The early scene where Doyle and Russo chase down a drug dealer while Doyle is dressed in a Santa Claus suit: the scene is based on a real-life tactic used by Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. While on stakeouts in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Egan and Grosso discovered drug dealers could easily spot undercover cops, and they would often flee the scene before the cops could arrest them. One Christmas, Egan came up with the idea of dressing in a Santa Claus suit, figuring the dealers would never suspect Santa Claus of being a cop. As depicted in the film, Egan walked the neighborhood streets as Santa Claus, singing Christmas carols with local kids. When he saw a drug deal going down, Egan sang "Jingle Bells" as a signal to his partners to move in and make the arrest. The tactic worked beautifully, and Egan and his partners made dozens of Christmas arrests over several years.
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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.
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The car chase was filmed without obtaining the proper permits from the city. Members of the NYPD's tactical force helped control traffic. But most of the control was achieved by the assistant directors with the help of off-duty NYPD officers, many of whom had been involved in the actual case. The assistant directors, under the supervision of Terence A. Donnelly, cleared traffic for approximately five blocks in each direction. Permission was given to literally control the traffic signals on those streets where they ran the chase car. Even so, in many instances, they illegally continued the chase into sections with no traffic control, where they actually had to evade real traffic and pedestrians. Many of the (near) collisions in the movie were therefore real and not planned (with the exception of the near-miss of the lady with the baby carriage, which was carefully rehearsed). A flashing police light was placed on top of the car to warn bystanders. A camera was mounted on the car's bumper for the shots from the car's point-of-view. Hackman did some of the driving but the extremely dangerous stunts were performed by Bill Hickman, with Friedkin filming from the backseat. Friedkin operated the camera himself because the other camera operators were married with children and he was not.
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The scene where Doyle and Russo chase down the dealer near the beginning and Gene Hackman shouts out his famous question "Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?" is based on actual "good cop/bad cop" interrogations by the real "French Connection" detectives, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso according to William Friedkin in the DVD commentary. Grosso would gingerly ask a suspect direct questions about his crimes, then Egan would always butt in and yell unusual questions like the Poughkeepsie one. The suspect would get so rattled by Egan's offbeat questioning that he felt more comfortable answering Grosso's, thus tending to eventually incriminate himself.
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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.
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All of the extras used in the first bar scene were real-life police officers.
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Cameras and equipment would often freeze during shooting due to near-freezing temperatures during the winter shooting in New York City and Brooklyn.
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The officer shot on the train was an actual New York Transit Authority policeman. He was a member of the Actor's Guild.
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To save money on the budget and also because they didn't always have permits, William Friedkin had the cameraman carted around in a wheelchair instead of using a camera mounted on dolly tracks for the moving shots. This is most noticeable when Gene Hackman runs to then enters the subway car. As the camera follows Hackman hurrying towards the car the film movement is smooth but then shakes noticeably as the cameraman has to get up from the wheelchair and follow Hackman into the subway car.
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Having participated in the making of this film, detective Eddie Egan decided to retire from NYPD and start a career in Hollywood. The NYPD, however, brought charges against him for minor errors in reporting and handling of evidence. In Egan's trial, director William Friedkin testified on his behalf and Roy Scheider was also present. Egan was dismissed from the police force just hours before his retirement, and his pension was taken away. The decision was later appealed in court and reversed.
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The film is based on actual events described in the book 'The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy' written by Robin Moore in 1969. According to director William Friedkin, the film is an "impression of that case" that took place between 7 October 1961 and 24 February 1962. Detectives Jimmy Doyle (Gene Hackman and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) were based on the real officers on the case, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. Although their real names were changed for the movie, Egan and Grosso were actually nicknamed 'Popeye' and 'Cloudy' like their counterparts in the movie.
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Steve McQueen was offered the chance to star in this film. Having already played a cop in Bullitt (1968), he did not want to act in any more cop roles, and turned down the offer.
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The location of the bar where Doyle makes the "milkshake" (1128 Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn New York) is now a Popeye's Chicken fast food restaurant, founded by Arthur Copeland, who named his chain after Popeye Doyle.
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On the DVD commentary William Friedkin avers that, due to the low budget, no sets at all were built.
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The principal car chase scene was widely considered to be the best ever put on film at the time, overtaking Bullitt (1968) for that honor. William Friedkin later attempted to outdo himself with a chase sequence in To Live and Die in L.A. (1985).
