Filmsite Movie 

The French Connection (1971)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Arrival of French Star in NYC with Shipped Car:

Meanwhile, French TV celebrity/star Henri Devereaux arrives by cruise ship in New York's harbor. He is traveling to the US to make a film, and also importing his brown Lincoln Continental Mark III that is unloaded from the ship onto the dock. Suave French drug kingpin Alain Charnier and his hitman Nicoli watch as the car is driven away.

[Note: In Marseilles, the crafty Charnier has presumably stashed heroin into the vehicle of the unsuspecting Devereaux who unwittingly escorts the shipment to New York. Coincidentally, a month before the film opened, a drug stash of 230 lbs. of heroin was intercepted in a car on a boat from France.]

Conflict Between Popeye and Russo, and Two Federal Agent Partners:

Shortly later, along with 60-day wiretaps of Boca's home and store, their superior Walt Simonson assigns two other federal drug enforcement agents to assist Popeye and Russo and follow up on the case, by sitting in for the feds and completing all the drug buys:

  • Agent Bill Mulderig (Bill Hickman), disgruntled, an old nemesis of Popeye's
  • Agent Clyde Klein (Sonny Grosso)

There is obvious bad-blood between Popeye Doyle and Agent Mulderig, who blames Popeye for the death of a policeman ("His brilliant hunches cost the life of a good cop") in a previous case.

Scrap Metal Car Auction - Lou Boca Bids For Charnier:

With his wife and a translator, Charnier visits a major scrap metal car graveyard in New York where police often auction off impounded, abandoned, or confiscated cars that are not claimed within a month. During the actual auction held in a nearby trailer, scrap metal buyers bid on various vehicles - one of the buyers for Charnier's shipping business is identified as Sal's shady brother Lou Boca. [Note: This revelation links Charnier to the Bocas.]

Pursuit of Sal Boca ("The French Connection") in Manhattan:

Finally after days of listening to wire-tapped phone conversations, one call connects French-accented Charnier to Sal requesting a 12 o'clock Wednesday meeting at his midtown Manhattan hotel. The two nattily-dressed, overworked, uneducated New York street cops Doyle and Russo (with Mulderig) pursue Sal but lose him in heavy traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, although Agent Klein picks him up and tails him, and eventually all the agents succeed in following their "French connection" to the Roosevelt Hotel, in an attempt to bring to justice the French drug smuggling ring. When the suspects split up, Mulderig pursues Sal, while Russo and Doyle track after Charnier (dubbed "Frog One") with Nicoli (dubbed "Frog Two"). The two detectives must eat cold pizza out in the cold as the two smugglers dine in the warmth of Copain - a fancy French restaurant on First Avenue. Russo and Doyle realize they have been detected by the two Frenchmen - Charnier on the 4th floor of the Westbury Hotel at 69th & Madison, and Nicoli at the Edison Hotel (Agent Klein reports Nicoli had a hooker sent to his room). On the other hand, Sal has returned home. Doyle insists they are on the right track and argues with Mulderig.

Testing the French Heroin Shipment:

In the next scene set in a richly-appointed suite in the Westbury Hotel while testing the quality of the heroin in front of Sal Boca and Weinstock, the chemist Howard (Pat McDermott) watches the rising thermometer - certifying the junk as very pure:

Blast off - one eight O.
Two hundred - Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Two ten - US Government certified.
Two twenty - lunar trajectory, junk of the month club, sirloin steak.
Two thirty - Grade A poison.
Absolute dynamite.
Eighty-nine percent pure junk.
Best I've ever seen.
If the rest is like this, you'll be dealing on this load for two years.

The two Americans, Weinstock and Sal Boca, discuss a deal with the French drug syndicate for a half-million dollar buy of the shipment of 60 kilos of heroin from the French foreign market - a deal worth $32 million on the street. The experienced Weinstock exercises caution toward the fidgety, impulsive Boca, the Brooklyn contact for Charnier: "This is your first major league game, Sal. One thing I learned. Move calmly, move cautiously. You'll never be sorry." Sal is worried the deal will fall apart with a delay: "The stuff is here! We could make the switch in an hour! Look, Weinstock, I'm telling you. He'll split if we don't move!"

