his classic 1971 all-action thriller netted five academy awards, after being nominated for eight, including best actor and best film.
It is a gritty crime drama that spans the Atlantic pitting tough New York detective Popeye Doyle, played by Gene Hackman, (complete in pork-pie hat) against the suave Gallic foe Fernando Rey’s Alain Chairnier or 'Frog One' as he is affectionately referred to.
Roy Scheider as trusted partner and calming influence Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo went on to win the best supporting actor award.
The film was based on a true story featured in a book by Robin Moore and set in the marvellously contrasting cities of Marseilles and New York. It centres around an attempted heroin deal between the sophisticated French and the New York underworld brokered by café owner and newsagent yet high living Sal Boca.
It is Popeye’s intuition that puts him and sidekick Russo on the scent that something major is afoot after he notices Sal with other ‘faces’ from the New York underworld in a bar – ‘that table just isn’t right’ he contemplates over his bourbon on the rocks. They decide to put in some extra curriculum activities and spend the night trailing Sal around the city's bars and hotels. This sets the scene of tracking, surveillance and outmanoeuvring throughout the film that gives it a tense pacey atmosphere.
It is Hackman’s Popeye that steals the show. A larger than life cop that sometimes pushes the boundaries of law enforcement and is hardly a role model in diversity awareness. Anything goes in upholding the law even, it appears, if you’ve got to break it yourself.
The first scene has the santa clad Hackman pursuing a suspect through rather uninviting Brooklyn surroundings to a rather desolate patch of waste ground where he receives his inevitable kicking, all part of the Doyle information gathering technique. ‘Have you ever picked your feet in Poughkeepsie?’ to a beaten, traumatised suspect. When he raids a renowned dealers bar he zealously collects the discarded assortment of narcotics that have cascaded from pockets on his arrival or surreptitiously hidden behind the bar rail. Collecting up a selection he empties them into glass adds a beer to make up a Popeye cocktail – ‘anyone want a milkshake?’.
The film contains some memorable scenes, in particular the classic chase scenes. There is the car chasing the subway train after a hapless confused motorist is relieved of his vehicle by a rather adamant Popeye resulting in the high-speed chase. This is wonderfully shot with the overhead subway train pursued by our determined law enforcer.
The shadowing of the wily Charnier on the subway is also one of the most recognisable scenes from 70s cinema – off the train on the train until he calmly obstructs the door with his umbrella, cooly off and on again giving the det an insolent little wave from safety of the closed doors. The incandescent Popeye vents his anger by running alongside the moving subway cursing and threatening the nonchalant Frenchman through the window – a brilliant scene captivating the raw passion of Hackman and his relentless obsession in the pursuit of his prize.
Although the French Connection is remembered for the exhilarating car chase as Popeye pursues his attempted assassin first on foot and then in his appropriated vehicle, borrowed from a hapless passing motorist he gives chase to the overhead subway train. This is classic multi-modal stuff. He races under the thundering elevated railtrack straining to keep tabs on the train above, inevitably smashing through every obstacle in his path and luckily missing the young mother with push chair. As both car and train both come to abrupt halts, the by-now rather exasperated narc puts an end to the activities by emptying his revolver into the French assassin’s back.
Another memorable scene comes from the narcotic quality control tester Howard who is brought in to assess the quality of the French heroin. With the aid of his chemistry set Howard describes the purity: "blast off 1 – 8 – 0; 200 –good housekeeping seal of approval; 210 –US government certified; 220 –lunar trajectory, junk of the month, club sirloin steak; 230 –grade ‘A’ poison. Absolute dynamite!"
Don't forget that The French Connection is now available to order on Widescreen DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Karl Murphy
The film has a frenetic pace and is captivating from start to finish. The story line can be quite complicated and there are a number of characters to deal with within the film but this reflects the authenticity of the complex ‘true’ story on which it is based. Hackman’s character has been described as the ‘most hateful good guy’ ever portrayed on screen but this is really the beauty of the depth of his performance. Often brutal and obnoxious this guy certainly has his own set ideas on how the law should be interpreted.
