|William Friedkin Director||previously directed The Boys in the Band|
Two dedicated New York cops of the Narcotics Bureau stumble upon a multi-million dollar drug smuggling operation and set out to bring it, and everyone involved with it, down.
The part where Gene Hackman dresses up as Santa Claus is based on a tactic that was used by real police officers in order to catch drug dealers. The drug dealers were getting good at spotting undercover cops, but they never suspected that Santa Claus would be a cop. The cops would walk around dressed as Santa singing Christmas carols, and when they spotted drug dealers, they would sing "Jingle Bells" to alert the other cops.1 More Trivia
All right, Popeye's here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!
|Edward M. Keyes||novel|
|Gene Hackman||Popeye Doyle|
|Fernando Rey||Alain Charnier|
|Roy Scheider||Det. Buddy Russo|
|Tony Lo Bianco||Sal Boca|
|Marcel Bozzuffi||Pierre Nicoli|
|Frédéric de Pasquale||Devereaux|
|Ann Rebbot||Marie Charnier|
|Arlene Farber||Angie Boca|
|See Full Credits|
In 1971, The French Connection became the first R-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as winning the Academy Awards in the cateorgies of Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Producer Phil D'Antoni picked William Friedkin to direct the film because of some documentaries of Friedkin's he had seen and D'Antoni felt The French Connection needed a documentary look. Before the film was picked up, D'Antoni was turned down by almost every major studio at the time, some of them twice. It took almost two years but his persistence paid off and after getting D'Antoni to agree to a lesser budget and to start production in six weeks, 20th Century Fox, who had already passed on the film once before, agreed to make the movie.
In 2005 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Resigstry by the Library of Congress as being of cultural and historical signifigance.
The film opens in Marsielle on a detective tailing Alain Charnier ( Fernando Rey), a French criminal involved in the transport of heroin from France to the United States. The policeman is murdered in cold blood by Charnier's right-hand man, Pierre Nicoli ( Marcel Bozzuffi).
Cut to New York City, where detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle ( Gene Hackman) and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo ( Roy Scheider) are on an undercover stakeout in Brooklyn, with Doyle disguised as Santa Claus. After witnessing a drug transaction in the nearby bar, both Doyle and Russo give chase. They catch the man in question and begin interrogating the man about his source.
After getting their information and their man, Russo and Doyle return to the precinct before calling it a day. Before heading home, Doyle convinces his partner to go out for a drink at a nightclub. While at the nightclub, Doyle and Russo take interest of a table of known mobsters and two people, a man and his girlfriend, they haven't seen before who are picking up the tab.
They decide to follow the couple and see what happens and it seems their suspicsions are confirmed when the couple switch cars before eventually leading Doyle and Russo to a candy shop in Brooklyn. Further investigation of the pair reveal them to be Sal ( Tony Lo Bianco) and Angie Boca, a young couple both with multiple criminal offenses under their belt. When Russo is able to establish a link between Sal and Joel Weinstock, a lawyer heavily rumored to be involved in the drug trade, they bring it to their supervisor, Simonson, to get a surveilance detatchment and a wiretap on the phones in Boca's house and shop. Meanwhile, back in Marsielle, Charnier dupes his friend, a French actor named Devereaux into taking possession of a car in which a large load of heroin is concealed.
After weeks of non-pertinent phone conversations, Doyle and Russo finally catch wind of a meet between Boca and Charnier. They tail Boca to the meet and after almost losing him on the bridge, they stumble upon Boca, Charnier and Nicoli all coming out of a hotel. They tail Charnier to his hotel and set up surveilance.
The next morning on his way back to Charnier's hotel, Doyle catches Charnier coming out of the hotel and attempts to tail him, but without back-up he soon loses him in the subway, allowing Charnier to hop a flight to Washington D.C. to meet up with Boca without police interference. Boca tells Charnier that they will have to hold off for the time being because of the police surveilance, much to the annoyance and chagrin of Charnier.
On the flight back to New York, Nicoli volunteers to take out Doyle so they can do the deal and get back to France. Meanwhile Doyle and Russo meet with Simonson who is convinced that the deal has either already gone down or is off and takes Doyle and Russo off the case. Doyle slink back to his apartment building where Nicoli is laying in wait to take out Doyle. He shoots from the roof of a building, missing Doyle who then gives chase. Nicoli boards an elevated train and Doyle commandeers a car and gives chase through the streets of New York. The chase ends when Nicoli takes control of the train and crashes it. As he tries to escape, Doyle shoots him in the back.
Afterwards, Doyle and Russo are back on the case and follow Boca to a car garage where his wife drops him off and he drives off in a different car. He eventually parks the car down by the Brooklyn Bridge and is picked up by his wife. Russo and Doyle figure the car must be dirty and stake it out overnight. However, when a group of car thieves come along and see an opportunity to steal the car, Doyle and Russo step in and at that point, decide to take the car into police impound and search it. After an extensive search they find the heroin but at the same time, Devereaux is at the station to claim his car so they put the heroin back in and follow the car. Devereaux leaves the car with Charnier, wanting nothing more to do with either of them.
Charnier, now alone, is left to deliver the car to Boca and Weinstock himself at Ward's Island. After the deal has gone down, the police cordone off the bridge and trap Boca, Weinstock and the other mobsters while Charnier flees. Most involved receive minor sentences, if that, while Charnier gets away.
