Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

The French Connection

The French ConnectionCinema Monolith: 10/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 7.9/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: **** out of 4

Released on October 9, 1971
Rated R
104 minutes

Directed by William Friedkin

Written by Ernest Tidyman, based on the book by Robin Moore

Cast: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frédéric de Pasquale, Harold Gary, Bill Hickman, Ann Rebbot, Arlene Farber, Eddie Egan, Sonny Russo

One of the best crime dramas of the 1970s, a neo-noir thriller that benefitted from a smart story, down-and-dirty direction from William Friedkin, and winning performances from Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Hackman was all-out fantastic as ‘Popeye’ Doyle, who with Scheider tried to bust open a narcotics ring in New York City; the roles were based on Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, actual NYC police detectives who worked on a similar case involving heroin smuggling in 1961.

Like Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan character in Dirty Harry, Doyle broke some rules and often went the unorthodox route to get the job done; I always appreciate a character who plays it tough in a quest to rid the world of scumbags. As for Hackman’s portrayal, I’d have to say it’s his finest performance, and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role; whether or not he nabbed the characteristics of the real-life Doyle was secondary to what he brought to the character himself, which in the end earned him an Oscar for Best Actor.

The screenplay does a great job of bringing two storylines together, slowly and carefully, with a nice buildup of tension to a haunting ending that would take a sequel to resolve. Lots of authenticity, too, with scenes being shot on-location—even in the grungiest sections of Brooklyn—without being prettied up for the camera, adding immeasurably to the gritty realism of the story. And yes, the famous adrenaline-charged car chase was indeed all it was cracked up to be, and its front bumper-mounted viewpoint was a masterstroke of vehicular filmmaking; I recently read where the idea for the chase was suggested to Friedkin by old-time director Howard Hawks!

As you’ve probably guessed, I love The French Connection, and consider it a must-see film of the genre—a must-see no matter what, actually—and most deserving of all five Academy Awards it received. It joins Dirty Harry, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three as my favorite crime films of the 1970s.  (10/10)

The French Connection

4 comments on “The French Connection

  1. spreth1

    First Gene Hackman movie I ever saw, with my dad. I loved the action and Hackman’s character, but I was probably too young to appreciate the story at the time. Saw it once more many years later and liked it again, but odd how different it was from what I remembered. I should probably watch it again – it’s been a long time.

    • Todd B

      I’ve seen The French Connection just a handful of times, but it seems to get better with each viewing. I love how serious and real-life it plays out, and how Hackman’s character digs in and won’t give up. As far as my first Hackman movie goes, I saw Marooned on TV back in the early ’70s, but the first my Dad and I saw together was Young Frankenstein (yes, just a cameo, but it counts!).

      Let me know when you watch The French Connection again, and tell me what you think!

  2. Popcorn Nights

    Completely agree – I think I’d find it hard to find fault with The French Connection, though I didn’t enjoy the follow up as much. Still, the original’s up there with Serpico among the best of the best.

  3. Todd Benefiel

    It’s been years since I’ve seen French Connection II, but I thought it was a letdown after watching the original; it seemed to drag a bit, especially during that long ‘Popeye on drugs’ bit (not to be confused with the ‘Popeye on spinach’ bit). And I’ll have to re-visit Serpico soon…I remember liking that one a lot, too. A couple of gritty crime classics from the ’70s!

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