18 Days of Paranoia #8: The French Connection II (dir by John Frankenheimer)


The 1975 film, The French Connection II, opens up three years after the downbeat conclusion of the first French Connection.

Having escaped from the police at the end of the first film, the wealthy and suave Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is still smuggling drugs and living his best life.  He goes to parties with wealthy people.  He has lunch dates with important businessman.  Even though the French police are keeping an eye on him, Charnier seems to be virtually untouchable and he knows it.  If Charnier seemed impossibly smug in the first French Connection, he’s even worse in the second one.

Charnier may be enjoying himself in Marseille but what he doesn’t know is that there’s an American tourist in town.  He’s a very loud American, one who insists on trying to speak to everyone in English and is shocked to discover that most of the French natives don’t have the slightest clue as to what he’s talking about.  He’s shocked when he goes into a bar and fails to impress two young French women.  He also doesn’t seem to understand that even French people who speak English are not going to appreciate being called a “frogs.”  He wanders around town in loud shirts and with a fedora sitting rakishly on his balding head.

Yep, it’s Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman).  The anti-hero from the first French Connection is still on the case and he’s now come all the way to France to help track down Charnier.  The last time we saw Doyle, he had just accidentally killed a cop and was running through a dark warehouse, firing his gun.  In fact, the first film ended with the suggestion that Doyle was such a loose cannon that his career as a narcotics detective was probably over.  Instead, in the sequel, we learn that Popeye is still working in narcotics and he’s still just as much of a loose cannon as he ever was.  If you thought people in New York found Popeye to be obnoxious, just you wait to see how the French react to him!

What Popeye doesn’t know is that his superiors in New York have only sent him to Marsielle so that he can be a target.  They know that Popeye will never be able to blend in.  Charnier will spot him and, hopefully, Charnier will panic and make some sort of mistake that will finally allow the police to capture him.  French detective Henri (Bernard Fresson) goes along with the plan, despite his own moral objections.  Henri can’t stand Popeye but he doesn’t want to see him killed either.

It doesn’t take long for Charnier to notice Popeye.  After Popeye is captured by Charnier’s man, they inject him with heroin until soon, Popeye is an addict.  Before Popeye can finally get his shot at Charnier, he’s going to have to overcome his own drug addiction….

The French Connection II starts out well, with Gene Hackman wandering around Marsielle and acting like a stereotypical ugly American.  Director John Frankenheimer does a good job of keeping the action moving at a steady pace during the first half of the film and there’s a lot of great scenes involving Popeye being followed around town by not just the police but also Charnier’s men.  The first half of the film does a great job of establishing an atmosphere of paranoia, which is not surprising when you consider that Frankenheimer’s other credits included The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days In May, and Seconds.

Unfortunately, once Popeye is captured and gets hooked on heroin, the action not only comes to a halt but the normally reliable Gene Hackman starts to act up a storm.  When Popeye, while going through withdrawal, starts talking about how he used to play baseball and how he once has a try-out with the New York Yankees, the scene seems to go on forever and Hackman’s performance becomes so histrionic that you basically just end up feeling like you’re watching someone auditioning his heart out for a spot in the Actor’s Studio.  Gene Hackman was one of the world’s great actors and Popeye Doyle was a great role but, in The French Connection II, we’re reminded that even a great actor occasionally needs to have his performance reined in.

Eventually, after Hackman’s had his big Oscar moment, the action kicks back in and the film kind of regains its momentum.  There’s a big action scene towards the end of the film.  (Ironically, it’s the type of big, good guys vs. bad guys shoot out that the first film deliberately avoided.)  The film ends with a literal bang that’s abrupt yet undeniably effective.

As far as sequels go, The French Connection II is good.  It’s not great and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the power of the first film.  But it still has enough effective scenes to make it worth watching.  You just might want to hit fast forward whenever Popeye starts talking about baseball…..

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls

Film Review: The Adventurers (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


The 1970 film, The Adventurers, is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Adventurers was a massively expensive, three-hour film that was released to terrible reviews and even worse box office.  In fact, it’s often cited as one of the worst films of all time, which is why I wanted to see it.  Well, three weeks ago, I finally got my chance to watch it and here what I discovered:

Yes, The Adventurers is technically a terrible movie and Candice Bergen really does give a performance that will amaze you with its ineptitude.  (In her big scene, she sits in a swing and, with a beatific look on her face, begs her lover to push her “Higher!  Higher!”)

