The French Connection Double Bill

The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)
The French Connection II (John Frankenheimer, 1975)

What are they about? Both films focus on tough-talking cop Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his efforts to catch suave heroin smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). The first is based on true events and is set in Boston where Doyle first stumbles upon the case, the second is a fictional extension of the story and shifts to Marseilles as he obsessively pursues the French connection.

Are they any good? Well I'm guessing I don't need to tell you much about the first one. You'll know it's a classic Oscar-winning 70s cop movie, with a terrific performance from Hackman as the belligerent, casually racist, anti-hero Doyle. And even if you haven't seen it, you'll probably know about the car chase sequence, which stands amongst the best car chases ever filmed. Stories of how it was shot are now the stuff of film-making legend, not least the tale of one poor bloke who left his home for work in the morning unaware that filming was taking place and ended up getting his car totalled. The producers gallantly paid for the damage and left the shot in the final cut of the film to increase realism. However, I actually prefer the other chase, the one which takes place on foot as Doyle tails Charnier through the streets and down into the subway, which is a tense, funny, cat-and-mouse sequence. The whole thing was shot in gritty docu-drama style by Friedkin (inpsired by the French political thriller Z) and given extra realism by sprinkling the cast with real-life cops involved in the real case. See Doyle's supervising officer? That's Eddie Egan, the guy the character of Popeye Doyle is based upon - he and his partner Sonny Grosso (played by Roy Scheider in the film) acted as consultants on the film. See the mechanic who helps strip the car for drugs? That's the real mechanic who helped the cops find the stash. Throughout the film, the use of real locations wherever possible also contributed to the authenticity of the events unfolding. But what really pushes the film into classic territory is its uncompromising ending, which both emphasizes the grim futility of the fight against drug trafficking and muddies the moral waters even more by demonstrating how it can be soul-destroying for those involved. Literally. No point making a sequel to that, eh?

Director William Friedkin discusses how he fashioned
The French Connection's classic car chase

Yeah, right. The box-office success of The French Connection meant a sequel was inevitable. Hackman and Rey were enticed back, but Friedkin opted out, leaving helming duties to John Frankenheimer, who presumably decided not to fix what wasn't broke and simply aped the style of the first film. So, it lacks the originality of its predecessor and is not in the same class, but it's perfectly acceptable in its own right, taking a fish-out-of-water theme this time as Doyle travels to Marseilles and rubs up the local gendarmes the wrong way with his blustering Yankee ways. The notable feature of this film is that it features an extended sequence wherein Doyle is kidnapped and forcibly addicted to heroin. The advantage of this is that it allows us to savour some impressive Hackman acting, particularly in the cold turkey scenes, but the disadvantage is that it rather stalls the film's plot to a halt for a while, with the result that it doesn't have the same compelling momentum as the first film. Still, it rallies strongly at the end with another chase sequence (on foot this time) and builds to a satisfying pay-off. Incidentally, those expressions of pain on Hackman's face during this chase are real - he had bad knees and all the running left him in terrible discomfort.

Anything else I should know? You may be interested to know the worst hotel I have ever stayed in was in Marseilles - it genuinely looked like the one Doyle gets taken to to be pumped full of heroin. I had no such luck. Instead I went to the crummy cafe next door and bought the only thing they had left, which was a manky old profiterole. So that's my story of The French Confection. BOOM! High five! Wasn't going to pass up the chance to shoehorn that joke in.

What does the Fonz think? "You ever high five your hand in Poughkeepsie?"
for the original for the sequel

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