Film / The French Connection

"All right, Popeye's here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!"
Popeye Doyle

The French Connection, a 1971 crime thriller film directed by William Friedkin, written by Ernest Tidyman and produced by Phillip D'Antoni, is the tale of NYC cop "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner, "Cloudy" Russo (Roy Scheider). One day, they stumble upon a huge shipment of heroin from France. The trail leads to notorious drug kingpin, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). Car Chases ensue.

A classic piece of seventies Hollywood cinema, based on the true story of the two cops who would stop the drug trafficking between France and the US, it was a huge success, both financially and critically. The film won 5 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for William Friedkin, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman. Thus it would come close to winning the Big Five, but lacked a female main character. It also won for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing and the car-chase alone is worth it.

The film's success actually led to an odd little pseudo-Shared Universe of films, mainly by virtue of being based on the same real-life case. The success of the film led to one true sequel, the entirely fictional The French Connection II, with Doyle heading to Marseille in the hopes that his first-hand recognition of Charnier will help put pressure on the manufacturing end of the line. Popeye Doyle, a TV pilot movie was made in 1986, with Ed O'Neill as Doyle. The Seven-Ups is a Spiritual Successor starring Roy Scheider as an Expy of Cloudy Russo. Finally, in 2014 Cédric Jiminez made La Frenchnote , based on the same case, but covering the events on the Marseille end.

"The Trope Connection":

