Our Gene Hackman in the Seventies series continues with what might be his most unheralded role, as angry cop turned heroin addict in French Connection II. This sequel is outstanding, though difficult to endure. Don’t miss it!
Review by Trylon volunteer Michelle Baroody.
Released in 1975, French Connection II was directed by John Frankenheimer, the filmmaker behind The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Ronin (1998), and Black Sunday (1977—perhaps the most relevant to our Twin Cities interests after winning the bid for the 2018 Super Bowl—it’s the one where foreign terrorists attempt to shoot poison darts into the game from a blimp). As for Part 2 in the Hackman series, a poster from the film’s release boasts, “The French Connection was only the beginning. THIS IS THE CLIMAX.” And with a somewhat slower momentum toward said climax, French Connection II portrays the determined return of a partner-less Popeye (Hackman of course), still in pursuit of the heroin-smuggling, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), the “Frog One” who got away at the end of Friedkin’s “beginning.”
French Connection II begins with the same shot as the original, with an expansive view of Marseilles and a quick zoom into its shipyard. Popeye arrives by cab to the scene; it’s April Fool’s Day in France, which is apparently a time for taping paper fish on unsuspecting backs, bums, and cabs. However, this year the ruffians in town have succeeded in tricking the entire police force into searching through cases of dead fish for smuggled drugs and the chaotic scene further confuses an already discombobulated Doyle. Encountering a sea of untranslated French and fish guts, the New York City cop crosses the border without knowing much about the language or customs of the Frenchman he seeks.
Sent on assignment to work with the Marseilles police force, Popeye’s insubordination and wry commentary are back with a vengeance, as it appears that his distaste for authority is not diminished by air travel. In fact, the sequel uses this as an occasion to amp up its nationalist cause. Popeye arrives in the country with a suitcase full of smuggled Hershey bars and a poorly concealed weapon, critiquing the lesser quality of French chocolate, security, and politics, a sentiment that is reinforced by his claim “I’d rather be a lamppost in New York, than the president of France.” He mocks French speakers for not knowing English and snarls at French women for not understanding his advances. Out of his element both socially and professionally, Popeye insists on working alone.
However, the film (and Popeye’s European vacation with it) takes an unexpected turn, as the narcotics officer gets distracted by a young volley ball player and becomes a hostage addicted to that stuff they put in canned soup. After a detox full of xenophobic slurs, the film ends with a “Frog”-style shoot out and a healthy amount of chase scenes involving both public and private transportation. The final sequences build to a climactic finish, where Popeye’s point of view dictates the shots and sounds captured by the camera, leading to another abrupt ending, but this time with some narrative closure.
Where French Connection II really outdoes the original is in the details of the character—we are taken deeper into the mind and temperament of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and the result is a psychological thriller worthy of the big screen!
Michelle Baroody is from Chicago, currently in Minneapolis, a graduate student, and the coordinator of the TC Arab film fest. She is quite fond of geriatric cats, coconut oil, and the newspaper.
The Trylon is screening French Connection II Friday and Saturday at 7:00 & 9:15, Sunday at 5:00 & 7:15. Purchase tickets here.