THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) C widescreen 104m dir: William Friedkin
w/Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frederic de Pasquale, Bill Hickman, Ann Rebbot, Harold Gary, Arlene Farber, Eddie Egan, Andre Ernotte, Sonny Grosso, Benny Marino, Patrick McDermott, Alan Weeks, Al Fann, Irving Abrahams, Randy Jurgensen, William Coke, The Three Degrees
Marvelously exciting story about New York cop Popeye Doyle (Hackman) busting a huge international narcotics ring which is smuggling vast quantities of heroine into the U.S.
From The Movie Guide: "Young director Friedkin produced a suspenseful and utterly absorbing film which incorporated thrills with street humor and routine police work with highly dramatic scenes. The chase scene, an incredible, hair-raising sequence, was shot from Hackman's car with cameras mounted in the back seat and on the front fenders. The police are portrayed as being almost as brutal as the criminals, with Hackman shown to be a near-maniac who will stop at nothing to corral drug offenders."
From the Alternate Ending website (www.alternateending.com), this 2020 article about the film by Tim Brayton:
"The French Connection is the Best Picture Oscar winner from the 1970s that makes me happiest. Not because I think it's the best of them --- it just barely makes the top half of winners that decade for me, and I'm not even 100% sure I like it best of its nomination class --- but because it's the kind of film that doesn't really win that award, and it is extremely cool that this one did --- and I might even go so far to say, important that this one did, at the start of this decade. For if there's one thing that first comes to my mind when I think about the '70s, it's probably grimy, angry, amoral films about New York City, shot with hard lighting and strong colors and a whole shitload of film grain, centered on tales of crime and quotidian human misery. And The French Connection, while it did not invent that genre, perhaps deserves a large share of the credit for defining how it would look and feel for years to come. I will not say that, without The French Connection, we get no Serpico, no The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, no Dog Day Afternoon, no Three Days of the Condor. But I will say that they're probably a little bit more interesting because of the model The French Connection presented. It is one of the films that laid out a roadmap for how '70s cinema might go, and it is to the medium's benefit that it followed that map. And there's no reason for Oscar to have given a shit about any of that, because he typically doesn't, and The French Connection is many things that had never before won and have not won since. And yet there it is. Like I said, cool.
"The film's approach begins before the film does. Right at the start, after a slightly unnerving tweak to the 20th Century Fox logo (it starts in black and white and the color fades in), we get our first taste of Don Ellis's score, in the form of a propulsive, rhythmic, and loud cue that pushes us through the plain, opening credits --- serif font, white on black text --- with a forceful momentum that's has absolutely no interest in easing us into the film smoothly. It's a quick, stabbing musical cue that immediately tells us what we're in for: something brusque and unfussy and brutal.
"And so it will turn out to be. The French Connection is a prototypical '70s film in more than just its setting and its style: it also has the hopeless feeling of so many of the best movies of that period. This is a story about ugly things and awful people, headlined by one of the era's finest anti-heroes: Detective Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle of the NYPD, played by Gene Hackman in the role that won him an Oscar. Doyle is a giant asshole, and the film wastes very little time in establishing it: the first thing we see him do is to chase down a suspect while dressed as a Salvation Army Santa Claus and beat him, the kind of striking image that can't help but create an immediate 'whoa' mood. And the way that the red of his costume is punched up draws all the more attention to it. Within a couple more scenes, we'll learn that he's a racist who's disliked by his colleagues and endured more than tolerated by his partner, Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo (Roy Scheider). He's arrogant, loud, and bullying, and Hackman plays this with a level of snotty, snarling amusement that makes it clear that Doyle is amused by how much of an irritant he is to everyone else. There's also a slight twinge of zealotry to him, a refusal to admit to being wrong that manifests as a dogged pursuit of whatever he's working on that ends up feeling indistinguishable from mania, especially as the film progresses.
"That's actually what the famous car chase, undoubtedly the most iconic part of the movie, is all about. Doyle has been tailing a suspect --- something he is resolutely bad at, perhaps because of all that loud arrogance --- and lost him on an elevated train. He races down to the street and strong-arms a passing driver into giving up his car, speeding after the train below the tracks. It's easy to admire this for plenty of reasons, with Bill Hickman's stunt choreography making the streets of New York feel like an unnavigable obstacle course of traffic and pylons, but it's not just exciting on its own merits, but as an extension of the protagonist's rage. We're watching from his perspective as the sequence goes along, seeing the oncoming traffic zooming right into the camera as we swerve around at top speed, and as kinetic and exciting as this is, there's also a panicky desperation to it that matches Hackman's increasingly sharp frustration.
"The film as a whole is the story of a grinding, go-nowhere police investigation: there's a titanic quantity of heroin coming into New York, thanks to French drug smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), and Doyle picks up the rumors of it happening; the whole of the film's tight 104 minutes follows Doyle and Russo trying to figure out whatever they can through a combination of nuts-and-bolts policing and intimidating whatever local drug runners they can grab onto. It's a story about unsatisfying legwork that's somehow completely engrossing: Doyle might be running into a lot of dead ends, but he runs into them at top speed, and between the complete lack of fucking around in Ernest Tidyman's screenplay (adapting and fictionalising a non-fiction novel), and the across-the-board great performances, the rising tension of working the case becomes deliciously unbearable before the film arrives at its angry, deflated non-conclusion.
"The control of tone and pacing throughout are superb. This was not director William Friedkin's first noteworthy film, nor his last, but it's certainly the one that displays all of his gifts to best effect, in my eyes. It's an austere movie, stripped down to the bone and with every scene clearly driven by one specific goal, and this gives it a sinewy crudeness that matches its rough characters and story. It is a predatory film, with a predator's fluidity and grace as it plunges forward: there's nothing wasted and nothing superfluous, only a cold, merciless sense of professionalism. And this too matches the characters, even as it traps them: we get the sense that Doyle has no sense of self other than being a cop, and when he's not succeeding at that, all it leaves is a sense of petulant ire.
"And, saving the best for last: it also looks magnificent. There's nothing remotely beautiful about this, but I think it's easily one of the best-shot films of the entire decade, finding the great cinematographer Owen Roizman --- for whom this was his first noteworthy film, and one that he followed up with great success --- turning New York into something so filthy that it gleams, if that's possible. This is a film of strong lighting and hard contrasts, capturing the textures of the city with magnificent physical presence that's deepened by the swimming grains of the film stock. I don't think it's fair to call it 'realist' in the sense we'd generally mean that word, but it's certainly unadorned, capturing as much as it can of the essence of the streets and the cops plodding through them. It is the rawest part of a raw film, ugly and unapologetic about it, presenting a warts-and-all look at its location that fits in perfectly with the unromantic view of policework and policemen. The whole film is grotty and mean, with a gruff sense of pride at its authenticity; many films would emulate it and a very select few would match it, but I don't think any pack as hard of a punch or carry themselves with such brisk proficiency."
THE FRENCH CONNECTION won five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hackman), Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman, based on the book by Robin Moore), and Editing (Jerry Greenberg). It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Scheider), Cinematography (Owen Roizman), and Sound (Theodore Soderberg, Christopher Newman).