The French Connection


A pair of NYPD detectives in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a heroin smuggling ring based in Marseilles, but stopping them and capturing their leaders proves an elusive goal.

ACTORS : Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco


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William Friedkin’s gritty police drama portrays two tough New York City cops trying to intercept a huge heroin shipment coming from France. An interesting contrast is established between ‘Popeye’ Doyle, a short-tempered alcoholic bigot who is nevertheless a hard-working and dedicated police officer, and his nemesis Alain Charnier, a suave and urbane gentleman who is nevertheless a criminal and one of the largest drug suppliers of pure heroin to North America. During the surveillance and eventual bust, Friedkin provides one of the most gripping and memorable car chase sequences ever filmed.

What Friedkin Set Out To Do, He Accomplished Tremendously; Hackman’s At A Peak

Although not the very best film of 1971, The French Connection packs enough of a wallop to continue significance as a serious, but un-shamefully entertaining, thriller. William Friedkin, the director, has said about the film that he wanted to “infuse the documentary style.” And in this rare time in Hollywood when the flood-gates opened, no one stopped him. This works for fascination on the technical side at the start, that all the edits in certain sequences (chases and such, not the notorious one), and particularly how they’re filmed by the two significant cameramen, Owen Roizman and Enrique Bravo (the later the lighting cameramen. There were other films, mostly in Europe, that were making movies like this, but there is also this implicit urgency that Friedkin is conveying here as well; it’s gritty, sometimes in the action there’s so many chances of spontaneity that it can practically do no harm.

But without going into detail about the specifics of the good in the style, one only has to look at the strengths in the story. For its time it broke ground in dealing frankly with the street/drug scene and its networking, even as by now there are thousands of TV programs and movies that show similar stuff every week. Yet there is a purity in it all too, where the story is so focused upon there isn’t too much time for deep character delving and such. This doesn’t make a problem for the actors though, as the actors fit the type like pegs. Gene Hackman, in his first Oscar winning turn, is Popeye Doyle, a cop with recklessness and total professionalism as one of the two key cop roles (the other, of course, Dirty Harry). It may not be Hackman’s best, or some might say it is (whatever ‘best’ means), but it is one that compliments the film, essentially down the line and not un-willing to take prisoners. Roy Scheider is also well cast as Hackman’s partner, with enough to do during Hackman’s ‘big’ scenes. The surprise success in casting is Fernando Rey of Bunuel’s films, who is one of the convincing old-European elegant big-time drug dealing business man in all of the films that followed it. It’s almost as if the same character from those Bunuel films wasn’t in a surreal-mode.

This is just one of those ‘cat & mouse’ movies that clicks. For some the parts may even be greater than the whole (and they’re practically on all highlights reels of clips from 70’s films nowadays), and for others it may even prove more satisfying than it was for me.

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The French Connection

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