Hello again, Readers. I know there aren’t a lot of you out there, but I can always count on a few of you to check in on my movie Blogs. I see my ol’ buddy Jim Akin is here again. Jim & I go back a long way. We met at a concert in Poughkeepsie on 5/1/09. “He was sitting on the edge of the stage pickin’ his feet. You still pickin’ your feet in Poughkeepsie, Jim?”
At any rate, today’s Classic Movie Blog is on William Friedkin’s 1971 crime drama The French Connection, the story of New York City Narcotics Detectives Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) & Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider). They’re on the trail of a huge heroin shipment coming into the city from France. It’s a dramatization of the events of real life Officers Eddie Egan & Sonny Grosso, respectively, as documented in Robin Moore’s non-fiction book “The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy”. The Adapted Screenplay won Ernest Tidyman an Oscar in 1972 at the 44th Academy Awards even though much of the dialog was improvised. Friedkin’s masterpiece won 4 more Oscars: Director, Picture (Producer Philip D’Antoni), Best Actor (Hackman), and Editing; and was nominated for 3 others, including Scheider for Best Supporting Actor. Two additional excellent performances to watch for: Fernando Rey as Alain Charnier; and Frédéric de Pasquale as Devereaux.
Notice that I haven’t mentioned any women at all. That’s the one rap on the otherwise tremendous decade of the ‘70’s in motion pictures – the films featured mainly men! Hackman, one of the greatest actors of his or any generation, won the Oscar, his first of 2 along with Best Supporting Actor as Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western, Unforgiven, without ever even auditioning for the part. That speaks volumes of Friedkin’s vision for the film. Hackman’s legendary performance also fills fast food bellies the world over & will for years to come, since Al Copeland named his Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken chain after his character. The French Connection was the first R-Rated Best Picture winner, though the distinction is dubious since John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy won the Award 2 years earlier with an X-Rating.
But let’s cut to the chase: The chase scene, the most famous scene in the picture, is considered one of the 2 best chases ever in the movies along with the San Francisco chase scene from Peter Yates’ Bullitt, also produced by D’Antoni. That cliché originated in the early days of film. The great producer Hal Roach is credited with coining the phrase. Quite often back then, directors would end their films with a chase scene to create a cliffhanger in serials or to otherwise keep their audiences riveted. With 5 minutes to go in a movie and no more dialogue in the script, the director would “cut to the chase” to fill up the time required for the film. So improv is very much part of the history of “the chase” & The French Connection is no exception. Its chase scene was almost entirely improvised: Shot out of sequence over a period of 5 weeks without the proper permits; there’s one accident – entirely real; and many of the near crashes are also real.
Let’s cut to the chase scene: Get over to your local library & borrow a copy of William Friedkin’s The French Connection. There is perhaps no better film ever made about obsessed cops on the edge of being criminals. Popeye & Cloudy are not above police brutality; they’re loyal & Popeye holds a grudge. A stark contrast to the equally vile but suave drug traffickers they hunt! 4-Stars!