The atmosphere is helped by the location shooting in the New York winter amidst the steam from the subways and the rubble strewn back streets of Brooklyn. It is often filmed at street level employing the use of hand held cameras that give it a gritty close up feel. The cat and mouse surveillance is well handled and never over done giving the unfolding events a tension that draws the viewer with intrigue.
However the film is obviously a product of its time, the association of drugs and crime maybe open to claims of stereotyping. But it also gives a telling aspect of the social and ethnic divisions that of New York in the seventies and continue to blight major US cities today - poor neighbourhoods, high unemployment, bad housing and drugs.
A great film, classic thriller, brilliant performances, camerawork and stunts. With an abrupt, sudden ending that has us salivating for the equally impressive sequel "French Connection 2".
The result of the first leg of this international bout, it appears, is Frog One 1 Popeye Doyle 0 – can’t wait for the return leg!
The film received 8 Academy Award nominations, winning 5 Best Picture, Best Director, Actor (Hackman), Editing and Adapted Screenplay.
Based on true life 1962 investigation where undercover narcs Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso landed largest ever heroin bust in US history at the time.
Chronicled by Robin Moore in the book “The French Connection”
The book optioned for Hollywood by producer Philiup D’Antoni of Bullitt fame.
30 year old William Friedkin who was largely successful for documentaries to direct.
Owen Riozman did cinematography
Subesequent films "The Seven Up’s" in '73 directed by D’Antoni and "TFC 2" in '75 directed by John Frankenheimer on location in France with cinematography by Claude Renoir
Gene Hackman underwent initiation into Egans world as he was put through his paces by the Det.
Eddie Egan has a role in the movie. He's Popeye and Cloudy's boss.
The infamous car chase scene was short over several weeks. The director didn't have the proper permits so the chase was shot several blocks at a time and only on days when the weather corresponded with previous days of filming. [Thanks to Tim]
Because the real event takes place in 1962, the real car is not a Lincoln Mark III but a 1960 Buick Invicta. The drugs were really found under the rocker panels (like the movie) but they were accessible from a hidden panel in the front wheel well. Buick engineers were called in to help find the hidden compartment. It was originally overlooked because it was covered with mud. Like the movie, they know it was in the car somewhere because there was 112-pound weight discrepancy. [Thanks to Nick Nicaise]
know some The French Connection trivia that we could add? [Please
send it in]
The Lower East Side, Times Square, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Grand Central Station, among others [Thanks to Carter]
Can you help? Do you know any of the New York City, New York filming locations used for The French Connection? [Please send them in]
|Trailer, Commentary, Featurette, Notes, OutTakes, Score|
Outstanding Collectors Edition|
70’s thrillers began to produce some special soundtrack scores, composers like Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and Riz Ortolani had started to portray the feeling of the decade with their inspired movie grooves.
Don Ellis was an exceptional accomplished Jazz musician, one of the most innovative artists his original score’s for the FC movies were similarly impressive. The big band score captured the urban feel of Friedkins shifting unsettling images.
The sound of the street matched he stark energy of a concrete winter in New York, the setting of the film and the home town of Ellis.
Several moods are used from the original score lp, mostly big band themes and incidental exchanges which sound more like freestyle Jazz or the euro feel for “Charnier” opposing the gloomy “Frog one is in that room”
On main title the crescendo of brass manages to add a no nonsense ambience whilst “Subway” is possibly the most memorable where Hackman tails Rey in undercover glory.
Blues renditions are gladly used whilst more eerie spaced out tensions are played out at the suitable moments in the films darker toned scenes such as “End Title” which had the fate of all characters etched onscreen to photosnaps.
The power of the soundtrack was essential I think to the films success and went as far as showing the use of score to compliment image, adding strength to what was already an award winning slice of 70s melodramatic copdom.
Among others such as Klute, Dirty Harry, and indeed Ellis own TFC2 , the first connection stands out as a timeless film with a stunning layered soundtrack.
If you want the grit of the decade then look no further than this score which evokes visually an undercover cops cold breath in grey black asphalt overtures, freezing with groove retro spendour.
It can't be any more authentic.
Soundtrack Available: On CD
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