← Back to Reviews

The French Connection

The French Connection (1971)

Director: William Friedkin
Cast overview: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider
Running time: 104 minutes

Friedkin's films, from my experience, tend to be patchy. I've seen three of his now, and a couple of them have been OK, the other has been very good. This is one of the OK ones, I think. It's certainly well-regarded, and I was expecting a really engaging seventies crime thriller. It delivered on some fronts, but not all, for me. It stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider - two great actors anyway - as a pair of Narcotics Bureau NYC cops investigating a drug-smuggling operation, and I think the plot is considerably more original than many similar crime films from this era.

To the characters themselves, and I found Hackman's Jimmy Doyle to be a fairly unmemorable character, certainly not a patch on Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan character from the Dirty Harry films - just my opinion, though, and I'm sure some will disagree with that. That's one thing I think the film lacked - character development. Not just that, but Doyle seemed quite unpleasant as a character, and I found it quite hard to associate with him, unlike the Dirty Harry example I gave earlier. While it doesn't detract too much from the film, it would have been nice to have a bit of background on the characters to stop them from appearing as cardboard creations. Scheider's performance is decent enough.

The plot itself is fairly strong. Again, it's not a case for me of this film being weak, simply not being as strong as some say it is. Much of it centres around the actual surveillance of the suspects, and I did quite like that aspect. It is a slow film, at least compared to the all-out action of films nowadays, but it wasn't that that put me off. The ending was something that I did find somewhat anticlimactic, in that it appeared to be building up to something fantastic, then we are told what happened to the characters. It seemed rather rushed, and rather poorly done, I thought.

All in all, I did enjoy this, but I thought it could have been far better, and I certainly doubt it deserving of the Best Picture Oscar it was nominated for, when I consider its contemporary, Dirty Harry, to have been a far better crime film that seemed far clearer about what it was trying to do and succeeded in virtually every department, for me. This, in contrast, does some things well and some things so-so, but it's still very much worth a watch or two, and it's certainly not a "weak" film. Reasonable.

[analyzing drug shipment]
Chemist: Blast off: one-eight-oh. Two hundred: Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Two ten: U.S. Government certified. Two twenty: lunar trajectory, junk of the month club, sirloin steak. Two thirty: Grade A poison. Absolute dynamite. Eighty-nine percent pure junk. Best I've ever seen. If the rest is like this, you'll be dealing on this load for two years.
Joel Weinstock: So you say it's worth half a million?
Chemist: How many kilos?
Salvatore "Sal" Boca: Sixty.
Chemist: Sixty kilos, eight big ones per kilo, right? This stuff will take a seven to one hit on the street.
Salvatore "Sal" Boca: And by the time it gets down to nickel bags, it will be worth at least thirty-two million.
Joel Weinstock: Thank you, Howard. Take what's left there with you and good night.

Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle: The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm gonna get him.
[Popeye presses his search of the abandoned crematorium]
Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle: Son of a bitch.

Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle: This is Doyle. I'm sittin' on Frog One.
Bill Mulderig: Yeah, I know that. We got the Westbury covered like a tent.
Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle: The Westbury my ass! I got him on the shuttle at Grand Central, now what the hell's going on up there?

The car crash during the chase sequence, at the intersection of Stillwell Ave. and 86th St., was unplanned and was included because of its realism. The man whose car was hit had just left his house a few blocks from the intersection to go to work and was unaware that a car chase was being filmed. The producers later paid the bill for the repairs to his car.

Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman patrolled with Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso for a month to get the feel of the characters. Hackman became disgusted at the sights he saw during this patrol. In one incident he had to help restrain a suspect in the squad car and later worried that he would be sued for impersonating a policeman.

According to William Friedkin, the significance of the straw hat being tossed onto the shelf of the rear window in Doyle and Russo's car was that at that time it was a universal signal in New York City that the undercover cops in the car were on duty.