Also known as: Doyle, Popeye (fake working titles)
Release Date: October 7th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Ernest Tidyman
Based on: The French Connection by Robin Moore
Music by: Don Ellis
Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi
Schine-Moore Productions, Philip D’Antoni Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes
“All right, Popeye’s here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!” – Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle
The French Connection was a surprise hit in 1971 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Do I think that it was that good? Not really, but I still like the movie quite a bit.
It’s probably most famous for having one of the greatest chase scenes of all-time and I’ll certainly give it that. Watching it now, the iconic chase was better than anything you might see in modern films and frankly, I’d probably still consider it one of the best. Bullitt still takes the cake for me, though.
The reason why that sequence is so great is the energy and the realism of it. It was crafted in a time when everything on the screen had to be real. From chasing the bad guy on foot, to racing in a car to catch him after his escape via subway to finally putting a bullet in the villain’s back, it’s an intense masterpiece. Plus, the road they filmed the car scenes on wasn’t officially cleared and some of the close calls caught on film were very real. You’d never get away with that today.
It’s also hard not to love Gene Hackman in this. It’s essentially the most Gene Hackman movie of all-time, as he just controls every scene and showcases why he is simply a f’n legend. I also love the hell out of Roy Scheider in this but when don’t I? Both these men are pretty incredible and they certainly put everything they had into these roles.
The film was directed by William Friedkin, who probably deserves some notoriety for that, as over time, he’s most thought of as the director of The Exorcist. Additionally, Friedkin directed Sorcerer, which also features Roy Scheider and is grossly underappreciated these days.
All in all, this was a realistic, gritty crime thriller that was based on a true story and didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of its subject matter. It’s well acted, well directed, has big, iconic moments that are timeless and it still packs a wallop.
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other ’70s crime pictures.