The French Connection (1971) and The French Connection II (19751) from Tuna

The French Connection (1971) is being released finally in a Deluxe set that includes both French Connection 1 and 2, and an entire DVD of special features for French Connection 1. It is refreshing to see a studio release the deluxe edition first, rather than a bare bones edition, then
increasingly more desirable ones. When I say this in the theaters, I thought it was a good flick with some real high points, a new approach to an action film, but a little slow, especially in getting started. I had not seen it in 30 years, and my opinion hasn't changed, except that it did  become the model for a lot of crime actioners.

For the few who don't know the story, it is about two New York narcotics officers, Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle and Roy Scheider as Buddy Russo, who nearly accidentally uncover a plot to smuggle a lot of heroin from Marseilles to New York. The head of the "French Connection" is played by Fernando Rey. 

The film is based on a true story, as are all three of the principals. Doyle's character was, in fact, even more interesting than depicted in the film. He always played bad cop, was fond of beating up suspects, drank himself into a stupor after work, then arrested some young girl on a trumped up charge and took her to his messy apartment. This is partly depicted in the film, and provides the only exposure that made it into the final cut. Russo, as usual, comes to wake Doyle up for work, and finds him handcuffed to his bed. We see Maureen Mooney's butt when she walks out of the shower and is surprised by Russo's presence. The deleted scenes show more of Doyle harassing and arresting her. In another  deleted scene, a French hot man is shown with an unidentified dominatrix getting whipped. 

In the film, as in real life, they never did get "Frog 1," the Rey character, and all of the heroin vanished from police lock-up. The film won 5 Oscars (Picture, director, editing and writing) and was nominated for three more. It beat out some pretty good competition, including A Clockwork Orange, Hospital, The Last Picture Show, Klute, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Fiddler on the Roof. Clockwork Orange and Last Picture Show are now rated much higher at IMDB. The commentary by director William Friedkin mainly concerns the technical aspects of the film. OF interest to me was that casting Rey was a mistaken identity, and the entire film was shot on location. Film buffs need to see this trend setting film, and fans of crime suspense action will also like it.


see the main commentary

DVD info from Amazon.

  • two movies, three disk set

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director and Hackman commentary for both films

  • seven deleted scenes for the first film

  • several featurettes and a still gallery

French Connection II (1975) is one of those sequels that just should not have been made. John Frankenheimer takes over the directing reigns, and shoots what should be called Popeye's Revenge. Doyle (Hackman again) comes to Marseiles to kill "Frog 1" (Rey). He does not realize that he has been set up to bring Rey out into the open. In act one, Doyle acts like an asshole. Act 2 has him captured and turned into a heroine addict sandwiched between sloppy drunk episodes, and act three is the final chase scene where Doyle breaks as many laws as he can.

There is no nudity, no basis in fact, and no reason to watch this film. Maltin says 2 1/2, which I find generous. IMDB readers say 6.2/10. Hackman was nominated for a Golden Globe, which was a good call, as he did as much as he could have with this script. Part of the problem in act three was that a cast of thousands were fighting each other, but we didn't know enough about any of the minor characters to tell who was who. I will give  it a C, as a mindless and frenzied action thriller.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 4/4 for the original, 2.5/4 for the sequel

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Fifteen articles on file, 100% positive

  • it won five Oscars, including best picture

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score French Connection 7.7 
  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score French Connection II 6.2 
  • With their dollars ... it was a solid box-office smash
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, The French Connection is a B-, the sequel is a C.

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