Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle: All right! You put a shiv in my partner. You know what that means? Goddammit! All winter long I got to listen to him gripe about his bowling scores.
R: Yes only a few months ago.
F: Same plus I saw it once many years ago.
F: This is an old-fashioned cop story which feels very 1970s. Not just the cars and the setting, but also the police techniques and the attitudes of the policemen.
R: Some of the policing is “no-nonsense” to put it mildly. Of course another reason it feels old-fashioned is because it’s been an influence on pretty much every crime film and TV show that’s been made since. For almost all the scenes you could make a list of a dozen other films, shows and even video games that do something very similar.
F: Agreed it has been extremely influential. There are two or three stand out scenes for me in this film. Obviously the excellent car chase, but also where they rip up the car and the scene with Popeye on the subway is excellent.
R: Those are all great scenes. The car chase is particularly well-directed, isn’t it? In keeping with the rest of the film it feels very realistic, but also very tense. By cutting between shots of Popeye’s face and looking through the windscreen you really get that sensation of being in the car with him.
F: Yes it was good how the scene wasn’t sped up to make it more exciting.
R: Oh yes, the old-school technique of running the tape back fast might be top of my list of ‘Things that are a bit rubbish in old movies’. It almost always looks silly so well done to William Friedkin for resisting it here.
F: I think the direction overall is excellent. It’s a film that takes its time over the shots and doesn’t have lots of fast cutaways which it could be easy to do when telling this kind of story.
R: And thanks to that unrushed editing you really get a phenomenal sense of place. It’s beyond cliché to say about a film that “the city is one of the most important characters” but the atmosphere of 70s New York comes through so strongly in The French Connection that I just can’t help myself. I can’t think of another film that’s more rooted in its location.
F: Absolutely. I liked that the scenes in France were really bright and colourful but when we cut back to New York it’s dark, grey and gloomy which is a great contrast. And whilst you say it’s unrushed, it is a relatively short film that is a very snappy story.
R: What did you think of the performances?
F: They’re all great but Gene Hackman is especially excellent in this. He won the Oscar for this role and its not hard to see why. Its the definition of gritty.
R: Gritty, but also with a lot of heart. You really feel for him when he’s out in the cold eating junk food, staking out the dealers who are meanwhile tucking into their fancy dinner in the warm restaurant. I thought that was a nicely understated but very effective way to show the sense of injustice that motivates this guy, who will seemingly stop at nothing in order to catch his crook.
F: I think my one complaint of this film is some of the moments in the score. Overall it works well and fits the mood of the film but there are one or two moments where it is a bit melodramatic – zooming in on a bad guy standing across the street whilst using one dramatic note!
R: Those moments feel a bit old-fashioned for sure, but I think it does work as a way of showing how on edge these characters are. My biggest issue is the slightly unsatisfying ending. I laughed in disbelief the first time I watched this because it is over so abruptly. Fading to black and putting up a bit of text about what happened next to each of the characters really shouldn’t happen outside of biopics and documentaries.
F: I’ll forgive it though! Plus there is the sequel.
R: Yes the way it sets itself up for a sequel is one of the less positive ways its influence is still being felt today! I would like to watch that sequel some time though…
Is it worthy of the Top 100?
F: I feel like I’m giving out a lot of yes’s but this more than deserves to be on the list.
R: It’s the ultimate cop movie, isn’t it? Got to be a yes.
92 – Goodfellas (1990)
94 – Pulp Fiction (1995)