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JulyDiaz

The French Connection

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This week Paul & Amy hit the streets for 1971's The French Connection! They discuss whether Popeye Doyle is actually a hero, what went sideways during that incredible chase scene, and who the real-life inspirations for Doyle & Russo were. Plus: an interview with cop-turned-actor Brian Danker about what French Connection gets right and wrong about police work.

 

Tell us your hot take about next week's film, Titanic, by calling the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts.

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Great ep. The score in its entirety is pretty cool, but Friedkin only used about 25% of the music that was recorded, deciding instead to let a lot of the scenes stand on their own. The composer, Don Ellis, showcased many of the devices he used in his own working LA band: odd time signatures, Eastern scales, electronic advancements of the day, etc. Friedkin excised mostly the arguably conventional cues, leaving in stuff like that crazy main title (in which the entire trumpet section uses special 4-valved horns that play quarter tones) and 7/4 "subway" cue that became known as the Theme from the French Connection -- as well as chopping up and reusing cues at his discretion.

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Oh, and Mad Magazine played up the many loose ends that Paul and Amy mention in the pod by calling their satire of the movie "What's the Connection?"

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In my opinion this is the best film to feature so far. Would be ranked number one for me.

 

I am a bit surprised that no-one mentioned that Eddie Egan is actually in the film - he plays Russo & Doyle's boss.

 

Also, Paul is wrong about the car chase. Friedkin wasn't driving the car during the really dangerous stuff, that was a guy called Bill Hickman. Friedkin filmed him for the POV stuff from the back-seat and according to the documentaries I've seen he practically dared Hickman to do it. Friedkin is many things but he's not a professional stunt-driver.

 

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I was slightly mixed on this movie. A lot of it was amazing but I also felt like it was somewhat superficial, if that makes sense. Like I was constantly just watching exposition. I dunno. I feel like I might need to watch it again!

 

I did love the music (and the often lack of it). Also it did have impressive focus - there was no side plots or character background or anything deep at all. I can’t quite decide if this is good or bad.

 

Also I took the ending as pretty ambiguous; was I the only one? What was that final gunshot?

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Going into this film (and 80% of AFI's Top 100) knowing very little in advance, I had no idea that:

 

1. The French Connection was largely based on a true story.

2. The car chase scene was considered groundbreaking for its time.

3. It cleaned up at the Oscars.

 

Absent any of that context, I found the movie tedious and anticlimactic, and I echoed a lot of the sentiments Amy expressed. Is this supposed to represent skilled police work? Are we supposed to be rooting for the detectives? Are we expected to sign off on brutality and racism and incidental murder because that's what it takes to get (read: stumble backwards into) justice out in these Mean Streets™? And, since it is based on a true story, is Friedkin trying to excuse those excesses in the real world?

 

Between The French Connection and the widespread opinion that Swing Time isn't even the best Fred & Ginger film, I'm starting to question the AFI's bona fides.

 

Also, after you've watched the real single-take

, even the car chase in The French Connection seems anticlimactic.
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Also, after you've watched the real single-take

, even the car chase in The French Connection seems anticlimactic.

 

I watched about a minute of that before becoming quite bored. Technically it's impressive but it lacks context and urgency as it's basically just a joy-ride. For me the footage in The French connection is more impressive because it's woven into a sequence that involves drama and suspense and genuine peril. Obviously Hickman and Friedkin weren't going as fast but they were speeding down a much narrower and more heavily congested road. Seemed much more dangerous as it were.

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The movie feels very shambling as a narrative, but the ending (even with the tacked-on stuff) helps tie it together as a statement about the futility of the drug war.

 

I enjoyed it. The centerpiece chase sequences are great. It doesn't deserve to be on the list over The Exorcist. Or Z.

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Great ep. The score in its entirety is pretty cool, but Friedkin only used about 25% of the music that was recorded, deciding instead to let a lot of the scenes stand on their own. The composer, Don Ellis, showcased many of the devices he used in his own working LA band: odd time signatures, Eastern scales, electronic advancements of the day, etc. Friedkin excised mostly the arguably conventional cues, leaving in stuff like that crazy main title (in which the entire trumpet section uses special 4-valved horns that play quarter tones) and 7/4 "subway" cue that became known as the Theme from the French Connection -- as well as chopping up and reusing cues at his discretion.

