Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Critic's Pick: A Look Back At The Classic Crime Film "The French Connection"

A. O. Scott, The New York Times film critic, looks back at William Friedkin's 1971 crime film The French Connection, starring Gene Hackman (seen in the above photo).

You can watch Scott discuss the classic crime film and see selected scenes from the film via the below link:

The French Connection was based on Robin Moore's nonfiction book, The French Connection: The World's Most Crucial Narcotics Investigation:

The book was a true account of the largest seizure of drugs at the time, which was the early 1960s. Two tough and dedicated New York City Detectives, Edward Egan and Salvatore Grosso, initially stumbled upon, investigated and then busted a criminal ring that brought into the country 112 pounds of almost pure heroin. The heroin had a 1960s street value of almost $32,500,000. The criminal ring was headed by Jean Jehan, the director of the world’s largest heroin network at the time, and members and associates of American organized crime.

"The account that follows is a case history of what must qualify as one of the finest police investigations in the annals of United States law enforcement," Robin Moore wrote in his introduction to The French Connection in 1969. "Almost certainly it represents the most crucial single victory to date in the ceaseless, frustrating war against the import of vicious narcotics into our country. Indeed, this investigation, and the information gleaned from it, eventually has led to the progressive breakdown of Mafia investment and proprietorship in the U.S. narcotics market."

Robin Moore and his associate Ed Keys interviewed the principal New York City detectives, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso and the other New York and federal law enforcement officers involved in the major drug case and listened to wiretap recordings. They also went out with Egan, Grosso and other narcotics detectives several nights a week for several months to get a feel for the streets and to understand what it was like for detectives to pursue criminals on the mean streets of New York. The result was a first class true-crime thriller.

The 1971 film based on Moore’s book won five Academy Awards; including Best Picture of the Year, Best Actor for Gene Hackman, Best Director for William Friedkin, Best Screenplay Adaptation for Ernest Tidyman, and Best Editor for Jerry Greenberg.

The film’s gritty and dark documentary-style gave the film a sense of authenticity that matched the book. The film’s soundtrack by Don Ellis was also perfect for setting the film’s suspense, excitement and tension. The film even made surveillance look exciting; especially when the detectives initially follow a suspect driving across the city after a nightclub closes, and when Hackman follows "Frog One" on the subway.

I love the scene when Hackman is standing outside in the cold watching "Frog One" eat in a fine, and warm, restaurant. Scheider brings Hackman a slice of pizza, and holding two cups of coffee, sarcastically asked Hackman "you want the white or the red?"

I also love the scene where the two detectives barge into a bar and Hackman announces that "Popeye’s here!" I later learned that all of the black hoodlums in the bar scene were in fact New York cops.

Gene Hackman, as Detective "Popeye" Doyle, a character based on Eddie Egan, and Roy Scheider, as Detective "Buddy" Russo, a character based on Sonny Grosso, gave us a true, brutal portrayal of street cops.

My only complaint - which Hackman shared, I’ve read - is that Doyle was portrayed a bit over the top, and he was certifiable at the end of the film. Egan, by all accounts, was an aggressive, blunt cop, but he never killed a federal agent and I don’t think he was quite that racist, vulgar or slovenly.

Egan himself is in the film, playing Doyle and Russo’s boss. I suppose he got a kick out of chewing himself out when he lashes into Hackman’s character. Grosso also has a small part in the film and both Egan and Grosso were hired as technical advisors.

If you are a fan of crime films and have not seen The French Connection, I highly recommend that you get hold of a copy and watch it. I also receommend Robin Moore's true crime book The French Connection.

No comments:

Post a Comment