D.J. Haza presents the next entry in his series of films to watch before you die…
The French Connection, 1971.
Directed by William Friedkin.
Starring Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco and Marcel Bozzuffi.
The French Connection is a crime film adapted and fictionalized from Robin Moore’s non-fiction book of the same name and the first R-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The story follows New York Detective “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) as he tries to crack the trading of heroin between Marseille, France and New York. Popeye is an old school cop who gives out beatings and doesn’t take any nonsense. As Popeye begins to follow the clues, shake down the informants and build his case he gets closer and closer to cracking the drug’s ring that is bringing in $32 million dollars worth of heroin.
The story consists of a boat-load of investigations, following suspects and shaking down bad guys as well as the drug barons doing their deals, planning their shipments and trying to lose the police. Stake outs, espionage and good old fashioned beat downs pad out a great story that is too complex to go into in any detail here.
The French Connection is a film you must see before you die because it has one of the most epic car chases in film history. Employing the ghost ride technique of strapping a camera to the front end of a car to get a view similar to that of the car’s bumper Popeye drives through the busy streets of Brooklyn. As he rounds corners the car skids widely into a row of dustbins, screeches between cars and dodges on coming traffic as he follows an elevated train carrying a hit man.
The chase includes Popeye’s car being sideswiped by another car at an intersection, dodging a woman with a baby stroller and crashing into a heap of rubbish bins, being clipped by a lorry with a ‘drive carefully’ bumper sticker and his vision being blocked by a tractor which leads to him to crashing into a steel fence. Shots looking form the bumper, at the car and of it whizzing passed give the chase a great pace and energy as well as emphasizing the peril.
The production team had not gotten the permission they needed for such dangerous stunts, but by including the real life Narcotics Officers the film were based upon, Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan, in small roles in the film they were able to by pass the usual protocol. The clout brought to the streets of New York by the two police officers meant that they could avoid the legal permits and safety measures. At times they only used a beacon on top of the car and sounding the horn to warn people they were doing stunts. The result is possibly the best car chase in film history.