Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
September 17
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.


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