"I'm gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie."
-Detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle-
I get on these exploratory tours of the directors I love and often revisit films by the best. I would easily count director William Friedkin's work among those artists.
Friedkin delivered what I consider to be four of my favorite films. Of course, I have many favorites. They run longer than my arm.
To Live And Die In L.A. (1985) left an indelible mark when I saw the picture in cinemas in 1985. But going back the man delivered on three classics in a row in The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973) and Sorcerer (1977). Most were experienced later in life save for The Exorcist which frightened the bejesus out of me and my neighborhood friends when we were young teens. We somehow managed to capture what amounted to a snowy third generation copy of the film on VHS and it played in heavy rotation for a time along with John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). It was all deliciously terrifying.
One of the draws for me to any picture is not only the director, but the performers. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider are among two of the best and star here in the classic crime drama. The police procedural in effect predates the kind of detail that would invade and inform the HBO series The Wire (2002-2008), but is delivered to great effect here by Friedkin. Hackman and Scheider are brilliant for their parts too. Scheider would return later for Friedkin's incredible location film Sorcerer.
There are two editions of The French Connection on Blu-Ray. I looked at the edition pictured here but intend to seek out the other as the two are notably different by all critical accounts. It's surprising there is not a definitive edition given the film was nominated for Best Cinematography. Though the film's cinematographer oversaw the second edition and as such is considered definitive to this initially approved Friedkin edition.
One of the most notable sequences in the film is the car chase which by some accounts came by the suggestion of director Howard Hawks. For me, the on foot subway pursuit by Gene Hackman of the French drug smuggler is equally riveting and suspenseful. The back story to this entire sequence is riveting and can be found in William Friedkin's The Friedkin Connection. As he notes there, the visceral nature of these action sequences work as a metaphor to the obsession of the two leads that walk the precarious line of the law.
The French Connection may not be my favorite film by Friedkin. It would surely offend the delicate, politically correct sensibilities of today's liberal thought police if today's standards were applied, but it is an exceptional cultural snapshot of the day through the crime drama of the period. It remains a wonderful slice of cinema and a classic.
Not unlike this look at the culture through the eyes of the New York City Police detectives and the streets of the city, I'm still optimistic that one day Daniel Petrie's Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) will one day make its way to a new transfer on Blu-Ray.
For now, dated as it may be (my how the type of crime has changed), The French Connection remains one of the cinematic best of its day. There's a reason the film won for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in 1972 and is included in the US National Film Registry.
The French Connection. Director: William Friedkin. Writer: Ernest Tidyman.