176 - The French Connection (1971)

Two New York City cops uncover a narcotics smuggling ring.

After making a discovery during a routine drugs arrest, James 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman), an alcoholic but dedicated cop and his partner Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo (Roy Scheider) find that the culprit has a connection that could lead to a huge narcotics bust.

Later, while out at the pub, Doyle notes a meeting on a nearby table between well-known gangsters and Salvatore 'Sal' Boca (Tony Lo Bianco). He persuades Russo to follow Sal and his wife home, where it is established that they own far more expensive goods than their modest income should allow.

Doyle and Russo close in on The French Connection, but as the smugglers realise they're being watched, Doyle and Russo find themselves in ever increasing danger.

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
One thing I have noticed since watching all of these films is that it never ceases to amaze me how little recent history I know. Prepare to be educated...

The French Connection was a real event of narcotics smuggling linked to the mob who transported opium from Turkey, transformed it into heroin in Marseilles, France before transporting it to the USA. Bizarrely, this practice was finally stamped out thanks to Turkish reform in 1971 - making William Friedkin's 1971 film very contemporary.

In fact, because the film was released in 1971, one can presume that its making was during the height of the French Connection and this is thoroughly shoved in the audience's face by the difficulty that Doyle and Russo face.

It is this difficulty in pinpointing the criminals that makes The French Connection a very gritty film. The culprit is hung out for the audience's attention at the beginning and we are forced to watch the bureaucracy hamper even the most determined cops. In fact, it the frustration of the system that enables us to fully empathise with them.

The French Connection is often remembered for its memorable chase sequence featuring Gene Hackman (or rather, his doubles) chasing down a subway train in a commandeered civilian car. It is this sequence alone that truly pushes The French Connection into the annals of movie history - probably aiding it no end to five 1972 Academy Awards.

Hackman, along with Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan, pushed the 1970's as the start of the era of the maverick cop.


  1. I can never get too worked up about this movie, especially now that it can be so easily replicated on TV. I can appreciate it and certainly do in regard to its importance in the career of Gene Hackman, but Popeye Doyle deserved a better movie, and maybe at some point someone other than Hackman will get to do it.


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