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The French Connection is a 1971 Americanmarker crime film directed by William Friedkin. The film was adapted and fictionalized by Ernest Tidyman from the non-fiction book by Robin Moore. It tells the story of New York Police Department detectives named "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy Russo, whose real-life counterparts were Narcotics Detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. Egan and Grosso also appear in the film, as characters other than themselves.

It was the first R-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since the introduction of the MPAA film rating system. It also won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gene Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Ernest Tidyman). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Roy Scheider), Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Tidyman also received a Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America Award and an Edgar Award for his screenplay.

In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Plot

The film revolves around the smuggling of narcotics between Marseillemarker, Francemarker and New York Citymarker. The film opens in Marseille with a policeman staking out Alain Charnier, a Frenchmarker criminal who ostensibly works as a former stevedore-turned-shipping executive but is in fact involved in smuggling heroin from Francemarker to the United Statesmarker. The French policeman is assassinated by Charnier's henchman, Pierre Nicoli.

In New York, detectives James "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo are also conducting an undercover stakeout out of their precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklynmarker, with Doyle dressed as Santa Claus and Russo pretending to be a hot dog stand vendor. After seeing a drug transaction take place in the bar, Russo goes in to make an arrest and the suspect they are waiting for makes a break for it with the detectives pursuing him on foot. After catching up with their suspect and delivering a severe beating after the suspect cuts Russo on the arm with a knife, the detectives aggressively interrogate the man and eventually force him to reveal where his "connection" is based.

After Russo's arm injury is treated, Doyle convinces him to go out for a drink. At the nightclub they go to, Doyle becomes interested in two people: Salvatore "Sal" Boca and his beautiful young wife, Angie, who are lavishly entertaining several known Mob members involved in narcotics. Doyle persuades his partner to come along as they tail the couple; several scenes and exchanges between Doyle and Russo are shown establishing the fact that although the Bocas run a modest newsstand diner, they have criminal records (Sal is said to have held up Tiffany's and also killed "a guy named DeMarco" while Angie drew a suspended sentence for shoplifting and Sal's brother Lou served jail time for assault and robbery) and their extravagant lifestyle includes nearly nightly trips to several nightclubs, as well as driving several different new cars, which indicates they may be involved in some sort of criminal activity. Eventually there is a link established between the Bocas and well-to-do lawyer Joel Weinstock, who is rumored to have extensive connections in the narcotics underworld, Popeye and Cloudy allude to a drug shipment from Mexicomarker bankrolled by Weinstock).

Doyle and Russo then roust a bar in their precinct where the majority of the patrons are in possession of low quality marijuana and other minor drugs. The rousting is a stunt for Doyle to find an informant (who he physically assaults to keep his cover) whom he then questions about an apparent shortage of hard drugs on the street; Doyle is told that there is word a major shipment of heroin is on its way. The detectives convince their supervisor, Walt Simonson, to pursue wiretapping the Bocas' phones and use several ruses to try to obtain more information on their subjects.

The film now centers on three main points: the criminals' efforts to smuggle drugs into the U.S. which is made easier when Charnier dupes his friend, a well known French actor named Henri Devereaux, into importing an automobile into the U.S. (unbeknownst to Devereaux, the drugs are carefully concealed within the vehicle) and the eventual sale of the drugs to Weinstock and Sal Boca; the efforts of Doyle and Russo to shadow Boca and Charnier; and the conflicts the two detectives have with both Simonson (their superior) and a federal agent named Mulderig. Doyle and Mulderig openly dislike each other; Russo and Doyle feel that they can handle the bust without the government's help; and Mulderig never hesitates to criticize Doyle on items ranging from trivialities like Doyle's appearance to an incident in the past where a policeman was killed and Mulderig clearly holds Doyle responsible for it; when Mulderig caustically states, "the last time you were dead certain, we had a dead cop," Doyle comes to blows with Mulderig and the two must be separated by Simonson and Russo.

Charnier soon "makes" Doyle and decides he has to be eliminated. Charnier's henchman Nicoli, who assassinated the French detective, offers to do the job and tries to kill Doyle from a rooftop with a rifle. He botches the job and a cat-and-mouse pursuit underneath the BMT West End Line begins, which eventually leads up to the car chase scene described below.(The NYCTA provided their newest cars, model R-42 for the chase; as of 1 Sept. 2009 almost all of this model have been retired and scraped). The chase ends when the elevated train Nicoli has hijacked crashes into another train; when Doyle catches up with Nicoli, he shoots Nicoli in the back while he attempts to escape by running back up the stairs leading to the train platform. The car containing the drugs that Devereaux imported into the U.S. is eventually staked out by the police and impounded when some young thieves try to strip the car of its valuables. Doyle and Russo then take the car apart in an hours-long search finding no drugs. Seeing that the weight of the vehicle was larger than its listed weight, they realize the drugs must be in the vehicle and they eventually find them after the mechanic states that he has stripped everything on the car except the rocker panels.

