French Connection
Introduction

This film rocked the movie world in 1972. Winning five Academy Awards, nearly every cop movie and television show has mimicked the French Connection. The classic good cop vs. bad cop, the cops who bends the rules and bucks the system came to the screen for the first time in the French Connection.

Based on a real 1961 police investigation, turned into book in the late 1960s, the film was a smash in the 70s' and remains a classic. Based on the book The French Connection by Robin Moore, and with a script by Ernest Tidyman (Shaft), Billy Friedkin's film adaptation concerns the true-life events of NYPD narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, who in the '60s made the largest heroin bust in U.S. history at the time, smashing an international operation that imported pure white junk from Eastern countries to New York City via the French port of Marseilles. Gene Hackman plays the temperamental Det. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (based on Egan), who routinely collars low-life users with his partner Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider, based on Grosso), in the hopes of getting them to rat out their dealers. But when Popeye and Cloudy notice a table of big spenders at a local club one night, they decide to tail one of them, Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco), and soon realize he's trafficking something. After they manage to connect Boca to Manhattan drug-financier Joel Weinstock (Harold Gary), a wiretap reveals a major shipment that's due to arrive in a few days from France. But it's not hard for the French organizer, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), to learn he's being tailed by the NYPD, and as the narcos get closer to a bust, Charnier brings in an assassin — with Popeye in the crosshairs.

Perhaps no higher praise can be given to a film than to say that it made such a lasting impression that virtually every subsequent film of its genre bears its stamp of influence. Friedkin was attached to The French Connection project by producer Philip D'Antoni specifically for his experience with documentaries. In the era of the New Hollywood that marked the late '60s and early '70s, with producers increasingly handing more and more control over to individual directors, it was decided that The French Connection would be a film unlike any seen before — it's regrettable, when seen today, that it seems almost too much like everything we've seen since. But its many imitators cannot lessen its importance, and while several actors were considered for the lead roles of Popeye and Cloudy, the decision to cast virtual unknowns Hackman and Scheider lended to the overall documentary-style tone. From there, Friedkin employs numerous low-cost, high-impact film techniques, including a lot of shaky handheld camerawork and shooting essentially in natural light, in addition to the unmistakable New York locations in the depths of winter. Hackman's performance dominates the film from its opening moments — working undercover in a Santa Claus costume, he thrashes a junkie for info while Cloudy holds him back in a good-cop/bad-cop routine that's lost control. And from this introductory scene moviegoers in 1971 realized that this was not just another cop film, as The French Connection was the first time police officers were depicted routinely violating not just proper procedure, but suspects' rights, utilizing intimidation, threats, and physical violence to achieve street-level results that would never wind up on official reports. Of course, such images and stories fail to disturb us today as they did in the politically turbulent '70s, and it would be pretty hard to make a cop film or TV series nowadays without the protagonist bending the law at times, or the verité' camerawork (both Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue owe an enormous debt to Connection). But few films have matched Friedkin's cop masterpiece, and as car chases become longer, flashier, more intricate (and somewhat more boring), few can compare to Hackman's terrifying pursuit of an elevated train through the busy streets of Brooklyn, where the focus is not on the pyrotechnics, but instead the very real and immediate danger of driving 80 mph through a busy neighborhood. Like the shower scene in Psycho, once done, it can never really be imitated, or equaled.

Task
 

Please answer the following questions in your journals;

  1. Which neighborhoods or streets did you recognize in the film?

  2. What did you think of the chase scene under the elevated train?

  3. Does the film remind you of NYPD Blue or other popular TV shows or movies?
  4. Explain.

  5. The French Connection's choice of street scenes is different than most films shot in New York. Can you pick out how its filming of the city's streets is different?


  6. What did you think of the film?


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Resources
 

Internet Move Database (http://us.imdb.com/Title?0067116)

Review of DVD (http://www.dvdjournal.com/quickreviews/f/frenchconnection.q.shtml)

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04/14/03