The French Connection – parts I + II (directed by William Friedkin and John Frankenheimer respectively).
I couldn’t resist borrowing the box set of these two movies from my local Mediateca.
I’ve seen both before but only really remembered the car chase from I and the cold turkey sequence in II.
Both movies are dominated by loose cannon cop ‘Popeye’ Doyle played brilliantly by Gene Hackman, His role in both is as the relentless pursuer of drug baron Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) who he calls Frog One .
In the first Doyle is in his native New York, in the second he is a fish out of water in Marseille.
The movie poster calls Doyle “bad news but a good cop”; the character is based on real life detective (Eddie Egan) with an impressive arrest record who, by all accounts, used equally uncompromising and unconventional methods.
Doyle relies heavily on gut instincts and to call him reckless would be an understatement. Subtlety is not his strong point – he acts first and thinks after. Part I has its implausible moments but stands up well as a tight thriller. The fact that Frog One escapes at the end makes a sequel inevitable.
Frankenheimer takes on this task and clearly is not interested in following the formula of the first movie. He says he wanted to get inside the character of Doyle to show what makes him tick. Without the familiar mean streets of New York, Doyle flails around aimlessly – his banter being lost on the natives, most of whom don’t speak English.
The ruthless drug gang capture him but instead of killing him (which would spoil the movie) they get him hooked on heroine to make him reveal that he is only in France as bait to flush out Frog One.
A good part of the movie is devoted to his addiction and recovery, so much so that you forget you’re watching an thriller. The final burst of activity tries to compensate with Doyle proving he is back to full fitness by outrunning first a bus, then a boat to get into position for the final shot (in both senses) of the movie with Frog One finally getting his just desserts.
The first is rightly regarded as a classic; the second is an oddity.