Yes, The Adventures is full of sex, intrigue, and melodrama.  Director Lewis Gilbert, who did such a good job with Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, directs as if his paycheck is dependent upon using the zoom lens as much as possible and, like many films from the early 70s, this is the type of film where anyone who gets shot is guaranteed to fall over in slow motion, usually while going, “Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh….”  A surprisingly large amount of people get shot in The Adventurers and that adds up to a lot of slow motion tumbles and back flips.  Gilbert also includes a sex scene that ends with a shot of exploding fireworks, which actually kind of works.  If nothing else, it shows that Gilbert knew exactly what type of movie he was making and he may have actually had a sense of humor about it.  That’s what I choose to believe.

Despite the fact that The Adventurers is usually described as being a big-budget soap opera, a good deal of the film actually deals with Latin American politics.  For all the fashion shows and the decadence and the scenes of Candice Bergen swinging, the majority of The Adventures takes place in the Latin American country of Cortoguay.  If you’ve never heard of Cortoguay, that’s because it’s a fictional country.  Two hours of this three-hour film are basically devoted to people arguing and fighting over who is going to rule Cortoguay but it’s kind of impossible to really get to emotionally involved over the conflict because it’s not a real place.

Ernest Borgnine plays a Cortoguayan named — and I’m being serious here — Fat Cat.  Seriously, that’s his name.  And really, how can you not appreciate a movie featuring Ernest Borgnine as Fat Cat?

Fat Cat is the guardian of Dax Xenos (Bekim Fehmiu).  Dax’s father is a Cortoguayan diplomat but after he’s assassinated by the country’s dictator, Dax abandons his home country for America and Europe.  While he’s abroad, Dax plays polo, races cars, and has sex with everyone from Olivia de Havilland to Candice Bergen.  He also gets involved in the fashion industry, which means we get two totally 70s fashion shows, both of which are a lot of fun.  He marries the world’s richest heiress (Bergen) but he’s not a very good husband and their relationship falls apart after a pregnant Bergen flies out of a swing and loses her baby.

Throughout it all, Fat Cat is there, keeping an eye on Dax and pulling him back to not only Cortoguay but also to his first love, Amparo (Leigh Taylor-Young), who just happens to be the daugther of Cortoguay’s dictator, Rojo (Alan Badel).  In fact, when Fat Cat and Dax discover that an acquaintance is selling weapons to Rojo, they lock him inside of his own sex dungeon.  That’s how you get revenge!  And when Dax eventually does return to Cortoguay, Fat Cat is at his side and prepared to fight in the revolution.  Incidentally, the revolution is led by El Lobo (Yorgo Voyagis), who we’re told is the son of El Condor.

The Adventurers is melodramatic, overheated, overlong, overdirected, and overacted and, not surprisingly, it’s eventually a lot of fun.  I mean, the dialogue is just so bad and Lewis Gilbert’s direction is so over the top that you can’t help but suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  How else do you explain that casting of the not-at-all-Spanish Bekim Fehmiu as a Latin American playboy?  Candice Bergen plays her role as if she’s given up any hope of making sense of her character or the script and the rest of the cast follows her lead.  Ernest Borgnine once said that The Adventurers was the worst experience of his career.  Take one look at Borgnine’s filmography and you’ll understand why that’s such a bold statement.

The Adventurers is three hours long but it’s rarely boring.  Each hour feels like it’s from a totally different film.  It starts out as Marxist agitprop before then becoming a glossy soap opera and then, once Fat Cat and Dax return home and get involved in the revolution, the film turns into “modern” spaghetti western.  It’s a film that tries so hard and accomplishes so little that it becomes rather fascinating.

And, if nothing else, it reminds us that even Fat Cat can be a hero….

 

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Monsignor (dir by Frank Perry)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s taking her longer than it took Saint Malachy to transcribe The Prophecy of the Popes!  She recorded the 1982 film, Monsignor, off of Retroplex on March 8th!)

Maybe it’s because I’m a fourth Italian and I was raised Catholic but Monsignor amused the Hell out of me.

See, Monsignor is a big, sprawling epic about the Church and the Mafia.  I don’t know much about the production of this film but, having watched it, I’m going to guess that it was made by people who were neither Catholic nor Italian.  This is one of those films that is so full of clichés and inaccuracies and yet so self-important that it becomes oddly fascinating to watch.

It tells the story of Father John Flaherty (Christopher Reeve, an Episcopalian who gives a performance so wooden that one worries about getting splinters just from watching it).  When we first meet Father Flaherty, he’s just taken his orders.  He’s a good Irish kid from Brooklyn.  The neighborhood’s proud of him, because he has volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the army.  (The film opens during World War II.)  The neighborhood is even prouder when he performs a Mafia wedding.  Don Appolini (Jason Miller), who may be a mobster but who still loves the Church, is especially impressed.  He expects big things from Father Flaherty.