  • Abandoned Warehouse: The final scene takes place in an abandoned crematorium.
  • Academy Award: It won five of them: Best Picture, Best Director (Friedkin), Best Actor (Hackman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tidyman) and Best Film Editing. It was further nominated for three others: Best Supporting Actor (Scheider), Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing.
  • April Fools' Plot: The beginning of the sequel. Popeye, on arrival, finds the Marseille police searching a shipment of fish for drugs on an anonymous tip, only to discover the tip was a prank.
  • Asshole Victim: Mulderig, the FBI agent who regards Doyle with contempt and busts his chops throughout the film, is accidentally shot and killed during the finale when Doyle mistakes him for Charnier.
  • An Asskicking Christmas / Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Doesn't make a big deal out of it, but little holiday elements like Popeye undercover as Santa Claus, different store windows loaded with Christmas decorations and the bitter winter cold continually pop up.
  • Baby Carriage: A runaway carriage hampers the car chase.
  • Badass Santa: Popeye's first scene has him catching a drug dealer while dressed as a bell ringing charity Santa.
  • Based on a True Story: The film actually used the real duo behind it as the consultants for the film.
  • Beard of Evil: Alain Charnier, AKA "Frog One".
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Just like Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver, this is set in the era of "Ford to City: Drop Dead".
    • Popeye even wakes up in a bar to an ad for a brokerage firm using this trope to encourage listeners use their services to leave New York and move to Florida.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Popeye fires more than six rounds at the end when he accidentally shoots a federal officer.
  • The Casanova: Popeye, surprisingly enough.
  • Car Chase: One of the most famous in movie history. While Bullitt was the Trope Maker, this was the Trope Codifier.
  • Catch Phrase: "Ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?" Also becomes Arc Words.
  • Chained to a Bed: Cloudy walks into Popeye's apartment to find his ankle handcuffed to his bed.
  • Chronically Crashed Car: The front ends of the NYPD's 1966 Chevy Biscaynes are quite bashed up note . Justified for being five-year-old New York police cars.
    • Then there's the Pontiac LeMans Doyle commandeers from a civilian for the chase scene (see Flashed Badge Hijack below), which ends up more or less totaled by the time he's done with it.
  • Conspicuous Consumption / Suspicious Spending: What tips off Doyle and Russo about Sal and his wife Angie being involved in drug running. Despite running a diner/lounge and making about $7,000 net a year, he owns two cars, a brand new Ford LTD and a 1961 Comet note  (though the Ford is in Angie's name and the Comet is owned by his brother, a garbage yard worker), drops hundreds of dollars at high class restaurants and bars and wears very expensive suits.
  • Contrast Montage: When Doyle is staking out Charnier across the street from the fancy restaurant where he and Nicoli are dining, the sequence cuts back and forth between their lavish meal and Doyle watching outside in the cold. When Charnier samples a bottle of wine, Doyle is brought a styrofoam cup of coffee so bad he only takes one sip before emptying out the rest in disgust. When Charnier's elaborate main course arrives, Doyle is brought a single slice of pizza.
  • Cool Car: Devereaux's Lincoln Continental Mark III, which is used to bring the heroin into New York.
  • Cowboy Cop: Doyle. It doesn't work too well for him.
    • In the sequel he burns down a hotel because the villains are using it as a hideout.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cloudy Russo has his moments.
    Russo: (observing Doyle's filthy apartment) Anybody hurt in this wreck?
  • Digital Destruction: For the first Blu-ray release of the film in 2009, director William Friedkin supervised some significant changes to the film; no scenes, dialogue, characters or story elements were altered, but the color timing of the film was significantly changed to give the film a colder and more low-fi look. Cinematographer Owen Roizman and many fans were less than pleased, especially since the original version wasn't included in the Blu-ray. Comparison images can be found online for the curious, but consensus is effectively "just stick with the DVD", maybe because Real Is Brown.
  • Downer Ending: Charnier gets away, the other drug runners have their charges dropped or receive brief prison sentences, and Doyle and Russo are transferred to another department of the NYPD. And, apparently, the heroin was stolen afterwards.
  • The Dragon: Pierre Nicoli to Alain Charnier.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Nicoli casually breaking off a piece of the Marseille detective's baguette loaf to munch on after gunning him down in the opening scene.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Charnier is always polite in his conversations, and silent when evading the police. It's only when talking with Nicoli at one point, that the façade slips a little where he refers to Popeye Doyle as "that bastard".
  • Flashed Badge Hijack: Doyle pulls one of these to start the car chase scene.
    Doyle: (flags down approaching car) Hold it! (the car stops; Doyle opens the door and pulls the driver out) Police emergency! I need your car!
    Driver: (startled) When am I gonna get it back? Hey! (Doyle jumps in the car, does a U-turn, and speeds off) For Christ's sake...
  • Fruit Cart: Popeye crashes through some garbage cans during the car chase.
  • The Informant: Nicoli murders the FBI's in the opening, while Popeye and Sonny discover the shipment from theirs.
  • Instant Seduction: Popeye picks up a woman riding a bicycle. While we don't see the actual seduction, he slowly follows her on his way home, then cuts to Cloudy walking into Popeye's apartment to find a bicycle behind the door and woman's clothes on the floor, and Popeye handcuffed to his bed, by his ankle, with his own cuffs.
  • Ironic Echo: Non-verbal example. Charnier smugly waves goodbye to Doyle after eluding him on the subway; later, Charnier runs into a police roadblock after making the drop on Ward's Island and Doyle, catching his eye, waves to him in the same manner.
    • In the sequel, the Echo becomes even more ironic: Charnier managed to get away on the first film, and the second one ends with him thinking he's going to get away... and Popeye whistles to him, Charnier turns, and sees Popeye giving him the same wave as he's pointing a gun at him. Charnier only gets a split second to go Oh Crap! before Popeye shoots him dead.
