AFI 100: The French Connection

The French Connection wasn’t next in the AFI queue, but, earlier today when I heard that Roy Scheider had died, I decided to watch it anyway to honor the man.

A thoroughly entertaining film, but I’m a bit mystified as to how it wound up with the 1971 “Motion Picture of the Year” Oscar, but less inclusion (albeit just barely) on the AFI 100 list. Apparently it is famous for its “renowned car chase scene” (as the back of the DVD calls it), but it was bound to have at least one given that 50% of this movie involves one person following another. Seriously: there are cops stealthily tailing suspects on foot, cops running full-bore after suspects, cops slowly trolling behind suspects by vehicle, cops barreling after suspects at breakneck speeds, etc. At one point in the film there are two chases going on simultaneously: a security guard saunters after a suspect inside an elevated train, and, at street level, Gene Hackman races after the train in his automobile. It’s, like, they had so many chases slated for the film that they had to start scheduling them concurrently.

Anyway, none of this detracted from my enjoyment of the movie. I’m a sucker for 70′s-era stories set in inner-city America (see also: Rocky), and The French Connection illustrates why: the combination of grainy film-stock, openness about racial tensions, and devotion to method acting make them seem more authentic–even when they are big-budget and largely preposterous thrillers such as this one. 8/10, and RIP Roy Scheider.

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16 comments.

  1. The chase scene gets additional love for being filmed (at least in part) without permission. When Popeye almost hits the lady with a baby carriage, it’s no stunt woman. So many great 70s crime films; The Taking of Pelham 123 is a great one.

  2. I also think The French Connection is one of those movies admired by critics because of how much it influenced every movie with a chase scene made afterwards. In the commentary for The Bourne Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass says it was a big inspiration for his London train station scene. I find sometimes going back to watch these movies now, it’s harder to see what’s so revolutionary because we’ve become totally used to seeing the conventions in place. It seems as though there’s no other way to film it.

    When I saw FC for the first time I was really struck by the racism. Zowie, cuddly Gene Hackman has a really foul mouth.

  3. For those who enjoyed The French Connection, I highly recommend American Gangster. The 2 films have nicely complementing perspectives on the NYC heroin trade/culture at that time.

  4. I just watched this for the first time about a month ago, and I agree that I don’t think I’d put it on my own 100 best list, except in that it was obviously really influential. The scene where he’s tailing the other guy on the subway is awesome, though, they squeeze an incredible amount of tension out of very simple actions.

  5. Matthew, if you really want to honor Roy Scheider (and how can you not?) then you should drop everything and watch All That Jazz. Between the utter nakedness of Scheider’s performance, and the utter nakedness of Bob Fosse putting all his inner demons and addictions right up there on the screen, you won’t see a gutsier movie…maybe ever.

  6. My favorite Roy Scheider movie (hell, one of my favorite movies, period) is _Sorcerer_. Do yourself a favor and go watch it.

  7. Let’s hear some lovin’ for SeaQuest DSV. Talking dolphins yo!

  8. The French Connection was the first car chase scene filmed at such high speeds in a crowded street scene. It was very exciting at the time (and still is) and everybody talked about it then. Another great car chase is in Bullitt with Steve McQueen. All of my boy cousins bought mustangs after that one.

  9. I second the vote for All That Jazz. It’s my second favorite movie musical (after Singing in the the Rain). One of its charms is that until the final fantasy sequence, all of the musical numbers are real, i.e., the characers are singer/dancers performing songs rather than ordinary people singing about themselves in public for no good reason.

  10. Your recent Bad Review Revue post on “The Hottie and the Nottie” makes me think you should also review IMDB’s 100 worst movies once you’re done with AFI’s list. While you wouldn’t likely get as much satisfaction out of that list it would lead to some colorful reviews.

  11. Ha! I second Nate’s suggestion. I’d love to read your reviews on the worst movies – I might even add some to my Netflix queue. Although we might have to send you to the Satellite of Love to make sure you watch them all…

  12. It may not be on the AFI 100 list, but if you like gritty 70s crime dramas, you should take Serpico for a spin in your DVD player. Al Pacino has never been better–and that includes The Godfather.

  13. My husband and I call this the “And we’re walking, we’re walking, we’re walking …” movie. I just do not get it. I barely made it through it.

  14. “The French Connection illustrates why: the combination of grainy film-stock, openness about racial tensions, and devotion to method acting make them seem more authentic–even when they are big-budget and largely preposterous thrillers such as this one.”

    Well said. Something about those 70′s movies I just love. I also love the dated clothing, the older cars, the less congested cities, the bad hair. Great stuff.

  15. “The French Connection illustrates why: the combination of grainy film-stock, openness about racial tensions, and devotion to method acting make them seem more authentic–even when they are big-budget and largely preposterous thrillers such as this one.”

    Well said. Something about those 70′s movies I just love. I also love the dated clothing, the older cars, the less congested cities, the bad hair. Great stuff.

  16. Preposterous if by preposterous you mean based on a real drug sting…