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According to William Friedkin on his DVD commentary, the scene where Weinstock's chemist tests the heroin's purity uses actual heroin, and not flour or cornstarch or some other commonly used substitute.
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When filming the legendary car chase scene, Friedkin needed approval from the New York Transit Authority. He laid out exactly what he needed, to which the TA employee (some sources say it was the conductor) responded that, "to approve this, I'll need forty thousand dollars and a one-way ticket to Jamaica." When asked why one-way, he replied "because, Mr. Friedkin, when your picture comes out, I'm going to be fired." Director William Friedkin and the producers complied with the man's request. The scene ended up becoming one of the most notoriously dangerous ever filmed, after which the TA employee was promptly fired for negligence. His current whereabouts are unknown.
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According to William Friedkin, Gene Hackman had a hard time saying Doyle's racist language without cringing. Friedkin admitted that the blatant racism was directly inspired by the real Doyle, retired officer Eddie Egan, but he also called Egan "a great cop, and a lot of this was an act. A lot of what Egan did was bravado in order to seize control and make sure that all of these suspects, most of them dealers and often users of heavy drugs, would do what he told them to do."
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In at least one glimpse of the Manhattan skyline (as the car is being unloaded from the cargo ship), you can see the first of the World Trade Center towers under construction.
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Nine scenes were removed from the final cut of the movie. Eight of them ended up surviving. They wound up packaged on a 16-mm film reel that William Friedkin would take to film lectures on college campuses.
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An article quoted some of the performers as admitting that they pretty much ignored the dialog in the script and used terms and phrases the police advisers gave to them during rehearsals. Ironically, the screenplay won an Oscar. (Note: Owen Roizman, the film's cinematographer, maintains that the dialog in the finished film is almost exactly the same as that in the screenplay he read during production).
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Al Copeland named his restaurant chain, Popeye's Mighty Good Fried Chicken, after Popeye Doyle, Gene Hackman's character in the film The French Connection (1971). The chain that grew from the one restaurant became Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken.
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Fernando Rey was cast by mistake; William Friedkin wanted an actor he remembered seeing in Belle de Jour (1967), and the casting director thought it was Fernando Rey - who was hired. Only upon arriving at the airport to meet Rey did Friedkin see that it was not the actor he had been thinking of; he also learned, to his great dismay, that Rey was Spanish and spoke no French. Once at Rey's hotel (the same one he stays at in the film), Friedkin called the casting director, who realized he had confused Rey's name with that of the correct actor, Francisco Rabal. Friedkin considered firing Rey, but changed his mind once it was learned that Rabal wasn't available and didn't speak any English.
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Both James Caan and Peter Boyle turned down the role of Popeye Doyle. One of the main reasons Boyle decided not to make the film was the reaction to his work in Joe (1970). Boyle's character was a bigoted man who went on a violent crime spree, but to Boyle's horror, audiences began cheering on his brutal activities rather than being repulsed by and opposed to them. He feared a similar reception if he played "Popeye" Doyle and thus decided to forego the part.
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Bill Hickman (Agent Mulderig) did some of the driving in the car chase. An expert driver, he also did the driving in the chase scene in Bullitt (1968), in which he played one of the hit men. Hickman had been a close friend of James Dean and on the day of Dean's fatal crash, Hickman was following him in a pickup, pulling the trailer for Dean's Porsche Spyder.
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The conductor on the subway train was the actual conductor, whose name was Bob Morrone. The actor who was supposed to play the conductor didn't show up on the day that scene was to be filmed, but the Transit Authority refused to allow an actor to operate a subway train anyway. In addition, the motorman, William Coke, was an actual N.Y.C.T.A. motorman.
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Ernest Tidyman only added the now-legendary car chase sequence to the screenplay when no studio in town would touch it.
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A year after the film's release, the huge cache of heroin that the New York cops seized disappeared.
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William Friedkin called the original source novel "thick-headed" and refused to read it.
In 1970, the $54.00 round-trip plane ticket from New York City to Washington DC is equivalent to $350.00 in 2019 dollars.
Director William Friedkin later admitted in his biography that he almost didn't make it to the Oscar ceremony where he won the Best Director Academy Award. His car broke down at a gas station, so he asked the first person he saw permission to borrow his car. The man initially refused because he was supposed to take his wife on a date that evening, but he relented after Friedkin offered him $200. The man's only other condition was that Friedkin call the wife, in order for him to explain why the date was called off. After winning the Oscar, the man waived his right to the money, only asking Friedkin to call and explain the situation to the man's wife, which Friedkin did.
The traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge was shot without permission.
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Roy Scheider was convinced he had lost the part as he stormed out of his audition. That in fact was the reason why he was cast.
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William Friedkin has said the chase scene wasn't fully scripted, but largely conceived while they were doing location scouting. It was almost completely improvised and shot entirely out of sequence, over a period of five weeks. It did not involve solid day-to-day shooting, and all of the shooting was confined between the hours of 10am- 3pm. One reason was that they were given permission to use only one particular Brooklyn line, the Stillwell Avenue, running from Coney Island into Manhattan (the West End line). The entire chase was shot with an Arriflex camera, as was most of the picture. One brief shot, where Doyle's car slams into the fence, was filmed in Ridgewood under the Myrtle Ave., or M, line.
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Gene Hackman received the role of Popeye Doyle after an interview with William Friedkin without auditioning, reading the part, or screen testing.
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The opening scene in which Popeye Doyle dressed as Santa Claus tackles a drug dealer had to be filmed 27 times. Gene Hackman was so unimpressed at having to do it so many times that he threatened to walk off the film. Only the thought of legal action kept him working.
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Gene Hackman had great difficulty getting in the grouchy mindset of Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle, so director William Friedkin employed various tactics in provoking Hackman into anger for the more gritty scenes during filming. One technique was to show dissatisfaction with Hackman by repeatedly sighing heavily and shaking his head after a take, even when Hackham had delivered a great performance. The trick almost worked too well, as Hackman got so angry that he reportedly nearly quit on the second day of filming.
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The nickname 'Popeye' for Jimmy Doyle is the actual nickname of Eddie Egan, who was the inspiration for the character. Egan reportedly got the nickname because he always had his eyes wide open, and because he would often flex his biceps just like Popeye after chasing and grabbing a suspect. The nickname "Cloudy" that Popeye and others use when referring to his partner, Buddy Russo, comes from the nickname that Egan had given his partner Sonny Grosso (the inspiration for Russo). It was a play on words based on his first name and his gruff attitude - instead of being a positive and "sunny" person, he was was often grouchy and therefore "cloudy".
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The most famous shot of the chase is made from a front bumper mount and shows a low-angle point of view shot of the streets racing by. Director of photography Owen Roizman, wrote in American Cinematographer magazine in 1972 that the camera was undercranked to 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of speed. Roizman's contention is borne out when you see a car at a red light whose muffler is pumping smoke at an accelerated rate. Other shots involved stunt drivers who were supposed to barely miss hitting the speeding car, but due to errors in timing accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film.
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For the 2009 Blu-ray release, William Friedkin controversially altered the film's color timing to give it a colder look. The film's cinematographer Owen Roizman was incensed by this and called the new transfer "atrocious".
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The Best Actor award at the 1972 New York Film Critics awards was a tie between Gene Hackman for The French Connection (1971) and Peter Finch for Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971). The critics conducted a recount and the award went to Hackman.
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According to director William Friedkin, Peter Boyle was originally offered the role of "Popeye" Doyle but turned it down due to his preference for more romantic roles. Legendary New York City newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin was then hired to play "Popeye" Doyle, and completed three weeks of rehearsals with co-star Roy Scheider before Friedkin decided to recast the role. Breslin's inability to drive was one of the main reasons for his dismissal.
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William Friedkin credits his decision to direct the movie to a discussion with film director Howard Hawks, whose daughter was living with Friedkin at the time. Friedkin asked Hawks what he thought of his movies, to which Hawks bluntly replied that they were "lousy." Instead Hawks recommended that he "Make a good chase. Make one better than anyone's done."
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Detective Eddie Egan wanted his catchphrase in the film to be "Addicts in the cellar, sellers in the attic." Director William Friedkin eschewed this line, preferring the more enigmatic phrase, "Do you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?"
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In the film, Popeye, Cloudy, and BNDD (Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, forerunner of the DEA) Agent Bill Mulderig stake out Chanier's Lincoln Continental (the case's "dirty" car) after seeing Sal Boca drive it to a side street; the stakeout lasts until 4:10 AM the next morning. In the actual French Connection case the stakeout of Frog One's car lasted three days.
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The lead role was also offered to Lee Marvin, but he rejected it because he didn't like cops. Interestingly, Marvin made his name playing a tough cop in M Squad (1957) and soldiers in Attack (1956) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). He explained that he always made it a point to display some sort of conflict between his character and the military or the police, even though he would be a part of it. He felt that this was not possible with The French Connection (1971), and therefore could not get himself to accept the part.
