Rewatching *The French Connection*

I had not seen this 1971 movie since I was thirteen or so, and I was startled by how well I remembered the famous “subway scene.”  This time around, it struck me much more as a portrait of the decline of New York City than as a plot-driven vehicle per se.  “Popeye” (Gene Hackman) has no back story or love interest whatsoever, so I viewed this as a tale of how the dysfunctionality of New York simply was absorbing everything in its wake.  It is perhaps the best movie to view to understand just how much NYC has improved, and if you click on the top link you can see they were not just filming in dumpster bin sites but rather in the heart of Manhattan.

It is striking how tacky, and indeed poor, the “rich people” appear to be when the movie is trying to make a point about income inequality.  The critique of “the War on Drugs,” as it later became known, is ahead of its time.  The shots of Marseille are lovely.

It is hard to believe they almost cast Jackie Gleason in the lead.

Recommended.

Comments

Is just how tacky pretty much everyone and everything in America was in 1971, at least by modern lights. And that was before the 70s got into full polyester disco music swing - it is less painful to simply forget about the whole era.

Rewatching *The French Connection*
I have read this Article and Author View on the movie is critical.
I appreciate it very much.

The same can be said about Serpico. NYC is unrecognisable.

Mayor de Blasio is working on the problem that the city doesn't look like it did in classic 1970s movies. His slogan:

Make NYC Taxi Driverish Again

We all are indeed rewatching The French Connection.

HBO had a show called The Deuce, which recreated the look and feel of Times Square of the 1970s. Prophetic. Maybe it will all happen again.

A lot of lefty intellectuals liked the wild and seedy NYC of the 1970s. They hated Rudy for cleaning it up, calling him a fascist.

There is not much of a market for seedy porn shops these days, in Times Square or anywhere else.

Genuinely curious to hear if any of these lefty intellectuals have names or exist

Here's one, from 2009. The author longs for the rubble of the 70s.

https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2009/06/seventies-nyc200906

The first name that appears on screen in "The French Connection" is that of its Executive Producer, G. David Schine.

Schine had an earlier career working for Roy Cohn, the brains behind Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthyism collapsed into farce when Cohn took a shine to handsome G. David Schine, his own Clyde Tolson-like aide. After Schine was drafted, the lovelorn Cohn tried to blackmail the Army into stationing his innamorato near him. During the televised Army-McCarthy Hearings, McCarthy blundered into enabling Army lawyer Joseph Welch to introduce the word “fairy” into the record.

For Schine, however, the McCarthy shambles ended not as gay tragedy but as straight comedy. He moved to Hollywood, served as executive producer of "The French Connection," and had six kids with his new wife, the Swedish Miss Universe.

Interesting. And Roy Cohn moved on by becoming a mob lawyer as well as Donald Trump lawyer/fixer in the 1980s.

'Cohn was the grandnephew of Joshua Lionel Cowen, founder of the Lionel model train company. By 1959, Cowen and his son Lawrence had become involved in a family dispute over control of the company. In October 1959, Cohn and a group of investors stepped in and gained control of the company, having bought 200,000 of the firm's 700,000 shares, which were purchased by his syndicate from the Cowens and on the open market over a three-month period prior to the takeover. Under Cohn's leadership, Lionel was plagued by declining sales, quality-control problems, and huge financial losses. In 1963, Cohn was forced to resign from the company after losing a proxy fight.'

One can easily see why Cohn would be such an appealing mentor for a man who would later become a serial bankrupt. And then president of the United States, a nation plagued by quality-control problems and huge financial losses.

Can corroborate. As kids in the early 60s, we were aware that Lionel trains had gotten sucky. Honest to gosh, by 1963, the word was out: Go GIlbert, or try this new HO scale.

"a man who would later become a serial bankrupt." My understanding is that he's never become bankrupt. He's reserved that fate for some of his companies. No?

When you are the owner of the company, the distinction between personal and corporate bankruptcy is a matter for the lawyers. Illustrated best by the following.

"Trump opened the $1.2 billion Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City in April 1990. One year later, in the summer of 1991, it sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it was unable to generate enough gambling revenue to cover the massive costs of building the facility, particularly amid a recession.

Trump was forced to relinquish half of his ownership in the casino and sell off his yacht and his airline. The bondholders were awarded lower interest payments."

Notice that the Trump Princess was not corporate property. Splitting hairs is fine, but being forced to sell personal property as part of a corporate bankruptcy shows you need better lawyers, at a minimum.

https://www.thoughtco.com/donald-trump-business-bankruptcies-4152019

And trump briefly became owner of myer lanskys resorts international. Always struck me as a weird fact that doesnt gwr much attention.

