Edgar Wright - Movies That Inspired Baby Driver

(Welcome to Cinematic Inspirations, a series where filmmakers talk about the movies that inspired their latest release. In this edition: the second of two conversations with Edgar Wright on the movies that inspired Baby Driver.)

Leading up to the release of Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright was a guest programmer at the British Film Institute for a series of films under the banner Car Car Land. The filmmaker rounded up 10 of the movies that influenced Baby Driver in some way for cinephiles in London to enjoy. Since not everyone can attend those screenings and hear all the wonderful things he has to say about these movies, some of which he introduced himself, we wanted to hear from the man himself why he loves these movies and how they inspired his new film, which is being called a “dazzling car chase musical.”

A little over a week ago, we had an extensive phone call with Edgar Wright where he laid down his passion for these 10 movies and provided some fun facts. Since this is such an extensive conversation, we’ve split it up into two parts.

Below is part two of this feature, which covers the second five movies, and you’d do well to read the first part before you go any further.

First of all, here’s Edgar Wright explaining how he chose the films for BFI’s Car Car Land season:

What I did with this season is I picked movies that had car chases of my youth. So there are not as many recent ones because I capped it where I started making movies myself, which was around 1994. I chose the car chases that really inspired me when I was younger. Because I had the original idea for Baby Driver in 1995 so I was thinking about the films up until that point.

Let’s get right into the next batch of movies that inspired Baby Driver and why Edgar Wright loves them so much. Anything below that appears in italics (other than the titles) is me – everything else is Wright in his own words.

Freebie and the Bean

Freebie and the Bean (1974)

Why Edgar Loves It: Freebie and the Bean is not technically a car chase movie, it’s sort of an all around mayhem movie. It arrives in the same year as The Super Cops and also Starsky & Hutch, but it’s clearly the template for Lethal Weapon and the extravagant buddy movies of the 1980s. I’ve seen this with a crowd at the Alamo Drafthouse once, and it completely kills on the big screen, partly because the mayhem in it is so brilliantly over the top. Particularly there’s a shot where James Caan is shooting a bad guy from one glass elevator to another, and you see this amazing wide shot of two elevators outside a hotel with cops and bad guys shooting from one elevator to the other, and it’s almost Naked Gun territory, except it looks beautiful.

The car chase in the movie, as a little kid I remember seeing clips of this film when it was playing on TV, and it’s exactly the kind of movie that I had to see. Jumping through trains, cars crashing through walls, there’s literally a point where James Caan gets on a motorcycle and knocks over an oversize domino set. The rest of the movie in terms of James Caan and Alan Arkin’s performances, as well as Alex Rocco as their boss, they’re all really funny performances with some insanely huge gags. The director Richard Rush went on to do The Stuntman, which has a sort of epic scale and almost like silent movie era sight gags. It’s a mixed bag of a movie of parts I cannot defend and then bits of action and comedy that I absolutely love.

Baby Driver Note: Though the action is certainly a driving forced behind getting some butts into the seats to see Baby Driver, it should be noted that all of the performances, from the lead Ansel Elgort to the lovely waitress Lily James, to the robbery crews played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, to the boss played by Kevin Spacey and Baby’s deaf roommate C.J Jones, are absolutely fantastic.

Edgar’s Fun Fact: There’s a reason that it was on TV late at night, because if you actually watch it, it’s a terribly non-PC movie with a couple of racial jokes and a not particularly well-handled gay killer in the movie as well. I cannot defend that part of the movie, because it’s totally politically incorrect by today’s standards.

Smokey and the Bandit

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Why Edgar Loves It: Smokey and the Bandit was the movie I was most bummed to miss on the big screen with this season of programming. It’s one of those films that I’ve seen on TV a bunch of times, but I’ve never seen on the big screen.

In its day in 1977, it was the second highest grossing film that summer after Star Wars. In the program for the BFI, I said it’s the end of that 1970s era of movies that came after Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 and sort of started with Easy Rider and went through Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. By the time you got to Smokey and the Bandit, that 1970s is over, and now you’ve got just a complete popcorn movie about bootleggers and bandits, and it’s just a fun movie. It’s not very deep, but it’s totally entertaining. They Jerry Reed song is ridiculously catchy. You also have so many fun performers, obviously having too much of a good time. Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Mike Henry as Jackie Gleason’s nephew Junior.

Baby Driver Note: When I was shooting Baby Driver in Atlanta, some of these actors are doing Southern accents, and I used to make my director of photography Bill Pope laugh, because my attempt at a Southern accent was impersonating Jackie Gleason from Smokey and the Bandit. I would say, “There is no way in hell that you could come from my loins,” which is what he would say to Junior.

Edgar’s Fun Fact: Famously, or kind of infamously, somewhere in the Universal vault there is a version of Smokey and the Bandit 3 where Jackie Gleason played both the sheriff and the bandit. Smokey and the Bandit 3 was called Smokey is the Bandit. They make reference to it in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Jackie Gleason played both parts, they shot the movie that way, they even had a teaser trailer for that version of the movie. Test audiences were so bewildered by it, that they reshot half the movie and had Jerry Reed playing Cledus Snow. Then at the end of the movie, they shot a Burt Reynolds cameo to explain everything. But somewhere in the Universal vault must be that version of the movie.

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