As a bassist, I definitely appreciate the avant garde double bass-heavy score ... very eerie and tense, very effective.

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Going into this film (and 80% of AFI's Top 100) knowing very little in advance, I had no idea that:

 

1. The French Connection was largely based on a true story.

2. The car chase scene was considered groundbreaking for its time.

3. It cleaned up at the Oscars.

 

Absent any of that context, I found the movie tedious and anticlimactic, and I echoed a lot of the sentiments Amy expressed. Is this supposed to represent skilled police work? Are we supposed to be rooting for the detectives? Are we expected to sign off on brutality and racism and incidental murder because that's what it takes to get (read: stumble backwards into) justice out in these Mean Streets™? And, since it is based on a true story, is Friedkin trying to excuse those excesses in the real world?

 

Between The French Connection and the widespread opinion that Swing Time isn't even the best Fred & Ginger film, I'm starting to question the AFI's bona fides.

 

Also, after you've watched the real single-take

, even the car chase in The French Connection seems anticlimactic.

 

I'm not sure Friedkin siding with our against the protagonists of French Connection. Knowing he was coming right off documentaries (which was news to me), I wonder how much was him wanting to document this type of person/situation over judging them.

 

The movie feels very shambling as a narrative, but the ending (even with the tacked-on stuff) helps tie it together as a statement about the futility of the drug war.

 

I enjoyed it. The centerpiece chase sequences are great. It doesn't deserve to be on the list over The Exorcist. Or Z.

I'd certainly put French Connection in over The Exorcist. Z wouldn't qualify because it isn't American.

 

Going back to Friedkin as a documentation, I think he's trying to present, to an extent, that cases aren't all exciting. Sometimes cases are long stretches of just working them. I'm kind of speculating here as I don't have any evidence to support this.

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Z wouldn't qualify because it isn't American.

 

Right, duh. Sometimes we type before thinking.

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Right, duh. Sometimes we type before thinking.

The official list included foreign films until the 2007 update. I think you're good.

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The official list included foreign films until the 2007 update. I think you're good.

 

Yes, but nothing entirely in a foreign language like Z.

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Can you imagine having to carry a little knife around with you in case you see some sea creature on the ground and you wanna eat it? If anyone know what Charnier was eating, please let me know.

 

Did anyone else think there was a lot of eating in this movie? The film opens with the undercover cop eating some sort of pastry. When he gets killed, the hit man takes the croûton! Geez, some respect for the dead please. And my favorite was the little scene at the Copain, which seemed like a high end restaurant, where the Frenchies enjoy 2 plates of escargot (but of course). Popeye keeps an eye on them while eating a slice of pizza himself.

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I have two big, somewhat conflicting thoughts on this movie:

 

1. First, with regards to the question of whether The French Connection deserves to be on the Top 100 list, my main thought about why it shouldn't is that ... well, it's just a cop movie. Why on earth would a run-of-the-mill cop flick attain such high regard?

 

I will say, however, that this is one of the best cop movies I've ever seen. It boils down to "verisimilitude." I've been raised on over-the-top franchises that feature plot details and action that can border on the completely absurd. TFC, on the other hand, is understated while still maintaining a thrill. This is partly due to the true story it's based on, but also on the guerrilla-style cinematography and proto-mumblecore style acting (mumblecore except everyone is shouting). There are just so many action flicks where you can see both the template established by TFC and the lack of restraint in following that template -- hyper-stylish, sleekly edited, ultra-violence, and restrictive, quippy dialogue. Paul and Amy talked a lot about how part of what makes Citizen Kane so highly lauded is the legacy and impact made upon the industry, and so I might understand revering the godfather of action flicks. In this regard, I really enjoyed the movie and appreciate it, and knowing that they didn't have permission to do any of it made me enjoy it even more.

 

2. That said, you're telling me that there is nothing, nothing, in the oeuvre of American films that is more culturally significant or worthy of esteem than a movie about a racist cop and French heroin smugglers? There are only 92 films that tell the story of America better than this one?

