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20th Century Fox presents
The French Connection (1971)

"I'm gonna bust your ass for those three bags, and I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie."
- Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 17, 2001

Stars: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider
Other Stars: Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frederic de Pasquale
Director: William Friedkin

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence, drug use, brief nudity, sadomasochism)
Run Time: 01h:43m:42s
Release Date: September 25, 2001
UPC: 024543020653
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B+ B

DVD Review

Some movies are epochal in a number of ways. The French Connection is one of those. It not only launched Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as stars, but William Friedkin as a major director. It also marked a dividing line in Hollywood's presentation of the cop movie. Whereas there had been bad cops on film before, they never had been the heroes previously in a major Hollywood picture. This moral ambiguity echoed the conflict over the Vietnam War and the turmoil of the 1960s.

Based on a true story, the film centers on a pair of New York City narcotics detectives, Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle (Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Scheider). They get word that a major shipment of heroin is coming in from France, and the picture follows them as they try to crack the case. Popeye relies on strongarm and explicitly racist tactics to get his information, barely restrained by his partner. In contrast is the dapper and debonair smuggler, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). Prominently featured is one of the great cinematic chase scenes of all time, as Doyle, by car, pursues Charnier's hitman, Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) on a hijacked elevated train.

Hackman turns in a tour de force performance as Doyle, an obsessive cop with little regard for niceties such as constitutional or civil rights. There is an intense boozy fury in him that makes the character utterly believable, especially as he uses deranged non sequitur (the infamous "Do you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?" line being the most memorable) to confuse and disorient his suspects. Scheider does a good job as well as the partner devoted to Doyle and readily plays good cop to Doyle's bad cop. Rey is first rate as the cultured smuggler, mildly amused at the obvious and pathetic efforts of the oafish Doyle to corner him. Marcel Bozzuffi as the hitman is suitably creepy, like a proto-John Malkovich. It is Bozzuffi who is the iconic character prominently featured in the unforgettable advertising and posters for the film. Tony Lo Bianco is decent as the American go-between for Charnier and the money men. The real-life cops who are the models for Doyle and Russo, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, also have significant roles and carry them off admirably.

Where this picture really had its influence was the cinematic techniques it used. Friedkin's background was in documentary filmmaking, and he brought that same style to bear here. The picture is grainy, gritty and there's plenty of handheld shots to give us a 'you are there' feeling. Most notably, Friedkin would rehearse the scene without the cameraman, so that the operator would have to guess where the actors would move, as if it were being captured live. This procedure was heightened by seldom doing a second take of any scene. This is quite astonishing considering how many very long takes there are in this picture; often the camera will track the action for a very long time indeed without a single cut, despite a great deal of movement on the streets of New York. Friedkin's technique for making a picture look like real life was a major factor in his being awarded the plum job of directing The Exorcist in 1973.

The movie is in essence a police procedural. Much of the time is spent watching the police, bored to tears, waiting for something to happen. Of course, the targets know they're being watched, so this turns into an elaborate cat and mouse game. At times, the smugglers are even tormenting the police, eating fine dinners in a warm restaurant, flaunting themselves in the window, while Doyle and Russo stand outside in the freezing cold, eating stale pizza and drinking bad coffee. But that's okay with Doyle, who essentially has no personal life other than the young women he manages to pick up by threatening to arrest them. Particularly notable are the conflicts between the New York narcotics agents and the federal group, which doesn't much like Doyle or trust him. And with good reason, for he had previously managed to get one of their men killed, and before the picture's over he will blithely kill another one in his obsessive pursuit.

Not only was the pursuit obsessive, but so was the making of the picture. Shot almost entirely on location, the realism of the streets is palpable. Astonishingly, much of the chase sequence was shot in live traffic, without controls or any warning to the civilians standing about. In his commentary, Friedkin is fairly horrified at himself for what he was doing, but it all feeds into the single-minded obsession.

And that's what the central focus of the movie is: obsession. In a way, it's a New York Moby Dick, with Hackman as a street-bound Captain Ahab. Intense and thought-provoking, French Connection is one of the landmark pictures of the 1970s.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is quite good. The film is meant to be grainy and gritty looking, and it is properly presented here. This isn't a shiny Hollywood blockbuster. Colors are natural looking, and blacks are very good to excellent. Much of the film is very dark, but I noted very little in the way of compression artifacts. Detail is quite good for the most part. Hardly any speckling or frame damage is visible. This is as good as this picture is likely to ever look.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both a 5.1 and a 2.0 Dolby Surround English track are provided, as is a French 2.0 track. The sound is quite good on all three, with no hiss and minimal noise that may be attributable to background sounds. Don Ellis' jarring and discordant jazz score comes through quite well. The music and traffic noises are about the only use that the surrounds get. I didn't notice any significant LFE activity on the 5.1 track. The 5.1 track feels fairly redundant.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring French Connection II
7 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director William Friedkin, stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:02s

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery
Extras Review: As is usual for Fox's Five Star series, the extras are loaded onto the disc. In addition to the film, disc one contains a full length commentary by Friedkin. He persists in his annoying habit of narrating the film here. However, that's not entirely a bad thing in this case, since he does explain a number of scenes that struck me as fairly cryptic on first viewing, such as the unexplained emphasis on a straw hat. He does go into a goodly amount of detail regarding the casting (which was mostly accidental) and making of the film. A highlight is the discussion of the chase sequence. However, the overall grade is brought down by the narration of what we can already see on the screen. A second commentary track is rather a cheat: it is not a screen-specific commentary with Hackman and Scheider, but rather edited interviews that last about 20 minutes each, that run against the backdrop of the film. The menu does give the viewer the option to go directly to their comments.

More interesting is the content on the second disc. The highlight here is a pair of nearly hour-long documentaries about the picture. One is a BBC program from 2000, and the other is a making-of produced in 2001 for Fox Movie Channel. They do have some overlap, however, and they also repeat material from the commentaries, so the content isn't quite as vast as one might think. Both documentaries are, however, very well done.

Seven deleted scenes are provided that give more character background for Doyle and Nicoli. These can be played separately, altogether, or with commentary from Friedkin. While not earth-shaking, they do provide an interesting glimpse at more facets of these characters. Wrapping up the package are several trailers and a set of about 120 stills, most of which are black and white. The original poster art is also included in this section.

Due to the duplication and the tedious nature of much of Friedkin's commentary, the grade is not as high as one might have thought.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Fox gives French Connection, one of the most notable Best Picture Oscar® winners, a first-rate presentation with a very good transfer. Though the extras are plentiful, they also tend to be duplicative, and the commentaries are on the disappointing side. Still, a very good package.

 


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