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William Friedkin said that he used Santana's song "Black Magic Woman" during editing to help shape the chase sequence. Though the song does not appear in the film, "it [the chase scene] did have a sort of pre-ordained rhythm to it that came from the music."
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William Friedkin was able to make the movie because Fox's chairman, Darryl F. Zanuck, off-handedly said he had $2 million on hand and would OK a production start if Friedkin and his production team could make the movie for that much. Zanuck also warned Friedkin that if done badly, he'd end up with another episode of the TV series Naked City (1958). Friedkin said later that this inspired him to make the Popeye Doyle character a combination of good and evil, because that duality was not something one saw on "Naked City". The director also credited the film Z (1969) with introducing a near-documentary quality that he applied to own his fictional project.
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The sequence on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle took two full days to shoot (without permission from the Transit Authority), even though it lasts for only a few minutes on screen. Car 6609, an R-17, is preserved at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn. A different trainset was apparently substituted between the time filming of that scene began and ended because the car numbers are not the same when Fernando Rey finally outwits Gene Hackman and leaves him behind at the station.
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The third highest grossing film of 1971.
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When he first read the script, Gene Hackman's first thought regarding portraying Popeye Doyle was that it gave him a chance to emulate James Cagney.
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Filmed on 86 separate locations throughout New York City.
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According to William Friedkin, the film's documentary-style realism through hand-held photography, use of real locations and editing style were inspired by the movies "Z (1969)" and "Breathless (1960)."
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #93 Greatest Movie of All Time.
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The studio didn't like the title, and pushed to call the movie 'Popeye' instead. Director William Friedkin insisted that the original book's title were used. He later called his autobiography "The Friedkin Connection".
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There was a third New York Police detective who was partners with Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso during their narcotics squad heyday, and along with them, was one of the principle investigators in the actual French Connection case. His name was Detective Richard Pardo, and for reasons unknown, he eschewed being part of the book and the film.
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Interviewed for BBC Radio 4's Film Programme Nov 2008, William Friedkin said that Paul Newman was another top choice of his to play Popeye Doyle, but producers had said that he was well out of their budget.
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Godiva Chocolates did not open a store in North America until 1972 (as per Wikipedia). However, Popeye Doyle (Hackman) passes a Godiva Chocolate shop while on foot in NYC. The French Connection was released in 1971.
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Jackie Gleason was also considered for the role of Popeye Doyle. 20th Century Fox did not want Gleason due the box-office failure of Gigot (1962).
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Before the chase scene begins, Doyle attempts to stop two cars: a green Volkswagon and a light blue Mercury coupe. During the chase, the same Mercury rams Doyle's car.
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20th Century Fox were not thrilled about producer Philip D'Antoni's suggestion that William Friedkin direct the film. With only The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968) and The Boys in the Band (1970) to his credit, Friedkin was very much an untried talent. However, because d'Antoni had pushed for the equally untried Peter Yates to make Bullitt (1968), the studio relented.
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During filming in the winter of 1970, temperatures in New York were as low as -15 C. The film crew would rush into warmer surroundings - such as shops and department stores - in between takes and camera set-ups.
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A camera was mounted on the bumper of the car that Gene Hackman drives in the car chase sequence, with another put inside the car to capture Hackman's performance. The actor did a lot of his own driving over a section of 26 blocks.
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The first R-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, in 1971. Midnight Cowboy (1969) had an X rating when it won Best Picture in 1969, although it was later reclassified (and remains at present) an R-rated film. Between the dawn of the modern MPAA ratings system and 1971, the other Best Picture winners were rated G (Oliver! (1968)) or PG (Patton (1970)).
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As part of the loose documentary feel of the movie, director William Friedkin did not use storyboards to plan out the scenes: he and director of photography Owen Roizman simply went to the locations and discussed their set-up on the spot. Even then, Friedkin didn't tell camera operator Enrique Bravo what would exactly happen: Bravo just had to keep up and capture the action as best as he could.
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The singing trio featured in the bar is The Three Degrees, three years before they released their international smash hit "When Will I See You Again". Their vocals were also featured on another major 1970s hit, MFSB's "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)".
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Don Ellis' first film score. It only runs to 22 minutes of the film's running time.
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With his casting in this film following his 1970 role as Patton's driver in Patton (1970), Bill Hickman joins a select group of actors who appear in back-to-back Best Picture Oscar Winners. Others include: Clark Gable, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Goodman, Guy Pearce and Michael Keaton.