... for the rest of story.

Cohn took a fledgling real estate mogul playing with daddy's money under his wing, and the shambles ended as a national tragedy following this fateful occurence. Cohn is credited with introducing Trump and Murdoch, in the mid-1970s, marking the beginning of what was to be a long, pivotal association between the two. Though who knows, maybe Cadet Bone Spurs will award Cohn a posthumous medal, following Cohn getting AIDs, unable to handle the club life of that dangerous era.

(That Cohn lied about the cause of his death is as unsurprising as him and convicted felon Roger Stone being involved in bribery. "Stone said Cohn gave him a suitcase that Stone avoided opening and, as instructed by Cohn, dropped it off at the office of a lawyer influential in Liberal Party circles. Reagan carried the state with 46 percent of the vote. Speaking after the statute of limitations for bribery had expired, Stone said, "I paid his law firm. Legal fees. I don't know what he did for the money, but whatever it was, the Liberal Party reached its right conclusion out of a matter of principle.")

Has Stone ever done hard time for his crimes against the United States?

... for the rest of story.

The fact he has a Nixon tattoo on his back is punishment enough for even the most hardened felon, we can all agree. And likely the reason Trump commuted his sentence, to spare Stone the cruel mockery of his fellow inmates.

And of course McCarthy's strategy of fake accusations of collaboration with the Russians migrated across the aisle, with the left making clear that the objection to McCarthy (as with the blacklisting) was never the technique, just the choice of target.

Funny thing is, both McCarthy then and the left now were basically right. Each got some details wrong in their zealousness, and those minor errors were then used by their opponents to discredit the whole story. But the USSR actually was recruiting fellow travelers in the 1950s, and Russia has been using disinformation and fellow travelers now to undermine the West.

The things you know.

Also: America seems like it used to be a biggish small town.

The taking apart of the car is perfection. Another good New York movie of the time, The Seven Ups, also has that New York in the early seventies feel. Also, Shaft, Mean Streets, and Across 110th Street. They do make NY look unappealing, like there's a perpetual garbage strike.

Even today, or uh.. in prosperous 2019, New York looked like it was in a perpetual garbage strike.

It's somehow the only major city in the world not to have figured out trash bins.

Almost every city in America suffered from white flight in the 1960s and 1970s; "urban renewal" is the euphemism that described the demolition of entire city blocks. For many young adults, the resurgence of urban life is all they know, and many older adults who were in flight don't exactly cherish the memory. I suppose the significance of this blog post is that white flight may happen again due to the pandemic, the similarity being fear, in the former case the fear of you know who and in the latter case the fear of both you know who and you know what. Down here in the South there are signs all over the suburbs, in peoples' yards, on their houses, in their businesses, and on their bumpers that read "Faith Over Fear". Who and what to fear when one is already living in the burbs.

Ahh yes urban renewal-all those white new deal-courbusier types telling the blacks that their ghettos weren’t good enough. When they needed was clean modern housing and superblocks to “sanitize” their life.

If only the KKK and modern Republican Party could ever ever ever touch the functional-implicit racism of big city planners during the new deal and war on poverty....

Urban renewal played a role. But to those of us who experienced it, the urban population replacement of the 1960s swept over the cities like a sudden reign of terror, with whole districts of cities suddenly off limits to outsiders, once-friendly public squares turned into criminal turf, guarded by gangs of enforcers, once-beautiful streets turned shabby and sullen, and public transit becoming a victim-trap. Looking back, it all happened so quickly. How quickly we all adjusted to the new urban reality. How sheepishly we all put up our locked window grates, bowed our heads as we shuffled along the sidewalks, and Gave ourselves up - for the next three decades- to the authority of the street criminals.

When did it begin? I spent several weekends in NYC in the mid-sixties and don't remember this terror. But then I was a naive foreigner and there only in daylight.

I experienced the onset in the rust belt city of my birth, and the maturity in the NYC of "The French Connection". The riots defined the climacteric. There was a distinct "before and after" - a deterioration of the quality of life that certainly had many causative factors, but whose overriding consequence was the normalization of crime - going from the fear of crime to the resigned expectation that one would be victimized - as I, and my friends and acquaintances, routinely were: guns pulled on you on busy streets, racial harassment, apartment doors brazenly smashed down during the day, and rooms ransacked.

Today, I walk through Verdi Park at 72nd and Broadway, and laugh, thinking how it was in the summer of 1972, a criminal bazaar, a depraved spectacle ... I can remember walking out of the theater after watching "French Connection", and being struck by the continuity of visual and emotional texture from the screen to the streets around me.

