.

In William Friedkin's The French Connection, the first R-rated film to win the Oscar for best picture, NYC detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle commandeers a civilian's 1971 Pontiac LeMans and gives chase to a sniper who has boarded an elevated subway car in Brooklyn.

"This type of thing takes weeks of planning and weeks of shooting," D'Antoni said in the Seven-Ups behind-the-scenes featurette The Anatomy of a Chase. "Every maneuver has to be timed to the split second."

D'Antoni enlisted the services of famed stunt driver/actor Bill Hickman for all three of the gritty films, and he employed film editor Gerald B. Greenberg for The French Connection and The Seven-Ups.

Rathaus added that that D'Antoni had to sell director Peter Yates and McQueen on Bullitt's iconic car chase — McQueen knew that he was soon going to star as a driver in Le Mans — and then wanted to top himself with a chase in The French Connection. The producer then convinced Friedkin to buy into that action sequence.

Said Rathaus: "Phil told his daughter Jeanne that he believed that 'cars are the modern equivalent of swords to those who know how to wield them, and a car chase is like a sword fight.' When McQueen's Frank Bullitt repeatedly steers his car into the bad guys' vehicle, the sound of bashing metal is much like the clanging of swords.

Later, D'Antoni took to the road again when he co-created (with Barry J. Weitz) the 1974-76 NBC adventure series Movin' On, which starred Claude Akins and Frank Converse as big-rig truck drivers. 

Born on Feb. 19, 1929, in the Bronx, D'Antoni attended Fordham University and served in the U.S. Army during the occupation of Japan in World War II.

He started his show business career in television, co-producing the specials Elizabeth Taylor in London, Sophia Loren in Rome and Melina Mercouri's Greece in 1963, '64 and '65, respectively.

After his three big films, D'Antoni produced just three little-known telefilms — Strike Force, Shark Kill and The Rubber Gun Squad — from 1975-77.

Survivors include his wife, five children and nine grandchildren.