Scenes That I Love: The Car Chase From The French Connection

Today, the Shattered Lens wishes a happy birthday to the great William Friedkin.  As a director, William Friedkin revolutionized both the horror genre and the crime genre.  The car chase from 1971’s The French Connection has been much imitated but rarely equaled.

A few years ago, I attended a showing of The French Connection at the Alamo Drafthouse.  As exciting as this chase is, it’s even more amazing when viewed on a big screen.

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

cracked rear viewer


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)


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!

12 Trailers In Case of the Rapture, Part Two

Hi there!  It’s Saturday morning — are you still with us?  If you’re not, don’t worry.  You have all day to get raptured.  Until then, here’s the second part of this weekend’s edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.

(And if you haven’t read part one, it’s right here.)

Anyway, let’s waste no more time because who knows how long we’ve got left.

7) Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

Seeing as this could very well be the last things that I ever post or that you ever read pre-Rapture, there’s no way I can’t start things out without including this trailer for Jean Rollin’s unique, twisted, and very French vampire fairy tale, Requiem for a Vampire.  One thing to note here is that when this film was released in the U.S., the American distributor felt the need to emphasize that the two girls were virgins and even went so far as to retitle the film Caged Virgins.  However, the original French print of this film makes no reference to whether or not the girls are virgins and, despite all that happens to them in the film, the girls themselves are never presented as being helpless.  Whenever I feel the need to explain the difference between American culture and French culture, this is one of the examples I always cite.

8 ) Kenner (1969)

Jim Brown is Kenner!  And that’s about all I really know about this film.  Well, that and small bundles of heroin are worth millions…

9) The Three Dimensions of Greta (1973)

I was recently reading about 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, a movie from Hong Kong that is apparently setting box office records because it’s being advertised as the first 3-D pornographic film.  And, as the linked article shows, a lot of people are reporting that claim as fact.  And they’re wrong.  3-D Sex and Zen might be the first recent 3-D porn film but it’s hardly the first.  There was a spate of 3-D porn films in the mid-70s and one of my favorite trailers (which I can’t post here because 1) it’s too explict and 2) I can’t remember the title of the film) features a stereotypical, curly-haired, guy with a mustache type of porno actor going, “Soon, my giant schlong with be hanging right over the head of that redhead in the 3rd seat in the backrow.”  And of course, I was all like, “Oh my God, can he see me through the screen!?”   Anyway, the 3 Dimensions of Greta was a part of this wave.  This is another one of those trailers that will probably be yanked off YouTube in a few more days (assuming there isn’t a Rapture first).

(By the way, why were so many porno films made about girls named Greta?  I mean, was that name a turn-on?  Were the films of the 70s exclusively made by guys named Hansel?  Seriously, boys are weird.)

10) The Violent Professionals (1973)

They’re violent alright!  Before the Italian exploitation industry devoted itself to cannibals and zombies, they devoted themselves to ripping off The French Connection and The Godfather.  This film from Sergio Martino actually features Don Barzini himself, Richard Conte.

11) Wonderwall (1968)

If I didn’t tell you this film was from 1968, you’d guess it just from watching the trailer.  The soundtrack was done by George Harrison.  Though this film was certainly not designed to be an exploitation film in the way most of the other films featured here were, it definitely is one.

12) The Beyond (1981)

Can you believe I went this long without featuring the trailer for Lucio Fulci’s best known (after Zombi 2) film?  Well, I love Fulci, I love this film, and I was waiting for the right occasion to feature this trailer.  And the end of the possible end of the world seemed like the right time.  Anyway, this is one of those love it or hate it films (and I know that one of our regular readers is not a huge fan of this film but I love him anyway).  At his best, director Lucio Fulci made some of the most visually stunning and dramatically incoherent films ever and never was that more apparent than with the Beyond.  Out of the film’s cast, Catriona MacColl plays one of the few strong women to ever appear in a Fulci film while David Warbeck (a personal fave of mine) is the perfect hero.  My favorite performance in the film (and a lot of this has to do with the fact that she co-starred in one of my favorite movies ever, Beyond the Darkness) is given by Cinzia Monreale, who plays the blind Emily.

And so there you go.  If you do get raptured later today, thank you for reading.  It’s been a pleasure telling you about the films I love and hopefully, someday, we’ll all meet in the beyond.

And if, as I suspect, there is no rapture today, I look forward to sharing even more.


6 Trailers For Your Oscar Hangover

Now that the Oscars are over with, it’s time for another installment of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.

1) The Sicilian Connections (1972)

Since we’re coming down off the Oscars, I’ll start this latest edition off with the trailer for The Sicilian Connection, an Italian rip-off of 1971 best picture winner, The French Connection.  I haven’t seen the actual movie but I love the music that plays in the background of this trailer.

2) Dirty Gang (1977)

This is another Italian crime flick.  This trailer is worth it to just see that wonderful credit “Tomas Milian as Trash.”

3) Trouble Man (1972)

Tomas Milian may have been Trash but Robert Hooks was Trouble.

4) Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

I’m so happy to include this trailer because I think Arleigh will love it.  David Carradine and Richard Roundtree fight a prehistoric something-or-an0ther.  Michael Moriarty’s in this which can only mean that this is a Larry Cohen film.

5) Dawn of the Mummy (1980)

“Egypt…a nice place to visit but would you want to die there?”  Not surprisingly, this is an Italian film that was released in the wake of Dawn of the Dead and Zombi 2.

6) The Crippled Masters (1979)

I kinda feel that this trailer runs a little bit long but then again, I’m not big into Kung Fu films that don’t star Uma Thurman.  Still, this is one of those pure grindhouse trailers that has to be seen to be believed.