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The subway car from the Grand Central scene is in the Brooklyn Transit Museum. And reportedly, the subway car from the chase scene has been renovated and is operating on the M and Z line.
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Eddie Egan thought Gene Hackman unsuitable in being cast as "Popeye" Doyle. The main reason was that Hackman didn't hail from New York.
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The bar that Doyle drinks in, after which he picks up the girl on the bicycle, was a real bar called Muchie's, which was right next door to what was then the New York Post building. Ernest Tidyman, who wrote the screenplay, had been a New York Post reporter.
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Not only were Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso the basis for Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle and Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo; both retired officers acted as technical advisers on the movie as well, and played small cameos. According to director William Friedkin, Egan and Grosso were also a great help with his guerrilla-style of filming. Because they didn't have permission to shoot on many of the locations used, Egan and Grosse were often on set to prevent people from interfering with production.
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After filming ended on The French Connection (1971), Gene Hackman was unemployed for nearly six months. His next film, Prime Cut (1972), was his first offer of work since then.
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The first draft of the screenplay was written by Alexander Jacobs, who had penned Point Blank (1967). This was dismissed by William Friedkin and Philip D'Antoni. The second draft was by Robert E. Thompson, who had been Oscar nominated for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) and again, this didn't meet with the approval of the film's producer and director. Then d'Antoni came across the galleys to a novel called "Shaft" by a writer called Ernest Tidyman that they both liked so Tidyman was hired though d'Antoni and Friedkin had major input in the finished screenplay.
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The chase sequence takes place beneath the West End subway line, whose proper letter marking in 1971 was a B (as of 2004, D). When equipment for the movie was chosen, the producers insisted on clean cars, and the only available clean cars were normally assigned to the N line and did not have B signs. Consequently, they operated during the movie with an N displayed in the front slot.
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Robert Mitchum claimed to have turned down the role of Popeye Doyle because he hated the story.
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Gene Hackman - or indeed his agent - did not expect to land the lead role.
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Several French signs appear onscreen in the New York City sequences that might be taken as jokes or commentaries on the action. Near the beginning of Doyle's chase of Frog One on foot, he rounds on a corner below a wall sign that reads "le dernier cri," which means "the last cry." Doyle also stakes out Frog One during his lengthy dinner with a minion at a restaurant named "Copain" which means "friend," and often specifically "boyfriend," in French.
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Director Paul Verhoeven admitted that he was inspired to use more hand-held photography in his next movie Turkish Delight (1973) after seeing this film.
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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.
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William Friedkin almost cast Rod Taylor as Popeye Doyle. According to Gene Hackman, Taylor actively pursued the role and was a choice the studio approved of.
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Charles Bronson was considered for the role of Popeye Doyle.
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In France, the last two or three digits on the license plate refers to the Département the car is from. 13 stands for Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseilles) and 75 for Paris (Paris).
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The 4-door blue Ford LTD driven by the suspect has actual NY license plates 9620-WM (not a movie prop) complete with proper expiration and safety inspection stickers on the windshield. This car was registered in Westchester County just north of New York City. In the film, this car is under surveillance by detectives riding in the slightly older blue undercover Ford sedan with a straw hat on the back shelf.
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The two subway trains crashing was achieved by using camera movement and trick photography, as the production didn't get permission to actually crash two elevated trains.
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William Shatner was considered for the role of 'Cloudy' Russo.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of the Top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.
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Subway car 4572, the lead R-42 rail car in the chase scene, has been renovated and is operating on the M and Z line, which runs from Jamaica, Queens to Lower Manhattan.
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Adam West was considered for the role of Popeye Doyle.
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A longstanding NHL tradition is to nickname noteworthy line combinations. During the 1970s, the Buffalo Sabres NHL team had a high-scoring line comprised of three francophone Quebecois: Rick Martin, Rene Robert, and Gilbert Perreault. This line was called "The French Connection."
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The cargo ship in the dock scene is the African Mercury, a Farrell Lines freighter. She was built in 1962, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, U.S.A. by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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At the end of the closing credits, a disclaimer reads reads: "The events, characters and firms depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarities to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or firms, is purely coincidental." The actual real-life detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso were consultants on the film.
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The two French Connection stars, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, have played the role of the President of the United States in later films: Hackman was the president in Absolute Power (1997) and Welcome to Mooseport (2004) and Scheider was the president in The Peacekeeper (1997), Executive Target (1997) and Chain of Command (2000).