At the film's climax, it seems like the drug deal which takes place at an abandoned factory on Ward's Islandmarker has been a major success; Boca and Weinstock's resident heroin expert tests the substance and declares it to be of top quality. In return, using an old car that Sal Boca's brother Lou picked out, the criminals stash the money in almost the same hiding place that was used on the car Devereaux brought in. The car is to be imported into France, where Charnier will then retrieve the money. Charnier and Sal Boca drive off and only moments later run into a roadblock consisting of a large force of police officers, led by Doyle. The police chase Charnier and Sal Boca back to the factory grounds, where Sal is killed during a shootout with the police and almost all of the others surrender after tear gas is fired by the police.

Charnier escapes into the warehouse and a tense sequence ensues as Doyle hunts for Charnier. Russo joins him in the search, which takes a sudden shocking turn as Doyle, trigger-happy and high on adrenaline, sees a shadowy figure in the distance and empties his revolver at it only a split-second after shouting a warning. To Russo's horror, the man Doyle kills is not Charnier, but Mulderig. Doyle seems unfazed by this and vows to capture Charnier, reloading his gun and running off into another room in the distance. The last sound heard in the film is a single gunshot.

Title cards before the closing credits note the fates of five people arrested and tried - Joel Weinstock and Angie Boca got away without any prison time while Lou Boca got a reduced sentence and Devereaux served four years. Alain Charnier was never caught and returned to France. It also states that both Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the narcotics division.

Cast



  • André Ernotte as La Valle
  • Sonny Grosso as Bill Klein
  • Benny Marino as Lou Boca
  • Patrick McDermott as Howard, Chemist
  • Alan Weeks as Willie Craven, drug pusher
  • Andre Trottier as Wyett Cohn, weapons specialist
  • Sheila Ferguson as The Three Degrees
  • Eric Jones as Little Boy (uncredited)
  • Darby Lloyd Rains as Stripper (uncredited)
  • Jean Luisi as French detective


Comparison to actual people

In addition to the two main protagonists, several of the fictional characters depicted in the film also have real-life counterparts. The Alain Charnier character is based upon Jean Jehan who was arrested later in Paris for drug trafficking, though he was not extradited; the director credits a general lack of punishment to Jehan's military service with Charles de Gaulle. Sal Boca is based on Pasquale "Patsy" Fuca, and his brother on Fuca's brother Anthony. Angie Boca is based on Patsy's wife Barbara, who later wrote a book with Robin Moore detailing her life with Patsy. The Fucas and their uncle were part of a heroin dealing crew that worked with some of the New York crime families. Henri Devereaux, who takes the fall for importing the Lincoln to New York, is based on Jacques Angelvin, a television actor arrested and sentenced to three to six years in a federal penetentiary for his role, serving about four before repatriating to France and turning to real estate. The Joel Weinstock character is, according to the director's commentary, a composite of several similar drug dealers.

Production

Production of the film started in November 1970 and was completed in March 1971. Peter Boyle was originally cast to play the role of "Popeye" Doyle but later turned down the role because his agent thought the movie was going to be a failure.

The movie established the careers of both Friedkin and Hackman and was instrumental in ushering in an era of neo-realist directors in Hollywood during the early 1970s. In an audio commentary track recorded by Friedkin for the Collector's Edition DVD release of the film, Friedkin notes that the film's documentary-like realism was the direct result of the influence of having seen Z, a French film. Additionally, this was the first film to show the World Trade Centermarker: the completed North Tower and the partial completion of the South Tower are seen in the background of one scene.

The sequence on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle took two days to shoot. Car 6609 has been preserved and is in the New York Transit Museummarker. It is occasionally operated on fantrips along with other preserved cars.

Casting

Though the cast ultimately proved to be one of the film's greatest strengths, Friedkin had problems with casting choices from the start. He was strongly opposed to the choice of Hackman for the lead, and actually first considered Paul Newman (out of the budget range) then Jackie Gleason and a New York columnist, Jimmy Breslin, who had never acted before. However, Gleason, at that time, was considered box-office poison by the studio after Gigot had flopped, and Breslin refused to get behind the wheel of a car, which was required of Popeye's character for an integral car chase scene. Steve McQueen was also considered, but he did not want to do another police film after Bullitt and, as with Newman, his fee would have exceeded the movie's budget. Tough guy Charles Bronson was also considered for the role. Friedkin almost settled for Rod Taylor (who had actively pursued the role, according to Hackman), another choice the studio approved, before he went with Hackman.

The eventually successful casting of Rey as the main French heroin smuggler, Alain Charnier (irreverently referred to throughout the film as "Frog One"), resulted from mistaken identity. Friedkin had asked his casting director to get a Spanishmarker actor he had seen in Luis Buñuel's French film, Belle de Jour, who was actually Francisco Rabal, but Friedkin did not know his name, and Rey, who had played in several other films directed by Buñuel, was instead contacted. After Rabal was finally reached, they discovered he spoke neither French nor English and Rey was kept in the film. In a further irony, after screening the film's final cut, Rey's French was deemed unacceptable by the filmmakers. They decided to dub his French while preserving his English dialogue.