 

The AFI Top 100 has some truly all-time great films, but the inclusion of films like this (also Swing Time and maybe even Ben-Hur, for that matter) make it sound like a list made by wistful 50-year-old WASPs getting stoned together for the first time since high school. I get that the industry looked like what it looked like for quite some time, but the list features only two men of color and zero women. The industry looks a good bit different now and is changing rapidly ... something tells me that this list will look quite different in 10-20 years, and I'm not sure that this one will last.

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In a way it's a shame that this film was followed up with FRENCH CONNECTION II, adding punctuation to a story that seemed to intentionally end with a frustratingly unsatisfying ellipsis, however while I'd agree that the film is rather unnecessary and doesn't quite fit in conjunction with the first, it does provide a pretty outstanding performance from Gene Hackman. In fact, I kind of prefer him in the sequel than to the original film. It's a tough role and he manages to play addiction and withdrawal in a way that feels authentic and painful.

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As a bassist, I definitely appreciate the avant garde double bass-heavy score ... very eerie and tense, very effective.

 

Ellis's mid-1960s band featured three double bassists. He'd nixed them for a single electric bass by 1971, but there are definitely echoes of that earlier band in this score.

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I hadn't seen a moment of this film before this week, so thanks to Unspooled for the motivation to watch. I knew about Popeye and his porkpie hat (the only WORSE undercover headgear might be a silk top-hat, I mean honestly) and knew there was a big car chase scene but for some reason in my mind I thought it was the hill jumping chase from 'Bullitt'. I'm glad it wasn't - the subway chase was thrilling and a wonderful surprise for me. What I loved about this was that it was so unfocused in terms of dialogue. So much of this film would be trimmed and edited for redundancies today, but there is so much that happens that isn't necessary to the plot - and the tailing scenes are way longer than you'd ever see now - that it feels like the real slog of policing. Following a hunch but having no idea if it will work out. Nowadays buddy cop movies are all about the miracle policing where they jump from clue to clue without a chance to pause. I loved that the jubilation they express after getting a lead from the wiretap felt earned. I also seriously love movies that show us the grime and state of New York City in the '70s. As someone who never visited NYC until 1999, I have never personally seen the seedy side of things, so I lap up movies like 'The Taking of Pelham 123', 'Dog Day Afternoon', 'Taxi Driver', and the like. There's a brilliant comparison site that I enjoyed looking through, that showed the locations then and now: http://www.scoutingny.com/french-connection-filming-locations/

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One other thing: I was a little sad that the observations and contributions from this forum on 'Swing Time' weren't mentioned, but polls on Twitter were a big part of the conversation. As someone who doesn't use Twitter, I missed that completely! Is the plan that Twitter is going to be the place to post about Unspooled, or will this forum also be incorporated sometimes? After seeing both Paul and Amy drop in last week I thought that there might be some interaction (and I know it's tough with a 60 minute podcast to fit everything in), but I would like to think that if Twitter poll questions were asked in this forum, you'd get plenty of feedback and contributions! Many of us in here are used to the HDTGM model so you know there'll be material worth using. If nothing else, if anyone sees a Twitter poll, link it in here, maybe.

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Not entirely French Connection related but I think they hit upon a very valid point about the movies in the top 100 list having a bit of an inherit genre and age bias involved. The list is mostly dramas and often just takes a sample of non-drama genres. Take horror for example. One of the oldest film genres and so many movies made in that genre to choose from. Yet there are, depending on your definition of horror, four horror films on the list (Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, Jaws and Psycho.) If you were to consult any horror movie fan, expert or critic they most likely wouldn't have these as their top four. Friedkin's The Exorcist is often cited in numerous top lists of greatest horror films ever made and yet it is nowhere to be found in the top 100. It just seems odd that you have a well made film like The Exorcist that is considered a classic and one of the best of its genre and it is no where to be seen in a list of 100 best movies. Fun fact, the closest the AFI came to ranking horror was a list of "best thrills" to which The Exorcist came in third behind Psycho and Jaws while the Sixth Sense came in 60th. However this doesn't just apply to horror it extends to other genres as well. Comedy is probably the second biggest genre represented by number of entries on the list but when you look at the ones included it seems a little odd. The average year of the comedies on the list is in the early 1959 which is offset solely because of the only comedies from 1970 and beyond are MASH, Annie Hall and Tootsie. Comedy specifically is something that is very generational. This goes to the point they were making about the age of the AFI members putting this list together. A lot of these are probably on here because of the age of the people putting it together and the movies that came out in their formative times. Bringing back to The French Connection, Amy and Paul seem to think that it was included in the list for what it did for "the cop genre" or "crime genre" more so than quality of film which could very well be the case. The AFI seems to put a lot of one off type genre films that are notable for the genre they are in more so than top 100 worthy which is kinda what we saw with Swing Time. They wanted a classic musical, Ginger and Fred were classic, let's pick this one. Done, next.