  • Karma Houdini: The bad guys all either get off scot-free or have their sentences reduced. Only Devereaux (the film star turned unwitting smuggler) serves any significant prison time, and then only four years.
    • Averted with Charnier in the sequel. The moment he gets on the boat that will take him away, he believes he is going to get off clean-only to find out that Popeye chased after the boat on foot and he is now within Popeye's pistol sights. The film ends immediately after he gets shot in the chest and falls to the ocean.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: William Friedkin mentioned that Gene Hackman cringed while saying Popeye's racist language.
  • New York City Cops
  • New York Subway: About halfway through the film, Doyle pursues Charnier in a subway station. Charnier manages to lose Doyle by repeatedly boarding and alighting from a waiting train until he and Doyle are on opposite sides of the doors when they close.
    • And, of course, the Chase Scene has Nicoli trying to make his escape via an elevated line while Doyle pursues by car below.
  • Nice Hat: Popeye's porkpie hat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the sequel, Popeye is tailed by two French police officers. When he decides to lose them so he can enjoy Marseille, he gets kidnapped by Alain, who has him held prisoner for two weeks while forcibly getting him addicted to heroin, then overdoses him and pushes him out of car outside the police station. Popeye spends most of the film's remainder recovering from the overdose and addiction.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Doyle is forced to drop the investigation by his superiors. One of the traffickers tries to assassinate him. Doyle gets the investigation re-opened.
  • Nice to the Waiter: In the sequel, Doyle, despite the language barrier, chats up the bartender and has several drinks with him.
  • The Noodle Incident: Mulderig resents Doyle for a past case (which we never learn the details of) when one of his hunches got another cop killed.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used during the bus chase in the sequel.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The actual car used in the drug smuggling ring, which took place between 7 October 1961 and 24 February 1962, was a (then new) 1960 Buick Invicta, and most of the heroin was hidden in the wheel wells, which are quite large on the Invicta, as well as the rocker panels as depicted. Because of the time that passed between the books's publishing and filming, it was changed to a newer luxury car, a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, because by 1971, a French film star was more likely to buy a Lincoln than a Buick. Popeye's car was also a 1960 Chevy Corvair, changed to a '68 Ford Custom 500, because NYPD was issuing detectives Fords and cycled out the Corvairs by that point.
  • Punny Name: Cloudy Russo, based on Sonny Grosso.
  • Racing the Train: The famous Chase Scene. After the gunman hops on a BMT West End Line train, Doyle hijacks a car and chases it.
  • Real Person Cameo:
    • Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (the real-life inspirations for Popeye Doyle and Cloudy Russo) appear in the film as Simonson and Klein, respectively. Grosso found he liked acting, left the police and went to Hollywood, eventually becoming a producer.
    • The bar patrons during the fake drug bust Doyle stages to cover talking to his informant (where he finds out about the shipment) were all played by real NYPD officers.
    • Irv, the police mechanic Popeye and Cloudy help to tear apart the Lincoln was the actual NYPD fleet mechanic who helped Eagan and Grosso crack the case.
    • Because of New York Transit Authority rules forbidding unauthorised personnel from operating trains, the motorman and transit police officers were actual MTA employees.
  • Rule of Cool: The real "Popeye" Doyle (or "Popeye" Egan, rather—his name was changed for the film) thought at first that the famous image of Hackman shooting the criminal at the top of the steps was offensive since he would never actually shoot someone In the Back, but he realized later on how the moment worked on film and forgave it.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The French Alain Charnier.
  • Sequel: 1975's French Connection II, which has Doyle traveling to Marseille in pursuit of Charnier, finding himself a Fish out of Water in the French city, and being forced into heroin addiction by Charnier's henchmen. Unlike the original, the sequel's plot is entirely fictional.
    • Popeye Doyle, a 1986 Pilot Movie for a prospective TV series starring Ed O'Neill, picks up right where it leaves off.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The entire operation. An NYPD officer and Popeye's federal contact are killed in the raid, on top of the woman and two Transit officers shot by Nicoli, Charnier escaped while the other suspects received reduced or suspended sentences, the longest being four years in a federal prison, and Doyle and Cloudy are transferred out of Narcotics. And, according to the sequel, the confiscated heroin was stolen from the station afterwards.
  • Shown Their Work: The scene where a sample of the heroin is tested. Pure substances have a set boiling point, so the higher the temperature needed to boil it, the fewer impurities. For added measure, real heroin was used.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Cloudy breaks into Popeye's apartment with a credit card.
  • Spiritual Successor: 1973's The Seven-Ups, starring Roy Scheider as another New York City cop leading a special organized crime task force. It had the same producer and composer of The French Connection, Sonny Grosso as technical advisor and also had a high speed car chase. The main character is an Expy of Cloudy Russo.
  • The Stakeout: Several, most notably Doyle and Russo sitting up all night watching Devereaux's Lincoln.
  • Stop or I Will Shoot!: Doyle guns down the hitman Nicoli as he turns to flee at the El entrance, despite the fact that a) he's now unarmed, and b) Doyle couldn't have been sure the man was the same guy who'd taken a shot at him earlier, as there was little opportunity to get a clear look at his face.
  • Translation Convention: Averted, with a lot of (subtitled) French dialogue.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The end credits state the all but one of the drug dealers had their charges dropped (the one who was convicted only faced four years) and Charnier was never caught, and Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the narcotics division (in Real Life Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso were assigned to another case before being transferred).