Popeye Doyle's Cat-and-Mouse Pursuit of "Frog One" (Charnier) In the Subway System:

Popeye again plays an elusive game of cat-and-mouse as he attempts to discreetly stalk Charnier from the Westbury Hotel through the streets and into the underground subway system. Doyle phones into his colleague Mulderig: "This is Doyle. I'm sittin' on Frog One" - Mulderig mistakenly thinks that Charnier is still in the hotel; the clever, suave Frenchman with a silver-handled umbrella outwits Doyle, and smugly waves goodbye through a departing subway train window at Grand Central Station. Having been identified, Popeye becomes a prime target for elimination.

Delay in the Deal - Possibly:

There is a slight detour to Washington DC - both Sal and Charnier take separate flights there and meet up to discuss the deal in the great expanse of the Washington Mall. (Agent Klein also buys a ticket to follow Sal). During their short meeting, Sal is now hesitant to hurry the deal along and is overcautious: ("I'll need a few more days though. The boys think we oughta cool it for a while just to make sure there's no heat"), but Charnier appears impatient: "You must take me for an imbecile," and asks for the deal to be concluded by the end of the week ("It's your problem"). On the flight back to NYC, Charnier's insists that they must remain on schedule when his hired, murderous sniper Pierre Nicoli ("Frog Two") volunteers to take out the cop who followed Charnier on the subway ("Let me handle him").

At the same time, Doyle is "dead certain" that the drug deal hasn't occurred yet and begs for more time, but Lt. Simonson regrets that two months have been wasted on the case: ("We blew it. We blew our warrants. We blew our cover"). When a fight breaks out again between Mulderig and Doyle, Simonson promptly removes Doyle from the case: "You're off special assignment."

Car-Train Chase Sequence - One of the Most Exciting Sequences in Film History:

Charnier's partner-sniper Nicoli misses in his attempt to kill Doyle outside his apartment from a rooftop, and is pursued at the start of an exciting, pulsating and brilliant car-train chase sequence through Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. [Note: It is one of the best, most dazzlingly-edited, vehicle chase scenes ever put on film rivaling the producer's previous car-chase scene in the film Bullitt - and the reason the film was awarded an Oscar for Best Editing. The sequence has been endlessly copied in dozens of films - with a terrifying, staggering series of effectively intercut segments.]

On foot, the sniper races to a nearby elevated train station, while Doyle is in hot pursuit behind him, but Doyle finds himself on the wrong side of the tracks. To catch up to Nicoli, Doyle runs back down to the street level and flags down and hijacks a motorist's 1966 Pontiac Le Mans ("Police emergency: I need your car") and pursues the drug dealer on board the out-of-control, run-away elevated commuter subway train above him (where Nicoli has terrorized passengers, killed the train's transit cop chasing him through the carriages, and ordered the motorman (William Coke) in the front car at gunpoint to not stop at any of the stations). The fearful motorman obeys and plows through the 25th Street station without stopping.

To keep pace below the train, Doyle drives 90 mph and barely misses pedestrians and other vehicles as he weaves in and out of traffic and track supports at top speed through the streets of New York, on the narrow two-lane road beneath the elevated tracks; he half-collides with another white car at an intersection, is clipped or side-swiped by a delivery van/truck, barely misses and dodges a mother and her baby carriage, and crashes into garbage, all the while furiously honking the car's horn and frantically switching from his brake to accelerator. He is driving with one eye on the street and one eye on the train above, as he bangs his fists on the steering wheel - angered at the delays and frustrations.

Hijacker Nicoli also kills the train conductor and causes the train's motorman to suffer a fatal heart attack. There is a climactic train crash [photographed with the train moving away from the camera - and then reversed], when the train runs into a stationary train on the tracks. Nicoli escapes from the wreckage, believing that he is free of Doyle. As he flees down the 62nd Street subway train station's stairs, he sees Doyle and immediately turns and reverses himself, but Doyle guns him down on the landing of the stairs - [the image became the famous iconic promotional still used to advertise the film on posters] - and he tumbles down dead to the street level.

