French Connection (SE)/A,A
Fox/1971/104/ANA 1.85

     The French Connection is one of the great procedural cop flicks, with a terrific emphasis on action. The several chases are outstanding. The car chasing the elevated subway train is most memorable and  familiar to people, but the beautiful subtlety when narcotics cop Popeye Doyle stalks the trail of drug lord Alain Charnier is an absolute ballet of movement. Graceful, fitful, witty, and tense, director William Friedkinís visual rhythms are matched in perfect harmony by the Don Ellis score. These subway scenes are superb, especially as a compliment to the car/train chase. 

A demonstrative Doyle pleads his case.  ©Fox

    The French Connection is based on an actual case that took place in New York City during the 1960s. Real life cops Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso were the models for Jimmy Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo. The narcotics detectives are ever on the look for the big bust and when they get wind of the pending arrival of a huge heroine shipment, the scent is strong and the chase is on. The opening Marseilles scenes serve the duo purpose of introducing the drug principals, establishing their ruthlessness, and tracing the path of heroine from Marseilles to New York. Alain Charnier is the sophisticated head of the drug ring, a wonderful contrast to the rough-edged Doyle. Marcel Bozzuffi is frightening as Charnier's enforcer Nicoli. 
     Gene Hackman is amazing as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle. Hackman chews gum with an abrasive arrogance. His style is sleazy. Heís a cop dealing in dirty dealings. He right at home in this milieu. The force of Hackmanís on screen charisma prevents the often-despicable Doyle from sinking into pool disreputable action. Above all, Hackmanís Doyle wants to get his man. Itís not the law, not the breaking of the law, itís the chase, the one on one game of schoolyard ball and bullying. Fernando Rey brings suave erudition to Alain Charnier. Rey moves like a seasoned mouse survivor, sniffing adversaries in the wind. Friedkin reveals in the audio commentary that the casting of Rey was a fortuitous accident and it definitely adds an interesting layer to the film. Roy Scheider lends his usual screen realism to Russo and Tony Lo Bianco is an excellent choice as a hungry small timer seizing the opportunity for the big score. Friedkin provides a nod to reality by casting detectives Egan and Grosso ins supporting roles.
     Friedkin is brilliant in moving The French Connection at an unrushed pace that still feels relentless. His chase choreography is astounding. Choosing a  documentary look for Owen Roizmanís cinematography steps up the excitement and veracity of the film. It's a sharp, lean script with numerous outstanding set pieces. Perhaps the film ends with a jarring abruptness, but it leaves you breathless. 
     The French Connection won a Best Actor Oscar© for Gene Hackman, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Screenplay for Ernest Tidyman. 
     I have never seen The French Connection looking so perfect. The DVD I watched captures the feel of Roizmanís cool, raw palette of color and hand held camera immediacy. Grain is tight and consistent. The image is very sharp. There's no hint of edginess. Great yellows on the New York City cabs, moody sunlight streaking through the elevated tracks and the red of Popeye's Santa suit are presented with happy accuracy. Black levels are very good. The image is always stable. The  newly remixed Dolby Digital 5:1 surround is effective in catching the excitement of the change and the beat of the city. 

     The special edition Friedkin's commentary is cool, collected, sharp and fresh. The director shares interesting details of the actual heroine world contrasted with aspects of the production. The specific commentary seldom digresses for more than a few moments. But Friedkin is always open with comments like "We never really had a script frankly."  A second commentary by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider is is produced from two interviews conducted with the actors sharing their memories of the production. Hackman's begins at the opening and runs through Chapter 9. Scheider's commentary begins at chapter 18 and runs into chapter 24. Each runs without interruption. On a second disc two documentaries about the making of The French Connection are presented, one produced by the BBC and another especially for this DVD special edition. Seven deleted scenes are included that are in rough shape, but a unearthed treasure. Each is well done and you can see how inclusion of a couple of them, wonderful character scenes of Doyle, might have painted too dark an image, undermining the relatively delicate good will that Doyle maintains. The scenes can be watched with or without introductions by William Friedkin.  
    The French Connection 2 disc special edition is available individually or packaged together with The French Connection II. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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