(The father of the bride, incidentally, is played by Joe Spinell, who played Willy Chicci in Godfathers One and Two and who achieved a certain infamy when he starred in Maniac.)

Father Flaherty goes to war and discovers that it’s not easy to be a man of God in a war zone.  Everywhere around him, soldiers are either dying or losing their faith.  (Perhaps it would help if Father Flaherty knew how to properly conduct a Requiem Mass but the movie screws that up, with Flaherty saying, “”Requiescat in pace” when he clearly should have said, “Requiescant in pace.”)   After trying, in vain, to comfort a mortally wounded man, Flaherty snaps, picks up a machine gun, and starts blowing away Germans.

Having broken the Thou Shalt Not Kill Commandment and indulged in one of the seven deadly sins, Father Flaherty apparently decides to commit every other sin as well.  Or, at least, it seems like that’s his plan.  The thing is, Christopher Reeve’s performance is bland that it’s difficult to guess what could possibly be going on inside of Flaherty’s head.  Is he disillusioned with the church or does he still have faith?  When he says that he feels guilty over his transgressions, is he being sincere or is he lying?  It’s impossible to tell because, when it comes to Father Flaherty, there’s no there there.  He’s literally an empty vessel.

That, of course, doesn’t stop him from becoming a powerful man in the Church.  Through his Mafia connections, he makes a fortune on the black market and launders money for the church.  He also has sex with a cynical, nymphomaniac postulant nun, who is something of a stock figure in films like this.  In this case, the role is played by Genevieve Bujold.  Despite the stereotypical nature of her character, Bujold comes the closest of anyone in the cast to giving a nuanced performance but her character abruptly vanishes from the film.  One can literally hear the producers in the background saying, “Okay, we’ve indulged in the sexy nun thing.  Send her home now.”

Towards the end of the film, there’s a flash forward that is so abrupt that I didn’t even realize it had happened until I noticed that Christopher Reeve and Jason Miller now had a little gray in their hair.  The flash forward doesn’t really accomplish much.  Father Flaherty has lost a lot of the Mafia’s family and the Mafia’s not happy about it.  It’s kinda like the Vatican subplot in The Godfather Part III, just with less interesting actors.

Anyway, Monsignor obviously thinks that it has something to say about both the Church and the Mafia but it’s actually remarkably empty-headed.  Strangely enough, for an epic film that cost 10 million dollars to make (that’s in 1982 money), the whole film looks remarkably cheap.  If a community theater decided to put on a production of Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal, the end result would probably end up looking a lot like Monsignor.

And yet, I really can’t hate Monsignor.  It’s so bad that, as I said earlier, it’s also oddly fascinating.  You watch and you ask yourself, How many details can one film about Catholicism get wrong?  How many Italian stereotypes can be forced into a movie with a Mafia subplot?  Now, I should point out that, at no point, does Don Appolini say, “Mama mia!” but, if he had, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s just that type of film.

Anyway, Monsignor is so sordid and stupid that it becomes entertaining for all the wrong reasons.  If you’re into that, you’ll enjoy Monsignor.

A Movie A Day #138: Navajo Joe (1966, directed by Sergio Corbucci)


Duncan (Aldo Sambrell) and his gang are the most ruthless and feared outlaws in the old west.  When first seen, they are destroying a Navajo village and shooting everyone that they see.  Duncan even steals a pendant from a young Indian woman.  When that woman’s husband, Joe (Burt Reynolds), discovers what has happened, he sets out for vengeance.  With Ennio Morricone’s classic score playing in the background, Joe kills one gang member after another.  When Duncan and his gang lay siege to the town of Esperanza, Joe approaches the townspeople and offers to defend them.  His price?  “One dollar a head from every man in this town for every bandit that I kill.”

Following in the footsteps of his friend and fellow television star, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds went to Italy in the 1960s and made a spaghetti western.  Navajo Joe was his second starring role, after Operation CIA.  Reynolds has always described Navajo Joe as being one of the worst movies ever made but, with the excepton of Deliverance, Burt says that about every film that he has ever made.  (Burt has also complained that the wig he wore in Navajo Joe made him look like Natalie Wood, which is true.)  While it never reaches the height of some of Sergio Corbucci’s other westerns, Navajo Joe is a frequently exciting movie, featuring one of Morricone’s best scores and a lead performance that is never as bad as Burt claims it was.  At first, it is strange to see Burt Reynolds playing such a grim and stoic character but, by the time he is throwing dynamite at Duncan’s gang, he has grown into the role and proven that he could actually play something other than a giggling good old boy.  As usual for a Corbucci western, both the outlaws and the greedy and ungrateful townspeople stand in for capitalism run amok. Like many spaghetti protagonists, Joe is an outsider who fights to save a town full of cowardly people who will never accept him.  As Joe explains, his ancestors were in America long before any of the townspeople’s ancestors.  America is his land but the forces of progress and greed are robbing him of his home.