 

All that said I did enjoy The French Connection. Top 100 worthy? Not sure, but I did enjoy it more Swing Time and Ben-Hur. Well, if Ben-Hur dropped the leper stuff I'd put it above The French Connection maybe.

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Can you imagine having to carry a little knife around with you in case you see some sea creature on the ground and you wanna eat it? If anyone know what Charnier was eating, please let me know.

It was an oyster, commonly found lying in piles in French puddles.

 

And my favorite was the little scene at the Copain, which seemed like a high end restaurant, where the Frenchies enjoy 2 plates of escargot (but of course). Popeye keeps an eye on them while eating a slice of pizza himself.

Also, the key to any stakeout is to make a big production out of dumping a cup of soup onto the sidewalk while standing in your suspect's eyeline. Only a brilliant criminal mind like Charnier could detect such cunning!

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I keep posting about movies before there's a thread about them. So I'll repeat that I love Gene Hackman with a fiery passion. He's always interesting to watch and makes movies better. And we will get to see him even younger when we get to Bonnie & Clyde.

 

I love the French Connection for all its imperfections.

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Comedy is probably the second biggest genre represented by number of entries on the list but when you look at the ones included it seems a little odd. The average year of the comedies on the list is in the early 1959 which is offset solely because of the only comedies from 1970 and beyond are MASH, Annie Hall and Tootsie. Comedy specifically is something that is very generational. This goes to the point they were making about the age of the AFI members putting this list together. A lot of these are probably on here because of the age of the people putting it together and the movies that came out in their formative times. Bringing back to The French Connection, Amy and Paul seem to think that it was included in the list for what it did for "the cop genre" or "crime genre" more so than quality of film which could very well be the case. The AFI seems to put a lot of one off type genre films that are notable for the genre they are in more so than top 100 worthy which is kinda what we saw with Swing Time. They wanted a classic musical, Ginger and Fred were classic, let's pick this one. Done, next.

 

 

I don't know what counts as a comedy. Some of the old ones are straight up comedies and some are in a gray area. Brilliant directors probably used to be more apt to make a straight up comedy? I think it would be tough to add modern comedies to the list. I believe There's Something About Mary is a perfect movie, and I've argued that with friends for years but never found anyone who agrees with me. Comedies are really, really hard to get right. There are so many that I enjoy 3/4ths of but then they fall apart (for me). The thing is there are so many ones from the early days that are not on the list. Bringing Up Baby has been one of my all time favorite movies for all of my adult life but you could have picked dozens of others. I am just terrible at scanning that list and seeing what I'm looking for, but I think the only Jean Arthur movie may be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? No Jean Arthur comedy?

 

You're right about them trying to pick one sample for directors or a series, which makes sense (except for people like Spielberg who get many). So we get Sullivan's Travels for Preston Sturges instead of movies I like better like the unsung Easy Living.

 

I can get snotty about movies but frankly there are many of my all time favorite movies on the list, and most are from the 1930s and 1970s. And there are so many I love that couldn't make the list and I understand why but it's just so hard to make any kind of list!!!! :(

 

P.S. my favorite genre is what a movie book once called "fast talking dames."

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Oh, and I was thrilled to find out that Amy liked the Gay Divorcee!!!! That F&G movie had the full cadre of supporting actors doing their stuff. And The Continental won the first Oscar for best song. :P

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