Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on October 9, 1971
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)