Monday, April 23, 2012

The French Connection

The French Connection

#70 (1998) and #93 (2007) on the AFI List of 100 Greatest American Movies.

The French Connection is a 1971 American dramatic thriller film directed by William Friedkin. The film was adapted and fictionalized by Ernest Tidyman from the non-fiction book by Robin Moore. It tells the story of New York Police Department detectives named "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo, whose real-life counterparts were Narcotics Detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. Egan and Grosso also appear in the film, as characters other than themselves.

It was the first R-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since the introduction of the MPAA film rating system. It also won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Roy Scheider), Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Tidyman also received a Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America Award and an Edgar Award for his screenplay.

In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

* Gene Hackman as Det. Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle
* Fernando Rey as Alain Charnier
* Roy Scheider as Det. Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo
* Tony Lo Bianco as Salvatore 'Sal' Boca
* Marcel Bozzuffi as Pierre Nicoli, Hit Man
* Frédéric de Pasquale as Henri Devereaux
* Bill Hickman as Bill Mulderig
* Ann Rebbot as Mrs. Marie Charnier
* Harold Gary as Joel Weinstock
* Arlene Farber as Angie Boca
* Eddie Egan as Walt Simonson
* André Ernotte as La Valle
* Sonny Grosso as Bill Klein
* Benny Marino as Lou Boca
* Patrick McDermott as Howard, Chemist
* Alan Weeks as Willie Craven, drug pusher
* Andre Trottier as Wyett Cohn, weapons specialist
* Sheila Ferguson as The Three Degrees
* Eric Jones as Little Boy (uncredited)
* Darby Lloyd Rains as Stripper (uncredited)
* Jean Luisi as French detective

he film is often cited as containing one of the greatest car chase sequences in movie history. The chase involves Popeye commandeering a civilian's car (a 1971 Pontiac LeMans) and then frantically chasing an elevated train, on which a hitman is trying to escape. The scene was filmed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn roughly running under the BMT West End Line (currently; the D train, then the B train) which runs on an elevated track above Stillwell Avenue, 86th Street and New Utrecht Avenue in Brooklyn, with the chase ending just north of the 62nd Street station after the train crashed into another train up ahead. The conductor played by Bob Morrone and train operator played by William Coke, aboard the hijacked train were both actual NYC Transit Authority employees. Friedkin's plan included fast driving coupled with five specific stunts:

1. Doyle is sideswiped by a car in an intersection
2. Doyle's car is clipped by a truck with a Drive Carefully bumper sticker.
3. Doyle narrowly misses a woman with a baby stroller and crashes into a pile of garbage.
4. Doyle's vision is blocked by a tractor trailer which forces him into a steel fence.
5. Doyle must go against traffic to get back on a parallel path with the train. Intercut with these car scenes underneath the elevated train is additional footage (shots facing the car, not from the driver's perspective) that was shot in Bushwick, Brooklyn, particularly when Doyle misses a moving truck and slams into a steel fence.

Many of the shots in the scene were "real". While Gene Hackman drove well over half of the shots used in the film, legendary stunt driver Bill Hickman, who also had a small role in the film as Federal Narcotics Agent Mulderig, drove the stunt scenes and point-of-view shots through the windshield and from the front bumper, with Friedkin running a camera from the backseat while wrapped in a mattress for protection. The production team received no prior permission from the city for such a dangerous stunt, but they had the creative consulting and clout provided to them by Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (which allowed normal protocol for location shooting like permits and scheduling to be circumvented), and the only precaution taken was to place a "gumdrop" style beacon on the car's roof and blare the horn. The most famous shot of the chase is made from a front bumper mount and shows a low-angle point of view shot of the streets racing by. This was the last shot made in the film and was, according to Friedkin, needed to increase the speed of the chase after a rough cut of the scene proved less impressive than he hoped. While Friedkin contends the front-bumper shot is made at speeds of "up to 90mph," director of photography Owen Roizman, wrote in American Cinemataographer magazine in 1972 that the camera was undercranked to 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of speed. Roizman's contention is borne out when you see a car at a red light whose muffler is pumping smoke at an accelerated rate. Other shots involved stunt drivers who were supposed to barely miss hitting the speeding car, but due to errors in timing accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film. Friedkin said that he used Santana's song "Black Magic Woman" during editing to help shape the chase sequence; though the song does not appear in the film, "it [the chase scene] did have a sort of pre-ordained rhythm to it that came from the music."

The scene concludes with Doyle confronting Nicoli the hitman at the stairs leading to the subway and shooting him as he tries to run back up them. Many of the police officers acting as advisers for the film objected to the scene on the grounds that shooting a suspect in the back was simply murder, not self-defense, but director Friedkin stood by it, stating that he was "secure in my conviction that that's exactly what Eddie Egan (the model for Doyle) would have done and Eddie was on the set while all of this was being shot."

As of July 2009, the two lead R42 subway cars in the chase scene, cars 4572 and 4573, were added to the preserved collection of the New York Transit Museum.

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