Navajo Joe may not be a classic but it’s a solid western featuring one of Burt Reynolds’s most underrated performances.  If you have ever wanted to see Burt Reynolds smile while scalping a man, Navajo Joe is the film to see.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #15: Quintet (dir by Robert Altman)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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The 1979 post-apocalyptic film Quintet aired on FXM on November 15th.  I recorded it because this film is often cited as being one of director Robert Altman’s worst but I’ve also read some very passionate defenses of Quintet.  Since I’ve enjoyed several of Altman’s films (Nashville, Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Company, The Player, The Long Goodbye, and many more), I wanted to experience Quintet for myself.

I mean, seriously — a postapocalyptic sci-fi film from Robert Altman!?  That would have to be at least interesting, right?

Anyway, I watched Quintet and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what the Hell was going on for most of the film.  Things made a bit more sense after I did a little bit of research and I discovered that Quintet was 1) inspired by a fragment of a dream that Altman had and 2) went into production despite not having a completed script.

Quintet opens with a breath-taking shot of a frozen landscape.  There’s been a new ice age.  The entire Earth is frozen.  There’s only a few hundred humans left and their number is rapidly dwindling.  Some, like Essex (Paul Newman) and Vivia (Brigitte Fossey) spend their days hiking across the tundra and hunting seals.  Others — like practically everyone else in the entire freaking film — spend their times in ramshackle villages, pursuing what little pleasure they can find while waiting to die.

In this new frozen world, the most popular activity — outside of getting drunk — is playing a board game called Quintet.  I have no idea how Quintet is played, though the film is full of scenes of people playing it.  From what we do see, it really doesn’t look like that fun of a game but I guess you can’t be picky when you’re waiting to freeze to death.  I mean, honestly, if the world’s ending, I’d rather play a board game than charades.

Anyway, in one of the frozen towns, a group of people are having a Quintet tournament, with the rule being that, once you’re eliminated in the board game, you are also killed in real life.  (And again, this is where it would have been helpful for the film to take just a few minutes to clarify just how exactly Quintet is played.)  One of the Quintet players is killed by a bomb, which unfortunately blows up Viva as well.  Seeking revenge (or, at least, I’m guessing that was his motivation because Paul Newman didn’t exactly give the most communicative performance of his career in Quintet), Essex assumes a fake identity and enters the tournament.

Soon, he’s running around the frozen landscape, killing people.  He knows that the final player standing will receive a prize of some sort but he doesn’t know what the prize is.  How deep!  Or something.

Dammit, I really wanted to defend Quintet.  I really did.  Whenever I see a movie that has gotten almost universally negative reviews, my natural instinct is to try to find something good about it.  And I will say this: visually, Quintet is fascinating.  A lot of care was put into creating this frozen world and it’s interesting to note how every location is decorated by elaborate ice sculptors.  The ice may be destroying civilization but it can’t squelch humanity’s natural creativity.

Unfortunately, Quintet  may be well-designed but it’s also a painfully slow film.  Just because the film takes place on a glacier, that doesn’t mean that it needs to move like one.  The slow pace is not helped by the fact that many of the characters have a tendency to suddenly start delivering these faux profound philosophical monologues, the majority of which are about as deep as the typical Tumblr post.

Quintet stars Paul Newman, who was both an iconic movie star and a legitimately great actor.  He spends most of Quintet alternating between looking confused and looking stoic.  That said, it’s always interesting to watch an actor like Paul Newman slog his way through an artistic misfire like WUSA or Quintet.  Let’s give Paul Newman some credit: he delivered his lines with a straight face. Just as Essex knew he was trapped on a glacier, Paul Newman understood that was trapped in Quintet.  Both did what they had to do to survive.

Robert Altman was a great director but Quintet is not a great film.

It happens.

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Rough Justice: THE FRENCH CONNECTION (20th Century Fox 1971)


cracked rear viewer

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First of all, I’d like to thank Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled for inviting me to participate in the 31Days of Oscar Blogathon. It’s cool to be part of the film blogging community, and even cooler because I get to write about THE FRENCH CONNECTION, a groundbreaking movie in many ways. It was the first R-Rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and scored four other golden statuettes as well. It also helped (along with the Clint Eastwood/Don Siegel DIRTY HARRY) usher in the 70’s “tough cop” genre, which in turn spawned the proliferation of all those 70’s cop shows that dominated (KOJAK, STARSKY & HUTCH, BARETTA, etc, etc).

