This special set features two of the 1970s' most exciting action pictures, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE FRENCH CONNECTION II.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971): Released the same year as Clint Eastwood's DIRTY HARRY, William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION marked the beginning of a new era of gritty, urban police dramas in which the theme of tough-cop amorality seemed to serve an epochal conservative demand for a police-state crackdown on the domestic chaos and subversive youth culture of the Vietnam War period. Based on the true story of two New York City police detectives and their investigation into a French heroin smuggling operation, this film is perhaps best known for its infamous, masterfully filmed chase scene (directly influenced by Steve McQueen's BULLITT) in which the lead policeman, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman), recklessly drives a stolen car through oncoming traffic in pursuit of a sniper escaping by elevated train. The exciting thrill of this ostensibly conventional crime drama is accentuated by director Friedkin's early European influences, perhaps best represented by the often handheld documentary-style visual approach that brings the viewer into a more personal proximity to the characters, as well as Friedkin's claims that the Oscar-winning screenplay was frequently disregarded in favor of improvisation. THE FRENCH CONNECTION is the first film Friedkin made after announcing to Variety that he would abandon his European influences in favor of genre entertainment and not only marked a significant change of course for his career but also signified a demographic shift that all of Hollywood would soon follow.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975): Gene Hackman again stars as hard-boiled New York narcotics cop Popeye Doyle in the sequel to the Oscar-winning FRENCH CONNECTION. Still on the trail of heroin kingpin Charnier (Fernando Rey), whom he's dubbed Frog One, Doyle heads for Marseilles. On arrival, his aggressive ugly-American persona alienates French inspector Barthelmy (Bernard Fresson), and his limited ability to speak French doesn't help. Frustrated by Barthelmy's lack of progress, he slips his assigned police protection and goes looking for Frog One on his own. He's soon captured by Charnier's minions, who lock him in a fleabag hotel and shoot him up repeatedly with free samples of their product until Doyle is completely addicted. Charnier uses the detective's narcotized state to interrogate him and is surprised to find that he's virtually ignorant about his operation. The disdainful Charnier has him dumped in front of police headquarters, and Barthemy arranges for him to be put in isolation. Doyle undergoes the lengthy, grueling ordeal of quitting heroin cold turkey while his desperation to capture Charnier builds inside him. Hackman's brilliant performance highlights this somewhat overlooked sequel; Claude Renoir's camera fully captures the squalor of the milieu, and Frankenheimer engineers a harrowing final chase.