Title: The French Connection
Release Date: 7 October, 1971
Oscar Ceremony: 10 April, 1972
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey
Nominees: A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, The Last Picture Show, Nicholas and Alexandra
“Popeye. You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?” – Walt Simonson
The French Connection (no, not the fashion company) is still not exactly my type of movie, but at least it’s not about WW1 or WW2 and it’s not 3 hours long. In fact, it’s about a drug bust and it’s only 1 hour and 44 minutes. Hallelujah!
The movie is based on a true story that happened back in 1961, where two detectives broke up an organized crime ring and seized 112 pounds of heroin. However, the movie is set in 1970 in order to avoid having to worry about historical accuracy in the street scenes filmed in New York City. As far as the plot goes, it’s not always easy to follow because we’re left in the dark; in other words, we figure the case out at the same time as the officers. I also have a personal issue that I often experience in action or predominantly male films; I can’t tell the men apart. They all look like average middle-aged white guys with no individuality whatsoever, and I forget who’s who.
Essentially, all you need to know is that there’s a super rich guy in Marseilles who is about to attempt to smuggle about $32 million worth of heroin into the USA and that two NYC cops, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo eventually get involved in the situation. Everything else revolves around this.
This movie is so quintessentially “1970s.” Everything from the hairdos, to the clothes, the cars and the settings immerses you back into one of America’s most iconic decades. I wasn’t even alive back then but I could still feel it. I always enjoy seeing old movies shot on location, because aside from entertaining myself, I get a glimpse into what life looked like back in the day. This quality makes The French Connection a kind of period piece that earns merit for its cultural and aesthetic significance. Unlike many other classics, this movie is NOT timeless. In fact, from the start, it feels rather tacky and outdated. The weird documentary shots and cliché music made me feel like I was watching a bad rerun of Law & Order. However, that’s what makes it special; it’s outdated in a good kind of way because it truly allows you to revel in the 1970s. You don’t necessarily have to be completely compelled by the story in order to appreciate it.
I’m not a huge action buff, but I have to admit that there’s a scene in this movie that drew me in. At some point, one of the “bad guys” takes control of a subway and Doyle tries to catch up to him by confiscating a civilian’s car. The sequence is filmed from both the driver and an outsider’s perspectives, and at times it really feels like you’re a part of it. It’s like an intense video game, and apparently it was just as intense when they filmed it in real life. The crew did not obtain all the proper permits and a lot of the near crashes were unrehearsed. Most of the traffic control was taken care of by off-duty cops, but even at that the drivers did not always manage to remain in the designated sections. On the one hand, it’s horrible to imagine how unnecessarily dangerous that was, but on the other hand, talk about authenticity!
Overall, I understand the praise surrounding this movie. In theory, I can’t really find anything seriously wrong with it (aside from my personal lack of interest). Still, it feels like something is missing, but I haven’t quite figured out what that is yet. If you want to see for yourself, it’s available on Netflix.