Car chase

The film is often cited as containing one of the greatest car chase sequences in movie history. The chase involves Popeye commandeering a civilian's car (a 1971 Pontiac LeMans) and then frantically chasing an elevated train, on which a hitman is trying to escape. The scene was filmed in Bensonhurst, Brooklynmarker roughly running under the B subway line (currently the D subway line) which runs on an elevated track above 86th Street and New Utrecht Avenue in Brooklyn. The conductor played by Bob Morrone and train operator played by William Coke, aboard the hijacked train were both actual NYC Transit Authority employees.[14883] Friedkin's plan included fast driving coupled with five specific stunts: 1. Doyle is sideswiped by a car in an intersection 2. Doyle's car is clipped by a truck with a "Drive Carefully" bumper sticker. 3. Doyle narrowly misses a woman with a baby stroller and crashes into a pile of garbage. 4. Doyle's vision is blocked by a tractor trailer which forces him into a steel fence. 5. Doyle must go against traffic to get back on a parallel path with the train. Intercut with these car scenes underneath the elevated train is additional footage (shots facing the car, not from the driver's perspective) that was shot in Bushwickmarker, Brooklyn, particularly when Doyle misses a moving truck and slams into a steel fence. Many of the shots in the scene were "real" and while Gene Hackman drove well over half of the shots used in the film, legendary stunt driver Bill Hickman, who also had a small role in the film as FBI agent Mulderig, drove the stunt scenes and point-of-view shots through the windshield and from the front bumper, with Friedkin running a camera from the backseat while wrapped in a mattress for protection. The production team received no prior permission from the city for such a dangerous stunt, but they had the creative consulting and clout provided to them by Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (which allowed normal protocol for location shooting like permits and scheduling to be circumvented), and the only precaution taken was to place a "gumdrop" style beacon on the car's roof and blare the horn. The most famous shot of the chase is made from a front bumper mount and shows a low-angle point of view shot of the streets racing by. This was the last shot made in the film and was, according to Friedkin, needed to increase the speed of the chase after a rough cut of the scene proved less impressive than he hoped. While Friedkin contends the front-bumper shot is made at speeds of "up to 90mph," director of photography Owen Roizman, wrote in American Cinemataographer magazine in 1972 that the camera was undercranked to 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of speed. Roizman's contention is borne out when you see a car at a red light whose muffler is pumping smoke at an accelerated rate. Other shots involved stunt drivers who were supposed to barely miss hitting the speeding car, but due to errors in timing accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film. Friedkin said that he used Santana's song "Black Magic Woman" during editing to help shape the chase sequence; though the song does not appear in the film, "it [the chase scene] did have a sort of pre-ordained rhythm to it that came from the music."

The scene concludes with Doyle confronting Nicoli the hitman at the stairs leading to the subway and shooting him as he tries to run back up them. Many of the police officers acting as advisers for the film objected to the scene on the grounds that shooting an unarmed suspect in the back was simply murder not self-defence, but director Friedkin stood by it stating that he was "secure in my conviction that that's exactly what Eddie Egan (the model for Doyle) would have done and Eddie was on the set while all of this was being shot."

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

Wins

Nominations

American Film Institute recognition



Home video

The film has been issued in a number of home video formats. For a 2009 reissue on Blu-ray Disc, William Friedkin controversially altered the film's color timing to give it a "colder" look. Cinematographer Owen Roizman, who was not consulted about the changes, dismissed the new transfer as "atrocious".

Sequels and adaptations

A sequel, French Connection II appeared in , and in , the NBC television network aired a made-for-TV movie, Popeye Doyle, starring Ed O'Neill in the title role.

While not a sequel, The Seven-Ups ( ) is closely related as it stars Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco, was directed by Philip D'Antoni, written by Sonny Grosso and features another famous car chase choreographed by Bill Hickman. The score for this film was also by Don Ellis.

Notes

  1. Turner Classic Movies spotlight
  2. The French Connection
  3. Jacques Angelvin, French Wikipedia article
  4. Film commentary
  5. Friedkin recounts his casting opinions in Making the Connection: The Untold Stories (2001). Extra feature on 2001 "Five Star Collection" edition of DVD release.
  6. This story is recounted in Making the Connection, supra.
  7. Top 10 car chase movies - MOVIES - MSNBC.com
  8. R-42 cars 4572 and 4571 were chosen for the film and had no B subway line signs because they were normally assigned to the N subway line. Consequently they operated during the movie with an N displayed. The D line uses the tracks today. As of 2008, these cars are still in service on the E line.
  9. This account of the shooting is described in Making the Connection, supra.
  10. "From 'Popeye' Doyle to Puccini: William Friedkin" with Robert Siegel (interview), NPR, 14 Sep 2006
  11. Director's commentary on DVD
  12. "Making the Connection" and "The Poughkeepsie Shuffle", documentaries on The French Connection available on the deluxe DVD.
The culmination of the Waterloo railway stationmarker scene in The Bourne Ultimatum is influenced by the underground scene in the film, notably the inverted camera work as the train leaves the station.

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