The Search for the Smuggled Heroin in Devereaux's Car:

As a result, both Doyle and Russo are reassigned to the case. Sal and Angie drive away from the luncheonette in their Ford LTD. Sal is dropped off by Angie at an E. 38th Street underground parking garage to pick up Devereaux's brown Lincoln Continental Mark III (with foreign plates), not knowing that Doyle and Russo are tailing them. Devereaux's vehicle is parked by Sal on a side street in the South Street Seaport area, where Angie is awaiting him with a ride home. Unexpectedly, the suspected "dirty" Lincoln is there for most of the night - for a presumed pick-up. In the early morning hours (4:10 AM), vandalism is attempted by roving car thieves, prompting the police to intervene, arrest the gang members, impound the car and tow it to a police garage. Doyle is completely frustrated: "Nothin' but a bunch of lousy spic car thieves."

During a thorough search in the police garage of Devereaux's vehicle, while the Frenchman is attempting to retrieve his vehicle from authorities, police mechanic Irv (Irving Abrahams) is unable to find any of the contraband drugs. Russo cleverly deduces that the car is 120 lbs over its normal weight - he insists that the car still conceals the heroin shipment. The bags of white powder are found hidden in the doors' rocker panels. When the reassembled Lincoln (with the heroin stash inside) (or a duplicate car) is returned to Devereaux, the heroin deal is allowed to continue. Devereaux meets up with Charnier in his hotel and is implicated: "The police know you brought the car into the country. This makes you an accomplice" - the unsuspecting Devereaux is very confused and disavows any more involvement with Charnier: ("Accomplice to what? What have you gotten me into? You asked me for a favor. I did what you asked. But now you've taken advantage. I want no further involvement. No more favors").

The Climactic Showdown on Wards Island - A Shootout and Obsessive Pursuit by Doyle For Charnier:

Charnier drives the Lincoln to the old abandoned factory on Wards Island to meet with Lou and Weinstock - to deliver the drugs for the payoff; after the heroin is tested and verified for authenticity, the drug shipment is hidden in the building, while the cash payment is rehidden in the auctioned junker car that Lou had purchased and towed away (to be smuggled back to France); after Sal drives off with Charnier in the Lincoln Continental to return to the city, they face a roadblock (led by Popeye) and Sal and Charnier are forced to return to Wards Island.

In the downbeat finale as the police close in on the criminals on Wards Island following the botched heroin deal, there is a massive ambush and shoot-out in the surrounded and tear-gassed main warehouse. The film concludes with Boca's killing (by Russo) and Weinstock's arrest, and the surrender of others. As Doyle (joined by Russo) and Mulderig pursue their prey Charnier in a second building nearby, a shadowy figure is shot at and killed by Doyle - federal narcotics agent Mulderig has been mistakenly killed. The perturbed and frustrated cop, without any regrets or hesitation, is unrelenting and continues his obsessive search for the elusive Charnier:

The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm gonna get him.

Doyle runs off through the warehouse to further pursue Charnier. What actually happens is ambiguous and open to varying interpretations. A single shot is heard - off-screen - before the film abruptly ends with a black screen. [Note: The film literally ends with a 'bang.'] The film deliberately concludes on a mysterious note. Evidentally, Charnier slips away and is never caught.

Concluding Subtitles:

Subtitles, superimposed above a still photo of each main criminal or character, explain the failed denouement:

JOEL WEINSTOCK was indicted by a Grand Jury. Case dismissed for "lack of proper evidence."
ANGIE BOCA, guilty of a misdemeanor. Sentence suspended.
LOU BOCA, guilty of conspiracy and possession of narcotics. Sentence reduced.
HENRI DEVEREAUX, guilty of conspiracy. Served four years in a Federal Penitentiary.
ALAIN CHARNIER was never caught. He is believed to be living in France.
Detectives DOYLE and RUSSO were transferred out of the Narcotics Bureau and reassigned.

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