This "French Connection" post is long overdue and to Tyler's great credit.

My dad lived there. Mugged twice. Broken glass everywhere from the constant car break-ins. Ours was hit two of three times just visiting -- in "good" neighborhoods. Had a friend visit from the sticks and of course she was selected to be confronted and yelled at by a crazy person on 6th Avenue. And yet it was all so much fun, we couldn't stay away for long. Now I can.

The similarity being the people in power allowed violence against the majority White community to go unpunished and unchecked. The pre-requisite for "gentrification" has been the mass arrest of criminals to the point New York has been safe enough again.

All undone because some left wing Mayors thought it would help Biden to let rioters run amok

This is a logical fallacy.

It's also false.

I notice neither of you can explain what is wrong with what I said. Although you seem very sure it is.

The "logical fallacy" is that you're arguing against fact -- claiming it has all been undone when it has not.

You're certainly not offering any support for your claim that it has been undone.

Seemed obvious enough to me, ... "Shat which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

The rewatching of 70's NYC movies, particularly for those of us who have been around the city for the last 40 years is indeed mind-blowing. But for every French Connection (1971) there's a Manhattan (1979). For every Panic in Needle Park (1971) there's an Annie Hall (1977). For every Out-of-Towners (1970) there's an Arthur (1981), etc, etc. It's almost as if NYC contains multitudes.... 8 million stories there in the Naked City.

Don't forget Neil Simon's take on New York: The Prisoner of Second Avenue and The Goodbye Girl.

They deal with the average difficulties of living in New York. Annoying neighbors, insane costs, crowded living conditions, the hustle. Wonderful stuff!

"Prisoner" is OK, but worth watching just for the scene in which Jack Lemon mugs Sylvester Stallone.

Jonathan, It was great to be young in the NYC of the 1970s. As yet, we had no stake in the society that was crumbling around us, and there is uninhibited fun on the margins of a society in collapse. (The other great 1970s movie of urban decay is "The King of Marvin Gardens". Though it takes place in Atlantic City, it perfectly captures the era's mood of moral and civilizational ruin.)

Movies like "French Connection" are priceless, because they are all we have left to remind the new generation of what can happen when you not only let the broken windows blossom, but you tell yourself that they're actually kind of beautiful ...

It is a perfect film.

What gets to me about this book and movie is that all of the seized heroin ended up right back on the streets. Thank you NYPD!

De Blasio even took Charnier to a Metz game.

Jackie Gleason had some serious acting roles, including the part of Minnesota Fats in The Hustler. Sure, it's hard to imagine The French Connection without Gene Hackman playing Popeye, but it's also hard to imagine anyone other than Steve McQueen playing Sundance Kid or anyone other than Warren Beatty playing Benjamin Braddock or anyone other than Ronald Reagan playing the role of Mr. Braddock. Some roles are made for certain actors.

Jack Lord was considered for the role of Captain Kirk, while Gregory Peck in turn was at one point considered for 5-0's McGarrett. Nichelle "Lt Uhura" Nichols almost was Joe's plucky secretary on Mannix, but Gail Fisher was much much better

@rayward, Steve McQueen dropped out of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" over a dispute over whose name would appear first in "billing." The two stars were Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

It is impossible to believe rayward was not trolling on McQueen and Sundance Kid. I assume he means if he did play the role we would think it natural--or something. OTOH, Gleason, a very good dramatic actor (and band leader, comedian, and host), could not likely play the physicality the Popeye character required.

Lent his name to an orchestra, didn't lead anything. Was totally unmusical (but loved Tommy Dorsey).
Was also a boxing fan.

Hi Renzo. I believe you underate Gleason's musical talent----although he was not Tommy Dorsey---but he was capable of leading an Orchestra--however that was not his primary activity---as you correctly point out. He produced an unbelievable number of top-ranked (Billboard) series of albums in the 50s---lke the Beatles ((:-)) he could not read or tight music----and there are arguments as to what degree he was (by analogy only!) Lennon/McCartney--or George Martin ---or David Geffen. But he gets credit for getting that music out---or at least should. I think he has been underated as a contributer to entertainment

Please excuse my many typos!

Glad I grew up in Grand Rapids

For NYC dysfunction don't forget The Taking of Pelham 123 and Peter Boyle in Joe. The Anderson Tapes was another clever 1970ish NYC caper flick that has been totally forgotten. It was kind of prescient with a cameras-are-everywhere theme, as a well-oiled gang ransacks an affluent townhouse

Pelham 1-2-3 is gritty in tone, but it's ultimately showcasing the subway system as a technical marvel and an aspect of the city that works.

