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The French Connection is considered one of best cop films ever made. Some would argue it is alone in its field. It almost seems foolish to go back thirty years to review it now. That is the beauty of DVD though, it allows us to go back, review the flick from a different viewpoint and see if it still holds up today or should quietly shuffle off to oblivion.
I was born in the year of The French Connection's release so obviously I had other things on my mind that critiquing Gene Hackman's performance as Popeye Doyle.
In the course of thirty years that has followed a lot has happened to the film industry. The Summer Blockbuster has become a way of life. Multiplexes have almost eliminated the long line up (and long run of a movie). But the most obvious one, and one always the topic of debate, concerns the new era of special effects and no longer do characters or story matter as long as the effects can carry the audience of the trailer into the theatre.
The French Connection is a great re-visit. A time when story, character and acting were all either evident or obviously missing. There is no one reason to extoll why this film works as well as it does. The acting by the leads is top-notch (and would earn Hackman a Best Actor Oscar). The style in which it is shot, a cinema verite directly lifted from a previous outing of Costa Grava's entitled 'Z'.
And then there is the car chase. Celebrated as one of the two greatest car chases ever made (Bullitt being the other) there must be a reason why this chase has yet to be topped even thirty years later. The reason soon becomes evident when listening to the commentary (see the DVD review below) but one things does strike me viewing this film once more. I miss this kind of film making. Smart, calculated, and completely professional from individuals at the top of their craft at the time without worrying about the merchandising tie-ins.
Copyright© Written By: Rob Paul
Scene Specific Commentary by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider
Director's Commentary by William Friedkin
Original Theatrical Trailer
Making The Connection: The Untold Stories Behind-The-Scenes Documentary
"Poughkeepsie Shuffle" BBC Documentary
Deleted Scenes Documentary Hosted by William Friedkin (Contains 7 Deleted Scenes)
Trailers (The French Connection & French Connection II)
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1 [CC]
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Mono [CC]
FRENCH: Dolby Digital Mono
The DVD Review:
First off, the commentary by Friedkin reveals two things. One, he's a bit of a jerk, though it may be argued that goes with the territory of directing. It may be argued but doesn't make him any less of a jerk. Secondly it shows he has a sharp memory with this concise and completely absorbing commentary. He also takes the time to point out a few of the smaller details one might not have picked up on even after several viewings.
A second commentary exists, in a way. It seems as if there are two interviews, one with Hackman and one with Scheider placed on a third audio track. These interviews, while interesting leave one thing to be desired. The material both men are discussing never match the visuals of what appear on screen.
Another perk, the print of The French Connection looks better than I have ever seen it.
The 7 Deleted Scenes.
1. Tailing The Frog: A scene where Popeye discuss Charnier with the clerk of the Westbury...when watching the movie one can feel that the scene should be extended and it is here. A scene that could easily have stayed in the final cut and wouldn't the poor clerk who lost all his screen time be happy about that.
2. Whip-Girl: The hit-man gets a beating from a semi-naked prostitute. This was out of left field and fortunately cut as the scene borders on exploitation film making, not cinema verite.
3. Mutchie's Bar: Just another scene exploring Popeye's obsession with the case as he doodles the subjects names on a bunch of coasters.
4. Mutchie's Bar Part 2: Popeye wakes up at the bar and makes breakfast for the owner Mutchie while they discuss burning the place for insurance purposes. While interesting, inevitably a tangent to the movie itself.
5. Girl on a Bicycle: Popeye toys with and then arrests a girl riding on a bike. An extension of an existing scene and while it does establish Popeye's lifestyle more it makes him actually come off a bit more predatory than one might have expected.
6. Streetwalker: Another character establishing scene for Popeye, but completely unnecessary at this point in the film.
7. Hector: Another interesting scene in which Doyle is sitting in a donut shop having a coffee when he frisks a cleaner he calls Hector and takes a switchblade from him. Hector defends his decision to carry it as he would 'rather be caught with it than without it.'. Popeye surprisingly hands him back the blade as he agrees with the man's judgment.
The double disc set also includes a trio of documentaries. One of which is director Friedkin discussing the aforementioned cut scenes and why they were cut. This one is almost a waste of time because after viewing them for the most part one can see why they were cut.
Another documentary: A BBC outing called The Poughkeepsie Shuffle traces the characters of The French Connection, features interviews with Popeye's partner Sonny Grosso (played by Roy Scheider) and lets one know a lot more about the details of the case and the man known as Popeye - Eddie Eagin. The one annoying thing about this documentary is how much I loathed listening to Friedkin during it. He essentially takes credit for everything as the documentary roles on but at least the time is taken to show some different view points proving some of Friedkin's claims wrong.
Also a thumbs up to the other documentary; Making The Connection: The Untold Stories. A great look at how the film was made and showing that sometimes no one really knows if something is going to work, fail or become a film classic.
Finally, I mentioned in the review of film I would discuss the car chase sequence. This is one sequence worth checking out with the commentary as they let you in on how this was done, the insane risks involved (including Gene Hackman driving the car through a busy New York street at 90 without professional stunt men alongside him) and how they cheated the audience of nothing. Perhaps the reason a car chase like this doesn't happen anymore is, this was not a car chase, this was film of an experiment. What with lawsuits being what they are today I would be amazed if a director came out of the ranks to attempt something so foolish today.
All in all, this is a nine out of ten. I would have given it a ten but I just came away from the disc disliking Friedkin so much but would add this to my collection and cheerfully watch it once a year.