The French ConnectionAFI Rank: #70
Year Released: 1971
Director: William Friedkin
Actors: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider
The French Connection is an amazing, true-life story which earned a #70 spot on the AFI Top 100 of movies for many reasons. One is that it features a car chase thought to be one of the best in cinema history. A car chases a subway trail through the streets of New York City, nearly getting destroyed along the way. The storyline is that of two NYC detectives who happen on a drug transaction involving a Frenchman. The detectives get grief from within the force, but with perseverence they are able to track down the perpetrators.
Watching this in modern times is fascinating. First, there's a lot of throwing around of slurs about just about every ethnic group you can imagine. There is police brutality, slurs against women, against blacks, against Italians, against French, and it's all considered as normal. There's pretty much only one woman in the entire movie and I think she has two lines total. A cop shoots a suspect in the back and it's presented as typical. I do want to note that research shows that the police advisors to the movie complained about that scene and were overruled. But we definitely commented on that when watching it. And we do have NYC police in our family.
It's interesting to watch how much life has changed in other ways. A guy goes to a ticket counter at an airline and buys a ticket with cash, and writes his own name on the ticket to take to the gate. In a subway, someone knocks on the driver's door and he simply opens it to see what they want. Nobody else seems to be able to stop the train - there were no emergency stop lines. And of course in modern times people would be tweeting and calling from the train, not completely cut off.
I loved the scene where a drug dealer is being trailed and he's able to shake off the cop simply by getting on and off a subway. In modern times they'd be quite able to handle that situation. Here, it throws him completely off his game.
I was vastly amused when Roy Scheider, also famous from Jaws, was tracking down one of his enemies, and they started to play Jaws-like music. Of course this movie here came first, so it's almost as if they saw how powerful it was here and then ramped it up even more a few years later for Jaws.
Is the way citizens are treated a bit concerning? Certainly. Is the time-capsule look into the way things were run back in 1971 absolutely fascinating? Yes, yes, yes. Highly recommended as a glimpse into a world of not too long ago, to see how far we have come, and also how in some ways things have stayed quite the same.
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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100