123's color photography has that particular gritty look that evolved around 1970, enabling most of the movies people are mentioning here. In particular the fetish for glaring fluorescent lights (which would also become a staple of every cinematic newsroom scene or futuristic sci-fi flick).

Some of these location photography techniques actually trickled down to the best few seasons of Hawaii 5-0, which occasionally had to be gritty despite it's sunny millieu -- eg the episode where mob thugs are
gleefully dumping bodies onto garbage trucks and the guy who runs the city incinerator has been paid off to handle their quiet disposal.

I was in Graduate School at Columbia in the 1970s and lived on Broadway, W.115th Street, and Riverside Drive. Morningside Park was like a demilitarized zone where everyone knew not to traverse. Having gone to college in both rural Upstate NY and Rural eastern Virginia, it was obvious, even to someone like me whose family was from Washington Heights, Astoria Queens and later Nassau County, that the Columbia students already had naturally adapted to a city which would not be recognized today.

I agree on French Connection----it felt very real---and having heard of Marseilles, learned it was a very tough town. As a 2nd generation Italian who frequented Little Italy and grew up going to the San Gennaro feast, Mean Streets (and later Taxi Driver) also captured NYC at the time.

While I dislike what is happening today in NYC, it feels like---not quite an imitation--wrong sensibility----maybe more of an overly self-aware, self-created and theatrical sense of "gritty" than was that time.

I definitely was aware the city was tough---and it took me 3-5 years to adapt to its rhythm----and almost did not move out but did by 1990.

It is very different today-----but its "grittiness" is phony----it is a pretend revolution of the well off----I hope at least on the "pretend part".

Forgot to mention---of course I was burglarized! Only once. I lived in a 10x12 studio with those infernal fire escapes and TV and Stereo and little fridge stolen. I called the police--(what did I know?!)----they were polite and told me "we are just being honest---forget about your stuff---its gone" or something to that effect. I also constructed a self identity of a "don't go near me" veneer---and was willing to be confrontational--it was a protective device. Fortunately, I was not that dumb----occasionally one would confront a person who had what I later called "dead eyes"----and I learned from that.

I bring this up---because Tyler was "bringing it all back home" with his teenage recollection of French Connection---which while "entertaining" was really like watching a real-time slice of NYC reality

was exciting and occasionally frightening back then. You could be in a no reservation restaurant at midnight and bumped by Robert Vaughn snapping his fingers at the hostess. You could have a lunchtime pizza at a no name tiny place a few doors down from Umberto's Clam House and two guys sit down for lunch leaving a bodyguard at the front door. You could walk from the Bowery to midtown at midnight after a concert or get on a subway to the Met and feel the fear of a wilding by pre teens grabbing bags and jewelry. You could be on East 42nd and see a bum throw a full can of beer at a stranger. Our next door neighbor was followed and robbed at gunpoint twice entering her 7th floor apt. We moved.

And NYC looks like it might be headed back to the 70's

Trump to City: Drop Dead!

Cuomo is taking care of that all by himself.

Good catch, except Cuomo is not a Republican president worthy of an epic Daily News headline. Which, in light of twofer Tuesday, applies to Trump too.

My guess is this will be more like London 2009 than Harlem 1964. The sacking of Midtown was a consumerist binge.

The car chases in Bullitt and The French Connection are far more interesting than the much more expensive examples seen in most recent films.

Agree----Not sure why. I did rewatch French Connection in the past year (had not seen it since the 70s or maybe 80s) because my memory of it was so vivid. I was happy to feel the same emotional sense that I recall when it first came out. Always loved Hackman. The car chases were designed to capture the time period---they helped tell the story---many recent car chase movies today are not intrinsic to the story--to me at least---they are eye candy. nothing wrong with that ---but its still mostly sugar.

I think the 'why' is pretty easy. They feel real, because they are (mostly) real. The cars appear to actually be driven to their limits - you can see the bias-ply tires straining and slipping and smoking, the hub caps flying off (the Charger in Bullitt somehow loses six hubcaps in the course of the chase!), the suspensions allow the cars to wallow, and you know they aren't capable of true emergency stops. No bucket seats with 4-point harness, no fakery, it's life and death at stake. And the actors -there's virtually no wise cracking and blather - the drivers drive, and shooter shoots, they aren't pretending to be too cool for school or trying to look bored. Knowing that it isn't faked, you find yourself wondering how they got some of the shots, except it's so exciting you stop thinking and just feel it.

