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The French Connection


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#1 July Diaz

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Posted 13 June 2018 - 10:08 PM

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.

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#2 Crummy Scrimmage

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:34 AM

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.

#3 Crummy Scrimmage

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:36 AM

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?"

#4 StreetBloke76

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 10:47 AM

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.



#5 AlmostAGhost

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 11:48 AM

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?

#6 Dan Engler

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 12:01 PM

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 C'était un rendez-vous, even the car chase in The French Connection seems anticlimactic.
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#7 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:05 PM



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#8 StreetBloke76

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:12 PM

View PostDan Engler, on 14 June 2018 - 12:01 PM, said:

Also, after you've watched the real single-take C'était un rendez-vous, 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.

#9 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:14 PM

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.

#10 The Triple Lindy

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:18 PM

View PostCrummy Scrimmage, on 14 June 2018 - 08:34 AM, said:

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.

#11 grudlian.

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:46 PM

View PostDan Engler, on 14 June 2018 - 12:01 PM, said:

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 C'était un rendez-vous, 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.

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 14 June 2018 - 01:14 PM, said:

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.

#12 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:55 PM

View Postgrudlian., on 14 June 2018 - 01:46 PM, said:

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


Right, duh. Sometimes we type before thinking.

#13 grudlian.

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 03:16 PM

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 14 June 2018 - 01:55 PM, said:


Right, duh. Sometimes we type before thinking.

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

#14 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:42 PM

View Postgrudlian., on 14 June 2018 - 03:16 PM, said:

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.

#15 tomspanks

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:04 PM

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.

#16 The Triple Lindy

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:17 PM

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.

#17 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 09:43 PM

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.

#18 Crummy Scrimmage

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Posted 15 June 2018 - 04:47 AM

View PostThe Triple Lindy, on 14 June 2018 - 01:18 PM, said:

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.

#19 CakeBug Tranch

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Posted 15 June 2018 - 07:15 AM

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.scoutingn...ming-locations/
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#20 CakeBug Tranch

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Posted 15 June 2018 - 07:19 AM

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.
Cru: "God, what I wouldn't give to go ass-sliding with you right now." - Smooth Operator, Rad

Irene Molloy: "Do get done with [eating] that [banana], Minnie. The men are eyeing us for the wrong reasons." #spittake, Hello, Dolly!

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