William Friedkin's gritty police drama portrays two tough New York City cops trying to intercept a huge heroin shipment coming from France. An interesting contrast is established between 'Popeye' Doyle, a short-tempered alcoholic bigot who is nevertheless a hard-working and dedicated police officer, and his nemesis Alain Charnier, a suave and urbane gentleman who is nevertheless a criminal and one of the largest drug suppliers of pure heroin to North America. During the surveillance and eventual bust, Friedkin provides one of the most gripping and memorable car chase sequences ever filmed. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
The R42 featured in the chase scene (4572) is currently running on services based out of Jamaica Yard (as of March 2009). This car, along with its mate (4573) are set to be preserved in the New York Transit Museum. The fleet is currently being decommissioned due to age. See more »
When Howard the chemist is done testing the purity of the heroin, he blows out the flame of the oil candle under the thermometer. A few shots later, when the distribution is being discussed, the candle is still lit. See more »
Dirty, real, harsh--cops after big drug dealers in New York, 1971.
The French Connection (1971)
Director William Friedkin would make it impossible to see his career straight two years after "The French Connection" by directing "The Exorcist," which took on a life of its own. But prior to that, this was the movie that defined his career. It was the New Hollywood answer to film noir, and the lead male (Gene Hackman) is presented without glamour, the gritty city (New York) without dramatic shadows and light, and the plot (about modern drug dealing) without hyped up dramatics. This is a movie as down in the mouth as the world it represents, and it's all deliberate, and smart.
This is the stuff of a breakthrough movie. It isn't quite as gripping now, I think, but it still sucks you in. There are lots of scenes in cars, including the famous car chase, and lots of good old street stuff in Manhattan, very 1970 (when it was shot). The plot and pace of things is more steady than exciting, usually, not cinema verite but a kind of camera work that is unglamorous with the idea that this really is the way it is, and it works great. It would have been easy to push this farther and make it truly boring, but it doesn't go there. Instead we see the details of a couple of cops out to break a huge dope ring.
Most of the movie (I'm going to guess three quarters) is simply the cops trailing the bad guys, on foot or by car. There are very brief interspersed personal dramas, and there are conversations that keep the plot clear, but the overall big vector here is one direction, and the cops get closer in spurts and jerks to their prey. The velocity does increase gradually in the second half, with a kind of brilliant building to a finale, and by the end it's a thrilling climax.
In a way, this kind of film is the exact opposite of something like "Die Hard," which is all exaggeration and excess. And if those other kinds of movies are more fun, this is not only edgy, it's pertinent. And the music is by jazz great Don Ellis. Look for a scene with the World Trade Center towers under construction in the distance.
Check this film out. A special movie that actually reveals something about police life, hard core, no glitz.
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