A look back at this day in film history
November 28
October 8, 1971
The French Connection opens

The night The French Connection opened in the fall of 1971, the director William Friedkin was on the phone with 20th Century-Fox hearing the good news. The gritty crime film he made for $1.8 million was going to be a hit. The movie ultimately made $26.3 million domestically and went on be nominated for eight Oscars, winning five, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Gene Hackman). Having previously made a play-based film, Friedkin was worried about being pigeonholed as an art director, and wanted to establish himself as a old-time movie maker. Based on a non-fiction book by Robin Moore, The French Connection covered the real-world heroin trade between Marseilles and New York, with Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider playing two NYC detectives. But the film is less remembered for its plot as for its gritty, neo-realist look at New York City cops. Hackman’s “Popeye” Doyle was a far cry from the heroic cops of traditional police procedurals. (Interestingly, Friedkin had wanted Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, and Jimmy Breslin before Hackman for the role.) In addition, the free-wheeling hand-held camera style (that would be a mainstay for film and television decades later) and frenzied cutting created a raw energy that caught many viewers off guard. In the New York Times, Roger Greenspun commented on the film’s frantic energy, writing, “It moves at magnificent speed, and exhausts itself in movement.” For its famous train chase, where a detective follows an elevated train through the streets below, Friedkin later confided he edited the sequence to Santana's "Black Magic Woman," so while the music is not there, the rhythm is.

More Flashbacks
Meet Me In St. Louis November 28, 1944
Meet Me in St. Louis opens in Technicolor

Opening November 28, 1944, Vincente Minelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis was one of the most commercially successful pictures of its day.

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November 28, 1938
Michael Ritchie born

Michael Ritchie, one of the most skilled yet underrated Hollywood directors of the 1970s, was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on this day in 1938.

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November 28, 1946
Dante's Divine Comedy of Horrors

In many ways, Joe Dante, born on this day 62 years ago today, is a film director from another age. Dante, a New Jersey native whose parents were golf pros, grew up in 1950s America and continues to embody the ethos of that decade in much of his film work. His influences, for example, include cartoonist Chuck Jones, champion of colorful 50s film comedy Frank Tashlin and B-movie mogul Roger Corman, and it was Corman who first initiated him into the world of movie production after Dante had spent some years as a film critic. Dante first enjoyed success with the Jaws­-inspired creature feature Piranha (1978) which he followed up with the werewolf movie The Howling (1981), another Corman production. Afterwards he graduated to big budget movies, often working for friend Steven Spielberg, and scored with hits like Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) and also indulged in nostalgic joint exercises like Twilight Zone: The Movie (1982), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) and episodes of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories TV show. His work has always affectionately looked back on a time when cinema was all about tall tales, monsters, aliens and other such fun excesses of the cinema of bygone years, and Dante tapped into this most directly in Matinee (1993), his film about a William Castle-like producer whose productions thrived on gimmicks and shock tactics. Since the early 1990s, though, Dante has worked mostly in television, where he directed the cult series Eerie, Indiana, only occasionally returning to the big screen for movies like the kid-oriented Small Soldiers (1998) and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). Now, however, Dante looks set to return to the fore with two projects which will that staple of 50s schlock horror, 3-D technology, which is popular once again 50 years on thanks to its revitalization through digital technology.

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