Our Gene Hackman in the Seventies series opens with perhaps his most iconic role, as angry cop “Popeye” Doyle in William Friedkin’s The French Connection, for which our man won his first Oscar (and which inspired the name of the fried chicken franchise!)
Review by Trylon volunteer Michelle Baroody.
The two things you’re sure to learn from watching The French Connection: 1) Never let a cop borrow your car; and 2) Never pay for Paul Newman when Gene Hackman is on deck!
Kicking off the series Gene Hackman in the Seventies is the classic 1971 thriller The French Connection, directed by William Friedkin, who is best known for this film and The Exorcist (1973). While there are no possessed girls or rotating heads in this gritty American crime drama, there is plenty of belligerence, brawn, and border crossing to go around.
The film opens in the port city Marseilles, where a French detective eats a sandwich and trails a drug kingpin, Alain “Frog One” Charnier (played by Spanish actor Fernando Rey). However, in the first five minutes of action, this unnamed detective loses his life and his baguette to an unknown assassin.
The French Connection quickly moves to Brooklyn where we encounter narcotics officer Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman), who dons a Santa suit and joins his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider), in chasing down a young, petty drug dealer. We learn quickly that Popeye is an intuitive, sleep-deprived, aggressive, and racist cop in New York City, fond of casual sex and cocktails, whose “brilliant hunches” might lead to several dead officers or the solution to NYC’s drug problem. It is from such a hunch that the film gets its name, as Popeye and Cloudy stumble upon storeowner Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and his wife Angie (Arlene Farber), an Italian American couple with unsavory French associates.
Perhaps the real “French Connection” is in this movie’s style. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave of the 50s and 60s, director Friedkin uses choppy editing, urban settings, and hand-held cameras together with an abrupt ending to give the film a kind of rough-and-tumble realism. Shot on location in New York and based on the real lives of two New York City cops in the 70s (who each play minor roles in the film), The French Connection is not to be missed. Hackman’s Oscar-winning performance and a 35mm print of the film are sure to fill your desires for spectacular zooms, fake blood, eerie music, car chases, and good old-fashioned police work.
And stay tuned for Part 2 next week!
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 The French Connection Friday and Saturday at 7:00 & 9:15, Sunday at 5:00 & 7:15. Purchase tickets here.