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When the film won the Best Picture Academy Award, the Oscar statuette was presented to producer Philip D'Antoni by actor Jack Nicholson (Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, April 10, 1972).
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The average cost in 2019 to fly round trip from New York City to Washington DC is somewhere between $150 to $195.
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Michael Winner was offered the chance to direct the movie but declined.
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At the end of the closing credits, a disclaimer reads: "The event, characters and firms depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarities to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or firms, is purely coincidental." The actual real-life detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso were consultants on the film.
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Benny Marino, who plays the brother of Tony LoBianco in this movie, was a meat cutter in the butcher shop owned by Phil D'Antoni's brother Lou in the Bedford Park neighborhood in the Bronx. He got this role, and subsequent role in THE SEVEN UPS, through this connection. They were the only acting roles he ever had.
MAD Magazine's parody of this film from the July, 1972 issue was titled "What's the Connection", which made light of the many unanswered questions moviegoers faced after viewing the film.
The opening scenes are shot in Marseilles, France. Marseilles, a Mediterranean port, has long had an active underworld smuggling and narcotic trafficking scene.
The $54.00 paid for the round trip flight from new york to washington dc in this 1971 movie is equivelant to $368.79 in 2021 dollars.
Eddie Egan, Sonny Grosso: the real-life models of Doyle and Russo appear in the movie: Egan as the detectives' supervisor, and Grosso as Klein, the BNDD Special Agent, Mulderig's partner.
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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.
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Irving Abrahams, who plays Irv the police mechanic, was the real-life NYPD mechanic who helped Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso crack the "French Connection" case. As depicted in the film, Abrahams helped Egan and Grosso tear apart the car that French smugglers were using to sneak heroin into the U.S. When the movie was made, Sonny Grosso arranged with William Friedkin for Abrahams to play himself in the garage scene.
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According to William Friedkin in the DVD commentary, a lot of police officers, including those on set advisers for the film, objected to the scene in which Doyle shoots Nicoli in the back was simply murder, not self-defense. However, the real "Popeye" Doyle, Eddie Egan, was on set throughout most of the shoot and gave Friedkin his approval. When the movie was screened for an audience, the scene even received a standing ovation, so a still photo of the shot was used in advertisements of the movie.
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At the end of the film a superimposed caption informs us that Popeye and Cloudy were transferred out of Narcotics and reassigned. Eddie Egan was always upset that the film thus implied that this happened to himself and Sonny Grosso after the French Connection; in reality the two cops were split up four years and two similarly large narcotic cases later.
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Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) accidentally shooting agent Mulderig (Bill Hickman) at the end didn't happen in the real-life case. However, technical advisor Eddie Egan, who was the inspiration for Doyle, agreed to it, as he reportedly hated the real FBI agent that Mulderig played, and wouldn't have minded shooting him for real. The real FBI agent was reportedly quite angry when he saw what happened to his fictional counterpart.
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The final scene of the film generated much praise and discussion for its ambiguity. In a BBC documentary, William Friedkin stated that the ending gunshot "doesn't mean anything-although it might."
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The French license plate on the 1971 Lincoln Mk III used to smuggle the heroin is 18 LU 13. The real life "French Connection" car, a 1960 Buick Invicta, had French plate 18 LU 75. According to Robin Moore, the Invicta was popular with drug smugglers in the early 1960s because it had a large space under the body behind each front wheel well. Most of the heroin was hidden in these spaces in the French Connection car, but some was hidden under the rocker panels, as depicted in the film.
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In the final scene, it is revealed that Charnier (Fernando Rey) escaped the country. The man who was the inspiration for Charnier also escaped justice, fled the country and died peacefully in France (so French Connection II (1975) is a completely fictional continuation of the story, and not based on actual events). While the character of Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) is killed at the end, his real-life counterpart was captured but spent only a very brief time in jail. Director William Friedkin claimed that the fact that one man escaped such a tight police cordon and the other only served minimal jail time suggests that there were "payoffs involved at the highest levels of law enforcement".
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It is never explained exactly why Sal drove the Lincoln Continental packed with millions of dollars worth of heroin from the garage and parked it on the street where it could be vandalized, as it almost was.
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Body Count: 14.
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This film was released October 9, 1971. On the subway car from which the assassin Frog Two is trying to escape, a subway ad card reads "The Great Invention of 1971" and shows a hot shaving cream dispensor. It means that the car/train chase scene was filmed sometime in 1971.
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