Plot: What’s it about?
Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) loves to drink, has a short temper, and is quite intolerant, but he is also one of the finest detectives on the force. He and his partner Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) have been trying to bust open a narcotics ring for some time, but have had limited success to this point. But now they have reason to believe a candy store is involved somehow and after some time passes, they learn their suspicions were well founded. It seems a massive shipment of heroin is due to arrive soon and as such, the two cops decide to shut it down and bring the criminals to justice. Of course, the dealers don’t intend to allow that to happen, so once Doyle starts nosing around, he is almost killed in the process. This doesn’t deter Doyle from his tasks however, as now he has even more resolve to close these guys down, but it won’t be easy by any means, as they now want him dead more than ever before…
After what seems like an endless wait, The French Connection has arrived on DVD and as part of Fox’s Five Star Collection, this two disc edition was well worth the wait, I assure you. Fox has also issued both French Connection films as part of a special box set, but this review covers only the solo release of the first installment. This hard hitting, gritty crime picture won over audiences and critics alike, even taking home five Oscars in 1971, including the one for Best Picture. It is not hard to see why it has garnered such success either, as it is a superb film in all respects, even if modern films have aped it so much, causing some of the elements to seem overdone. But when this movie was released, it was like nothing viewers had seen and I think it still holds a lot of power, which is quite impressive. The harsh events depicted have even more impact than most films also, as the story is based on a real life series of events, though perhaps loosely based might be more to the point. This is one of the finest crime films of all time and perhaps one of the best films period, so I highly recommend this release, whether you decide to purchase or rent.
Although his work has become rather inconsistent these days, William Friedkin still stands as a very gifted filmmaker, as evidenced by The French Connection. I am unsure if I would call this his finest picture, but it is one of his best two or three, with strong reasons to name it as the best one, to be sure. As you can tell from the included documentaries and other materials, Friedkin wasn’t always easy to work with on this shoot, but his results are hard to argue with, as this is truly a modern classic, in all respects. He and his crew delivered on all counts with this movie, from the excellent visual style to the realism of the events to the awesome car chase, which is without a doubt one of the finest ones in movie history. Other films directed by Friedkin include Blue Chips, The Guardian, Sorcerer, The Brink’s Job, and The Exorcist. The cast includes Gene Hackman (Hoosiers, The Firm), Roy Scheider (Marathon Man, Blue Thunder), and Fernando Rey (That Obscure Object of Desire, Cold Eyes of Fear).
Video: How does it look?
The French Connection is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The filmmakers wanted this movie to have a dirty, gritty kind of visual presence and as such, that is what we have with this transfer. Due to this specialized approach, the image here looks a little flawed at times, but rest assured, it is all part of the experience. You’ll see some intentional grain present, but the print looks superb and much cleaner than ever before, in terms of home video releases. The colors are drab by design and look as they should, while contrast is sharp and stable, but the grain sometimes lessens the impact, though not by much. In the end, this is a great treatment for a movie that’s a tough cookie in terms of visuals, so I think fans should be pleased here.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release includes a new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option, which is quite good on the whole, but the age of the material keeps it down at times. As the film is pretty basic in terms of audio, the front channels hold most of the information and it sometimes seems thin, but holds up rather well, all things considered. The filmmakers used a lot of live audio, as opposed to loops and that’s obvious here, but it never ruins the experience. All in all, this is the best sounding edition of The French Connection that I’ve ever heard and while it might not measure up to more modern mixes, it more than holds its own. This disc also includes an English 2.0 surround option, French mono track, and subtitles in Spanish and English.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Fox has issued this film as a two disc edition, which means tons of extras and these are good ones, not just promotional fluff. It all starts with an audio commentary with director William Friedkin, who provides a lot of insight and tells it like it is. I was pleased to hear Friedkin voice his opinions on various subjects, as directors often gloss over any problems and such, but Friedkin simply states the truth and that adds a lot to his session. He touches on all sorts of topics, from his thoughts on the cast, to his approach to the film’s visuals, and of course, the film’s legendary car chase. You can also hear comments from actors Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, but they provide audio interviews and as such, their comments are not screen specific. Hackman speaks for about the first half of the picture, then Scheider takes over and while I would liked a normal commentary track, I am glad Fox chose to include the interviews in some form.
The second disc holds the rest of the supplements, the meat of which is two excellent documentary pieces, both of which offers a landslide of information about how The French Connection was made. The first is the 2000 piece Poughkeepsie Shuffle, which was made for the BBC and runs about fifty minutes, all of them well used. This documentary tracks the film from inception to reaction, via various interviews with all sorts of people connected to the picture in some way, shape, or form. Of course, Friedkin, Hackman, and Scheider are all seen here, but also main crew members, some of the real people portrayed within the flick, and other faces appear, all of whom seem to have a good story to tell. This piece is even shown in anamorphic widescreen, which is a welcome gesture from Fox, to be sure. The second documentary is Making the Connection: The Untold Stories, which is a newly created piece and clocks in at fifty-four minutes in total. This provides even more interviews with the cast, crew, and beyond, with a focus more on the aftermath and how the film was received. Friedkin reveals a lot of information in this one, so fans of the flick will not want to miss this top notch feature. This disc also includes a selection of deleted scenes (with introduction & explanation by Friedkin), three still photo galleries, and theatrical trailers for both of the French Connection pictures.