Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 20
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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Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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