While watching this film (a classic police film) I could not believe that Roy Scheider is dead. Too bad! Scheider is great in the film, but does not get the praise he deserves as he was overshadowed by the strong Oscar-winning performance by Gene Hackman.
This film was a success in everyway possible. It did well at the box-office, got great reviews and won a bunch of Oscar Awards. Every cop flick that has come after has tried to duplicate it and its success. It has become the bar they are all judged against.
It's amazing to me that the story behind the film is loosely based on the true story of the largest heroin bust in United States history. It seems like a story only Hollywood could make up. With every character being larger than life and every action having a big consequence.
Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman – Hoosiers, Runaway Jury) is a tough New York narcotics cop who is thought of as reckless enough to do anything to get his man. Even if it means innocent people get killed in the process. Doyle and his partner, Cloudy Russo (Roy Scheider – The Punisher – 2004, The Russia House), have discovered that drugs are coming into the United States from drug dealers in the Middle East via the French port of Marseilles. To make matters even more difficult the New York mafia is in it up to their eyeballs. It is up to them to try and shut it down.
Doyle and Russo go up against the very suave criminal, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey – 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Moon Over Parador). Charnier for all his charm is a heroin dealer and is trying to ship a multi-million dollar amount into the U.S. He is sending it to Salvatore Boca (Tony Lo Bianco – Nixon, The Seven-Ups) in New York, who is being tailed by Doyle and Russo. The cops realize that they have to set surveillance of all these criminals and the criminals come to the conclusion that they will have to kill the two cops to get any peace from them. Sets up an interesting battle.
The film and director William Friedkin (Rules of Engagement, To Live and Die in L.A.) are terrific in showing us how narcotics cops operate without cleaning things up. The cops are shown to be humans with plenty of flaws. No super heroes here. While we might not agree with their methods we have to agree these men get the job done. Doyle is quite repulsive, but he is a good cop. The film gives you this great moral dilemma to ponder. Does the end justify the means?
In the quest for realism we get to witness the slow and the bloody side of police work. The film was released in the early 1970s and was considered incredibly gory for the time. Though watching it today we might believe it to be only mildly violent. We get to see (and almost feel) the bureaucracy and red tape that cops have to go through on a daily basis to get the job done. You are frustrated alongside them.
As it is a smart film it is a film that requires your entire attention. Don't start the film unless you are fully awake.
It has to be mentioned that the car chase scene in the film is one of the best ever. Films like "Ronin" and "The Italian Job" owe much to this film.
As a watch it is intense, fast-paced, smart, and doesn't let up. The blend of action, drama and humour make up one of the best police films ever shot.
-Introduction by William Friendman
-Isolated score track
-Hackman on Doyle
-Anatomy of a Chase
-Scene of a Crime
-Color Timing the French Connection
-Cop Jazz: The Music of Don Ellis
-The Poughkeepsie Shuffle
-Making the Connection: The Untold Stories
-Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection