Follow TV Tropes


Film / The French Connection

Go To
"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 is a 1971 American crime thriller film directed by William Friedkin, written by Ernest Tidyman and produced by Phillip D'Antoni. It's the tale of NYPD detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner, Buddy "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 1970s Hollywood cinema, based on the true story of the two cops who stopped the drug trafficking between France and the US, the film was a huge success, both financially and critically. It also won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Friedkin), and Best Actor (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. There was one true sequel, the entirely fictional French Connection II (1975), 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.
  • Anti-Climax: The death of Charnier at the very, very end of the sequel. This being The '70s, when Doyle catches up with the Frenchman — after being humiliated and tortured for two long films — he calls out his name and shoots him. Twice. Cut to credits. It takes all of four seconds.
  • Anti-Hero: Popeye Doyle, full stop.
  • 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.
  • Arch-Enemy: Alain Charnier to Popeye Doyle.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: After Russo's been stabbed, Popeye Doyle wants to run the suspect in for that, for drug possession, "and for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie!"
  • 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.
  • Ax-Crazy: Pierre Nicoli, Charnier's hitman who attempts to kill Doyle.
  • 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: Worn by Charnier.
  • Big Bad: 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 a commercial 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. Also his revolver changes from a Colt Detective Special to a S&W Model 36 (which only holds five rounds).
  • Brooklyn Rage: The French heroin ring is running all smooth and flawless, until a couple of NYPD narcs decide to wreck their shit.
  • 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.
    • The sequel, meanwhile, climaxes with a chase on foot that's pretty epic in its own right.
    • Prior permission for filming the car chase sequence wasn't obtained, which meant that the panicked reactions from passers-by were genuine.
  • Catchphrase: "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.
  • 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.
  • Corpsing: In-Universe. When Doyle goes into his "picking your feet in Poughkeepsie" schtick, Russo has to turn away from the suspect to hide his grin.
  • 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.
  • Darkened Building Shoot Out: The climax features one of these.
  • Deadfoot Leadfoot: Coke, the El train driver, passes out during the chase (likely having suffered a fatal heart attack or stroke), causing the train to speed up.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cloudy Russo has his moments.
    Russo: (observing Doyle's filthy apartment) Anybody hurt in this wreck?
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Doesn't make a big deal out of it, but little holiday elements like Popeye undercover as a sidewalk Santa Claus, store windows loaded with Christmas decorations, and the bitter winter cold continually pop up.
  • 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 it 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.
  • Driving a Desk: Averted. The car chase was shot entirely on location and mostly in one take. There were even a few unscripted collisions with other vehicles.
  • The Dragon: Pierre Nicoli to Alain Charnier.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Nicoli casually breaks 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, and 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...
  • Forced Addiction: In the sequel, "Popeye"travels to France to try to track down Charnier, but is captured by Charnier's men. They repeatedly shoot him up with heroin to get him addicted and mess with his head while they're interrogating him, then give him an overdose and dump him at the Marseilles police station when it's clear that he can't tell them anything. Doyle barely survives and goes through a grueling withdrawal, but eventually recovers.
  • Fruit Cart: Doyle crashes through some garbage cans during the car chase.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Doyle and Russo use this on the dealer they chase down at the start of the film.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: The film goes to some trouble to avert this by showing how a real-life tail should be conducted. (Even so, Doyle is recognized and successfully evaded by Charnier on the subway.)
  • The Informant: Doyle and Russo learn about the planned heroin shipment from theirs.
  • Instant Seduction: Popeye picks up a woman riding a bicycle. While we're not shown the actual seduction, he slowly follows her on his way home, then it cuts to Cloudy walking into Popeye's apartment to find the bicycle behind the door and woman's clothes on the floor, and Popeye handcuffed to his bed, by his ankle, with his own cuffs.
  • In the Back: Popeye Doyle kills Pierre Nicoli this way. The real Popeye objected to this portrayal at first but eventually learned to accept it under the Rule of Cool.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: During the surveillance, the detectives note that Nicoli had a hooker sent up to his hotel room. Mulderig cracks, "We could've collared him right there." It's a sarcastic put-down of Doyle and Russo, but Mulderig's suggestion most likely would have worked. If the police had arrested Nicoli for soliciting a prostitute, they could have quietly sent him back to France with a "suggestion" that he never come back. Charnier would have certainly gotten scared and bolted. It wouldn't be flashy, and the police and the FBI wouldn't have a collar, but they would have blocked off a major drug supplier. They would have been better off than dealing with the clusterfuck that did ensue.
  • Karma Houdini: Aside from Sal getting shot dead during the climactic bust, all the bad guys 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Zig-zagged at the end. After Doyle accidentally shoots and kills Mulderig, Doyle shows no remorse whatsoever; he reloads his gun and goes right back on the chase. Russo, on the other hand, is horrified, and he clearly realizes that they've screwed the pooch royally.
  • 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 Marseilles, he gets kidnapped by Alain, who holds 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.
    • In the sequel, after turning Doyle into a heroin addict and overdosing him, Charnier's men dump him still alive at the Marseilles police station instead of finishing him off. The case resumes after Doyle endures a harrowing recovery.
  • Nice to the Waiter: In the sequel, Doyle, despite the language barrier, chats up the bartender and has several drinks with him.
  • 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.
  • Odessa Steps: Two moments: a mother pushing a baby carriage being shot and so releasing it, plus a shoot-out down a staircase.
  • Police Brutality: Oh man. Someone sensitive to this topic would have a stroke watching some of the arrest and shakedown scenes in this movie.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Popeye freely uses racial slurs for African-Americans and Latinos, and doesn't particularly respect women. It greatly adds to the morally ambiguous feel of the film, even when taking Values Dissonance into account.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used during the bus chase in the sequel.
  • 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.
    • Due to Metropolitan Transit Authority rules forbidding unauthorized personnel from operating subway trains, the motorman and transit police officers were actual MTA employees.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Simonson, Doyle and Russo's captain, grumbles about the trouble Popeye is giving him, but he also gets the warrants they need for a wiretap. His gripes about Doyle's Cowboy Cop antics are correct, and even when his decisions are wrong (notably pulling Doyle and Russo off the case just before Nicoli tries to pull a hit on him), he can give valid arguments for all of them.
  • Re-Cut: William Friedkin re-worked the film for its Blu Ray release by putting the film through a digital intermediate and tinting the colors to blue to create a more neo-noir look. Fans of the film were not pleased.
  • 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.
  • Self-Demonstrating Song: Popeye goes into a nightclub where a girl group is singing a song called "Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon", which is actually original to the French Connection soundtrack. Here are some of the lyrics in the chorus:
    Everybody's going to the moon
    Everybody's going, it'll be quite soon
    It's customary in songs like this
    to use a word like spoon...
    You know everybody's going to the moon
    • The next time the chorus comes around the song uses "June" instead of "spoon".
  • Sequel: 1975's French Connection II, which has Doyle traveling to Marseilles 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.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: French Connection II has Popeye Doyle in France.
  • "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.
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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.
  • Signature Headgear: Popeye's porkpie hat.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Cloudy breaks into Popeye's apartment with a credit card.
  • The Sociopath: Pierre Nicoli is a ruthless assassin with no qualms about murdering civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A Deleted Scene has him shorting a prostitute, than violently assaulting her when she confronts him.
  • 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.
  • 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, drops hundreds of dollars at high class restaurants and bars and wears very expensive suits.
  • Train Escape: A subway variant occurs, ending with Charnier waving goodbye to Popeye.
  • Translation Convention: Averted, with a lot of (subtitled) French dialogue.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Popeye Doyle is The Shield's Vic Mackey before Vic Mackey goes against the books, quick to jump the leash, and at least a little bigoted. And what happens when he goes in guns blazing in the final Darkened Building Shootout? He kills a police contact, providing enough chaos for the kingpin to get away, and a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue explains that he ended up getting transferred out of Narcotics for the clusterfuck.
  • "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).