The real events on which The French Connection is based took place between 1960 and 1962. The characters of "Popeye" Doyle and "Cloudy" Russo were based on real-life New York detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. An FBI agent brought the case to Grosso after Congressman Mario Biaggi recommended him. Despite having some information on the case from the FBI agent, Egan and Grosso did stumble upon Pasqual "Patsy" Fuca, upon whom the Sal Boca character is based, almost exactly as depicted in the movie. Egan was dating the hat-check girl at the nightclub they go to and she told him that if he got to the club by midnight, she'd go home with him. If not, she goes home with whoever asks, so of course Egan was going to go.
While at the club, Egan and Grosso notice a table of known mobsters and a young couple with them picking up the tabs. This raised their suspicions so they decided to follow the couple home and based on that and their information from the FBI agent, they began surveilance of Fuca. Egan would run the plates of the cars of people stopping at the shop and a significant number came back registered to known mobsters and criminals. It turned out they were dropping off money for the next shipment at Fuca's store. Egan and Grosso got a wiretap warrant and one day recored a call between Fuca and a Frenchman who turned out to be Jean Jehan, the head of the Corsican mob and upon whom the character of Charnier was based. The one major difference between the movie and the real events is that in the movie, the drug deal as a one time deal while in reality the "French Connection" had been in full effect for nearly a decade.
Jehan had convinced a TV personality from France to escort the next shipment of $32 million of heroin to the U.S. hidden in a car. This was the basis of the character Devereaux in the film. The man swore he had no idea the car was full of heroin, but later admitted he knew something illegal was going on. He later did time in France for his involvement.
Jehan managed to escape back to France however, slipping through a 50-police dragnet. Jean Jehan was a good friend of Charles de Gaulle and had fought along side him in the French Resistance in World War II. It is because of this, it is speculated, that Jehan was never brought to justice for his role in drug smuggling operation. Detective Egan travelled to France with the intention of exraditing Jehan but was stonewalled by the French government and police who claimed they had no idea where he was. He died a free man years later in Corsica.
The cast and crew of The French Connection consisted of a number of real cops, including detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. Egan plays Popeye and Cloudy's superior, Walt Simonson, while Grosso plays one of the federal agents, Klein.
Casting the role of Doyle turned out to be a difficult process. The part was offered to James Caan and Peter Boyle who both turned down the role outright. The role was then offered to Steve McQueen who turned it down because he had just played a cop in " Bullit", and to Lee Marvin who also didn't like the idea of playing a cop. A newspaper columnist, Jimmy Breslin, was offered the role and rehersed three weeks with Roy Scheider before Friedkin recast the role. Eventually the role was given to Gene Hackman after he met with Friedkin and without an audition or any screen tests. Egan and Hackman did not get along and it is rumored Egan did not approve of Hackman for the role.
Fernando Rey, who plays the villain Charnier, was cast by mistake. Friedkin had wanted an actor he had seen in another movie, " Belle de jour", and the casting director thought it was Fernando Rey whom Friedkin wanted when in fact it was Francisco Rabal. Friedkin was unaware of the mix up until he went to pick the actor up at the airport after he was already hired. Friedkin considered firing Rey but decided against it when he learned Rabal was not available and couldn't speak English.
The striking musical score of The French Connection was the creation of Don Ellis, a leading big-band jazz artist who experimented with unusual time signatures, surprising rhythms and microtonality. The unique and dissonant sound of the score was achieved through the use of quarter tone trumpets, basses and even instruments played out of time with each other. Through the use of these quarter tones and high harmonic strings, it gives the film a very suspsenseful and avant-garde sound. While Ellis had composed approximately 50 minutes of music for the film, director William Friedkin ended up using only 16 minutes of it in the final cut of the film, often using music Ellis had scored for one scene in a completely different one, but always with Ellis' blessing.
The car chase scene in The French Connection is considered to be one of the greatest car chases in film. The chase came about as the producer of the film, Phil D'Antoni, had just produced another movie with an epic car chase, "Bullit", and both he and Friedkin felt The French Connection had everything except a big action scene. Friedkin suggested they add a car chase scene to top the one in "Bullit". They both thought about it and while scene scouting, they came up with the idea of a car chasing an elevated train.
Friedkin wanted the chase to feel authentic to New York and not have the streets cleared out so the chase was filmed without any police on scene to clear the area of cross-traffic or pedestrians. In fact, every crash during the chase scene was real and not planned, including the stunt driver side-swiping a man's car as he turned onto the street they were filming on. The man was later refunded for the damage to his car.
For the Blu-Ray release of The French Connection, director William Friedkin went back and altered the original color timing of the movie. His inspiration for this was the film Moby Dick. At the time, color was not made from a single negative, but three individual strips made from the negative; a yellow stripe, a cyan stripe and a magenta stripe. For Moby Dick to those three strips they added a fourth strip, a black and white strip, which gave the film's color a softer look. Friedkin wanted a similar look for The French Connection, saying a movie as gritty as The French Connection should not have vibrant colors but a more subdued look. The original negative was scanned in and then color corrected as normal to get the correct density right. They then remove all color, using a black and white strip as a base. They then bled into it an oversatured and defocused color strip. Unfortunately, the resulting image has a loss of detail due to the defocusing of the color layer and extreme bleed of colors into each other, particularly with the color red. This is most evident in the scenes of Popeye in his Santa Claus suit, at which point he looks like a giant red neon sign. The film's cinematographer, Owen Roizman panned the new trasnfer, saying "I wasn't consulted. I was appalled by it. I don't know what Billy was thinking. It's not the film that I shot, and I certainly want to wash my hands of having had anything to do with this transfer, which I feel is atrocious."