I've watched both movies multiple times. I still tense up during the chase scenes. The films are fantastic on so many levels. They ruined me for cartoons like the Fast and Furious nonsense, which has saved me many hours I might otherwise have wasted trying to watch such crud.

Excellent commentary Kevin. Agree completely

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the first Death Wish movie with Charles Bronson. The scene on the subway was a forecast of the Night of Bernard Goetz.

Death Wish was a novel written by Elmore Leonard------who is my favorite crime genre writer of all time----When I first randomly read Rum Punch (the movie is Jackie Brown) in the 90's ----which I found as a worn out paperback in a house I was renting in St. Martin. I found it "disturbing" as the characters all had this strange amorality. I have everything he wrote. The movie Death Wish did refect a 70's fantasy--although while it was cheap thrills was kind of hokey.

A lot of thought that it was just another cop movie, and didn't get excited about it one way or another.

I was teaching bush kids at the time in West Africa. We saw mostly Bollywood stuff at the local bedsheet cinema. One of the higher-ups took a trip to the USA and did a sort of movie review when he came back, mentioned the believability of the honcho cop as I remember. He also reviewed Last Tango in Paris, but talked mostly about what it did to his orientation to French butter.

When I finally saw the real movie back in the USA, I had already seen New York, so I thought, what? The guy didn't have anything better to report? Pop-eye Doyle, man. He would have knocked them blind in Bollywood. He would have killed it, fifty years later in the MR comment section.

I saw the French Connection in the early 1970s. I was taking a film course at the time and couldn't help but notice the borrowing from French New Wave gangster movies with the grit, the blood, the guns, the cyniciism and so on. Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and Nice all looked pretty gritty, at least the parts where those movies were filmed. Paris sure wasn't the Paris I had visited a few years back.

NYC has been a media capital for ages, so when crime and grit were in, it was the crime-iest and grittiest. There was a great musical number about 42nd Street where the underworld meets with the elite. If NYC didn't have an underworld, it would have hired writers to invent one. I grew up in NYC, and like everyone else I knew that crime was getting worse, but I also knew that it was still a lot better than the good old days when my grandparents were young.

One reason for rising crime that was frequently mentioned at the time was the corporatization of the police. They had eliminated beat cops who knew their territory and replaced them with two man car patrols. The comparison was with Vietnam where US troops loaded with vim, vigor, know-how and M16s didn't know the turf and the Vietcong just laughed at them. A lot of people blamed business schools and their metric mentality. Go Tell the Spartans used that critique of our effort in Vietnam and skewered it nicely.

There are lots of theories about why the crime rate went down again. There's the epidemic theory of illicit drug use with introduction, a rising wave, increased competition, consolidation and eventually burn out with too many dead or jailed and young kids growing up associating drugs with wretched survivors. It was heroin in the 1960s and cocaine in the 1980s.

Another theory could be called the revenge of the business schoolers which argues that crime fell when they applied more modern business techniques to fight crime. Bratton brought in a GIS and brought back beat cops. The way to fight crime, he felt, was to know the territory and recognize patterns, then increase patrols and prosecutions in hot spots. When crime moves, follow, and apply pressure there. When Bratton tried to take credit for falling crime rates, Giuliani fired him.

Or you can credit lead free gas or legalized abortion or repainting the playground benches forest green after an awful, eye injuring period of orange and blue.

(Another theory blames the collapse of American manufacturing that hit every city in the mid-1960s. Our industrial plant was antiquated. The new technologies used fewer people and required fewer skills. Cities had to reinvent themselves or collapse. NYC recovered, much of the midwestt never did. There's something to that too.)

There's a blog call Scouting NY, no longer updated, written by a location scout who worked in NYC. When he first arrived in the city, he expected something out of the French Connection. What he found was different. When he was in a strange neighborhood, some tough looking guy asked to see his camera. The scout figured that this was it. The tough guy studied the camera and lens a bit and they were soon chatting about the relative merits of zoom lenses. Scout got his camera back.

For his take on the French Connection:

https://www.scoutingny.com/french-connection-filming-locations/

Pelham 123 is a great movie. We need to remember Bill Hickman, the driver and stuntman in Bullitt, The French Connection, The Seven Ups, and the motorcycle chase in Electra Glide in Blue, another great movie. In Bullitt, I love when he buckles up and the hitman's expression is pure genius. Similarly, in the Seven Ups, the other bad guy besides Hickman has some great expressions during the chase. The chase in The French Connection was filmed in real traffic, with Friedkin in a car behind Hickman.

Excuse me, Friedkin sat behind Hickman with the camera.

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