Entry #2 to Serendipitous Anachronisms' France on Film Blogathon.
Police procedurals never quite hit the same high as they did in 1971 with The French Connection. The film was nominated for several Oscars, and won William Friedkin a Best Director and Gene Hackman a Best Actor nod. It also won several others, including Best Editing. You only have to watch the climatic chase between Hackman (in a car) and a villain on an elevated train to get why this Oscar was deserved.
Friedkin in his commentary on the DVD of the movie said he was influenced by Costa-Gavras' Z which had come out a couple of years earlier. He says he wanted a documentary feel to the movie and often had his cameraman, Enrique "Ricky" Bravo, set up for a shot without giving him direction and tell him to find the shot.
Also many of the scenes were not staged. Hackman, in his commentary, refers to them as "stolen". Essentially what happened was a few innocent bystanders who just happened to be in the area were included in the movie without their knowledge. A significant one of these was a traffic jam created by the production crew to get a shot. The movie crew staged the jam without telling any of the other motorists, or for that matter, the police, what was happening.
Some scenes were shot in Marseilles, where the main villain Charnier lives. There are some fabulous shots of the ocean and a chateau. The scenes switch back and forth between the two until Charnier actually arrives in NYC so we get to see city streets and a couple of famous sites with the movie. Whether any still stand is anybody's guess if you, like me, have never been to France.
The French Connection (1971)
The movie begins with a French detective who is tailing Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) through Marseilles.
Later, after he has apparently quit for the day and is on his way home the detective is shot by Charnier's henchman, Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi). The movie has no speaking parts at this time so we are not aware of why any of this happens.
The scene switches to a NYC street where "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider) are staked out undercover. They observe a drug deal going down and end up chasing one suspect and interrogating him on the spot. This scene establishes how determined Popeye is to bring down the criminal drug element.
After the two get off work they go to a nightclub where they observe a suspicious party at another table which includes one known to them as a criminal. They decide to follow the main attraction, a man later identified as Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco).
The action in NYC is paralleled with what is going on in Marseilles. Charnier has convinced an acquaintance, a French actor by the name of Devereaux to pose as the owner of a Lincoln Continental. The Lincoln is the objet du jour of the movie, as it contains the heroin that is being smuggled into america from France by Charnier.
Doyle and Russo continue their tail, and in the process uncover his contact which turns out to be Charnier. Doyle concentrates on Charnier, trying to tail him, but he is "made", that is Charnier realizes he has a tail and knows Doyle is the one. A great sequence follows where Charnier ditches Doyle on a subway.
Nicoli, who is in essence Charnier's right hand man suggests they take Doyle out. Charnier dismisses this idea, but apparently Nicoli decides to go against his boss's wishes. But he is unsuccessful in his attempt at a hit. What follows is the aforementioned chase between an elevated train and Hackman in a commandeered car. The end result is used as the poster for the movie, so it's not giving anything away by revealing that the bad guy gets his comeuppance.
Eventually the detectives do figure out that the Lincoln is the key to the whole case. But the leadup and the aftermath are well worth the time spent watching this great thriller.
This week, the Plymouth has been in the shop. So it's so long from the back of the motor scooter this week. (Hey, at least it's not Lincoln Continental...)