The French Connection
Release Year: 1971
Director: William Friedkin
Screenwriter(s): Ernest Tidyman, Robin Moore (book), Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Starring: Gene Hackman, Roy Sceider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzufi, Bill Hickman, Eddie Egan
Rating: Won 5 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing. 3 Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Roy Scheider), Best Cinematography, Best Sound. Won 3 Golden Globes: Best Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actor – Drama (Gene Hackman). 1 Golden Globe nomination: Best Screenplay
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #32, week 5 2015
Partners Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are at work for the NYC narcotics department when they stumble upon a drug smugling job with a French connection.
William Friedkin’s 1971 gritty crime classic was a most unsual best picture winner at the Academy Awards. It’s documentary approach and handheld camera (in most parts due to budget size) which have now become staples of so-called gritty realism were controversial in mainstream films at the time. The French Connection was also the first R-rated film to win an Oscar for best picture; a feat that was repeated a few years later by the same director when The Exorcist won. Although the film is the result of a master (though at the time young and relatively untested) director at work, it is hard not to argue that it is as much Gene Hackman’s film. Hackman (Crimson Tide, 1995) truly found his acting feet as Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle. From the first scene in which he chases down a suspect while dressed as Santa Claus he keeps us captivated. Doyle’s methods are tough and constantly in an ethical grey area, but he gets the job done and his integrity is never put into question. His faithful partner Rosso is portrayed by the great Roy Scheider (Jaws, 1975). While conducting their usual rough and offensive clean-up of the streets and bars (Hackman almost left the film after having had to retake the aforementioned Santa Claus scenes 27 times, because he was uncomfortable with his character’s racism and violent ways) the couple stumble upon a large scheme to import a vast amount of drugs from France. Enter: the French connection. Fernando Rey was actually not meant to have the part as the director had someone else in mind, but the casting director got the names mixed up and hired the Spanish actor by accident; nevertheless he plays the resourceful and experienced French smuggler well. The plot moves a bit slowly at first, switching between Doyle and the smuglers and stateside buyers, but really picks up the pace in the last 30 minutes. Here we are treated to one of cinema’s great car chases (which is actually a train chase), truly thrilling and exciting stuff. An entertaining and captivating crime flick from it’s showstopping start to its famously ambiguous end. Highly recommended.
The car crash in the big car chase scene was real. The driver had just left for work from his home a few blocks away, unaware of the fact that a car chase was being filmed (in actual traffic). The man was unharmed and the studio later paid for repair of his car.
The French Connection is based on a real criminal case and Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle is based on Eddie Egen who participated in the making of the film and played Doyle’s supervisor, Walt Simonson, in the film. The character’s nickname ‘popeye’ was Egan’s nickname in real life.
Both James Caan, Peter Boyle, and Steve McQueen were offered the part of Popeye Doyle, but turned it down for various reasons. Gene Hackman was eventually cast without auditioning, reading for the part or screen testing.
Picture Copyright: SF Film