Filmsite Movie 

Review
The French Connection (1971)
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Background

The French Connection (1971) is director William Friedkin's brilliant, fast-paced, brutally-realistic police/crime film - his commercial break-through film. The true-to-life film about the largest narcotics seizure of all time in 1962 - with an innovative semi-documentary-style technique that conveys the story with very few words, was produced by Phillip D'Antoni who had made the exciting police film Bullitt (1968).

The police thriller features an unsympathetic protagonist - the vulgar, brutal, tireless, unlikable, maniacal and sadistic Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) as the main undercover New York City narcotics cop, who toes the thin line between fighting crime and committing crimes himself. He passionately and obsessively pursues drug pushers with his partner Buddy "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider). One of the film's posters emphasized: "Doyle is bad news - but a good cop."

The film's raw script was based on Robin Moore's best-selling book of the same name about the ruthless, real-life adventures of idiosyncratic Harlem special narcotics squad officers Eddie Egan (the Doyle character) and Sonny Grosso (the Russo character) - both have small cameo roles in the film and served as technical advisers for the film.

The heavily-nominated film (with eight nominations) was a multiple-Academy Award winning effort, taking accolades in five categories: Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Actor (Hackman with his first Oscar), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman), Best Editing (Jerry Greenberg), and Best Picture. The three other nominations included: Best Supporting Actor (Roy Scheider), Best Cinematography (Owen Roizman), and Best Sound.

The authenticity of the film is accentuated by dozens of sordid, on-location NYC sets (the Lower East Side, Times Square, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Grand Central Station, among others), sub-titles for the French dialogue, rough "Egan-style" police work, brutal winter scenes in the city, hand-held camera shots, and gutsy, nitty-gritty performances. The film inspired a complementary sequel four years later - French Connection II (1975), directed by John Frankenheimer.

The Story

The dramatic opening scene shows two simultaneous actions many miles apart. In Marseilles, France, a malevolent professional hit man Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) kills a French detective with a bloody gunblast to the face. The assassin callously tears off a piece of the man's long loaf of French bread. And in Brooklyn, New York during the Christmas holiday season, a street Santa Claus figure (Doyle in disguise) and a hot dog vendor (Buddy in disguise) chase down a knife-wielding dope pusher. They drag the two-bit drug dealer to a vacant lot and intimidate him without finding any drugs on him. Typical of his obscene vocabulary, sadistic nature and strong-arm tactics, Doyle grills the suspect with his famous pet non-sequitur:

When's the last time you picked your feet, Willy? Who's your connection Willy? What's his name?...I've got a man in Poughkeepsie who wants to talk to you. You ever been to Poughkeepsie? Huh? Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?

After work, Doyle and Russo (posing as plainclothesmen) share a drink at an Eastside club and stumble into a suspicious group of "greasers" at a corner table: "That table is definitely wrong," surmises Doyle. They see large sums of money being flashed by a handsomely-dressed playboy ("the last of the big spenders") named Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and his wife Angie (Arlene Farber). "Just for fun," Doyle suggests tailing "the greaser with the blonde." Taking the long-shot hunch, they trail the couple until 7 am the next morning, witness a drug "drop," and learn that Boca is a small-time candy/newspaper store owner (at "Sal & Angie's").

The French criminal mastermind behind drug shipments to New York is a Marseilles-based, debonair international criminal Alain Charnier (Spanish actor Fernando Rey) - his associate is hit man Pierre Nicoli.


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