The story follows New York City cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and his partner Sonny “Cloudy” Russo as they investigate a large shipment of heroin being brought in from France. The detectives focus on Sal Boca, a small time hood…

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Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: The French Connection (dir by William Friedkin)


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Earlier today, thanks to Netflix, I watched the 1971 best picture winner, The French Connection.

Based on a true incident, The French Connection is the story of two NYPD detectives, the reasonable and serious Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) and his far more hyperactive partner, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman).  When we first see them, Doyle is dressed as Santa Claus and they’re both chasing a drug dealer through the streets of New York.  When they eventually catch up with the dealer, Russo plays good cop while Doyle plays batshit insane cop.  That’s a pattern that plays out repeatedly over the course of the film.  Russo suggests caution.  Doyle blindly fires his gun into the shadows.  Russo is sober.  Doyle is frequently drunk.  Russo is careful with his words.  Doyle is a casual racist who never seems to stop talking.  The one thing that Russo and Doyle seem to have in common is that they’re both obsessed with catching criminals.

The French Connection is also the story of Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), a suave and always impeccably dressed French businessman.  Charnier has a plan to smuggle several millions of dollars of heroin into the United States by hiding it in a car that will be driven by an unsuspecting (and rather vacuous) French actor named Henri Devereaux (Frederic de Pasquale).  Working with Charnier is a low-level mafia associate named Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and a lawyer named Joel Weinstock (Harold Gray).

(Incidentally, Weinstock’s chemist is played by an actor named Patrick McDermott, who also played Susan Sarandon’s abusive hippie boyfriend in Joe.  The French Connection was McDermott’s third film and also his last.  I point this out because McDermott totally steals his one scene in The French Connection.  When one considers both his performance here and his work in Joe, it’s strange and unfortunate that McDermott’s cinematic career ended after just three films.  According to a comment left on the imdb, he later ran a health food store in Nebraska.)

When Doyle and Russo just happen to spy Sal hanging out with a group of mobsters at a local club, they decide (mostly on a whim) to investigate what Sal’s up to.  They notice that Sal drives a car that he shouldn’t be able to afford.  Will they discover how Sal is making his money and will they be able to stop Charnier from smuggling his heroin into the United States?

Well…let’s just say that The French Connection was made in 1971.  That’s right, this is one of those films where everything is ambiguous.  Neither Russo nor Doyle are traditional heroes.  Neither one of them is foolish enough to believe that their actions will make a difference.  Instead, they seem to view it all as a game, with Doyle and Russo as the win-at-any-cost good guys and the French as the bad guys.  And, indeed, it’s interesting to note that, when the police do make their move against Charnier, it’s the people who work for him who suffer the worst punishments.

I have to admit that, as a civil libertarian, Doyle is the type of cop who should make my skin crawl.  He’s an obsessive bigot, the type who runs into the shadows with his gun drawn and blindly firing.  When I watched The French Connection, a part of me wanted to get offended and say, “It’s none of your business why Sal has an expensive car!”  But I didn’t.  In fact, I was rooting for Doyle the whole time.  The French Connection is probably one of the best cast films of all time.  Hackman gives such a good performance that, while you can’t overlook Doyle’s flaws, you can accept them.  Meanwhile, Rey is so sleazy and smug in the role of Charnier that you really don’t care about his rights.  You just want to see him taken down.

(That said, if I ever got hold of a time machine and went back to New York in 1971, I’d rather be arrested by Russo than Doyle.  Doyle seems like he’d be the type to grope while frisking.)

Seen today, it’s a bit odd to think of The French Connection as being a best picture winner.  It has nothing to do with the film’s quality.  The film’s performances remain strong.  William Friedkin’s documentary-style direction is still compelling and he makes the decay of 1970s New York oddly beautiful.  Instead, it’s the fact that The French Connection essentially tells a very simple story that, when seen today, feels very familiar.  It’s a cop film and it includes every single cliché that we’ve come to associate with cop films.  (Russo and Doyle even have a supervisor who yells at them for not doing things by the book.)  But, what you have to realize is that the majority of those clichés were invented by The French Connection. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then The French Connection is probably one of the most flattered film ever made.

And what better way to end this review than by sharing The French Connection‘s most influential scene?  In the scene below, Doyle chases a commuter train that happens to be carrying one of Charnier’s associates.

Apprecier le film!