Friday, August 15, 2014

The French Connection (Best Picture 1971)

I have no idea why The French Connection won Best Picture.

Gene Hackman plays "Popeye" Doyle, a policeman in the Vice Squad, i.e. drugs and prostitution. He and his partner, played by Roy Scheider, are trying to track down who is supplying the streests of New York with the heroin. The "catch a feeling" from two low-level sellers and wire-tap them. From this detective work they see them make a connection with two French men. They trail them because they are sure it's a deal of drugs. One of the French men tries to kill Doyle, so he chases after him, grabbing a pedestrian's car as the would-be assassin escapes in an elevated train. Doyle makes it to the station where the man gets off the train, and then shoots him as he continues to try to escape. The remaining French man parks his car in a dangerous neighborhood, and the police impound it. Doyle is sure that the heroin is hidden inside it, but even after they tear it apart they can't find anything. Finally, they put the car back together and then follow it to the major drug deal. The police manage to capture most of the locals, but the French man escapes.

And that is what happens in this film. 

I didn't notice any especially interesting scenes, although the cat-and-mouse between Hackman and The Frenchman is fun. The story is not that complex. The acting is very straight forward. Gene Hackman, who won Best Actor for this role, only really plays "angry." The scenery in actual New York City is fun. But basically this is just a very well done police melodrama.

Oh, there is that incredibly impressive extended race/chase scene, between Gene Hackman in a battered car and the elevated train. It is a great scene, very well filmed and incredibly well edited. Everyone should watch it as Exhibit A as to how to film on a real location. But is that scene why this film won Best Picture?

I don't mean to imply that The French Connection is not an entertaining piece of film-making; it is. Forty years later, however, it just doesn't seem all that. Maybe this is another example of a film that was ahead of its time, and now new audiences can't appreciate it for what it is/was. If that is the case, then, thank you, French Connection. If that isn't the case, then....

The French Connection
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1971*
Produced by Philip D'Antoni
Directed  by William Friedkin
Screenplay by Ernest Tidyman
Based on the book by Robin Moore

You can see a little bit of "the chase" in this trailer.
If you want to see more, go to youtube. That scene was
available by itself for your viewing pleasure.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
A Clockwork Orange
Fiddler On The Roof
The Last Picture Show
Nicholas and Alexandra of these other films should have won. I tried to watch A Clockwork Orange (having read the book in college) but I just couldn't get through it. The ultra-violence and the super "artiness" of Stanley Kubrick just turned me off. I read up on Nicholas and Alexandra, and it seemed like another of those "epic" films that, sorry, Sixties, I had enough of from you. The Last Picture Show was "the art" piece of the year, winning both Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman, respectively). It's a pleasant little film by director Peter Bogdanovich about life in a dying Texas town. That leaves Fiddler On The Roof, one of the greatest musicals ever made. There is no film that so successfully veers between intense happiness and intense sadness. I absolutely recommend this film, and, sorry, but I think it is a better film than The French Connection.

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