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THE FRENCH CONNECTION (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 19, 2009 by  



“The definitive version of ‘THE FRENCH CONNECTION’ to own.  Loaded with special features, an all-out exciting and informative Blu-ray release that is a fantastic tribute to one of the true classic crime thrillers!

TITLE: THE FRENCH CONNECTION

DURATION: 104 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Widescreen 1:85:1, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Dolby Digital, English Mono, Spanish  French  5.1 Dolby Digital, AVC 34.5 MBPS

COMPANY: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

RATED: R

Directed by Wiliam Friedkin

Based on a book by Robin Moore

Screenplay by Ernest Tidyman

Produced by Philip D’antoni

Associate Producer: Kenneth Utt

Executive Producer: G. David Schine

Music composed and conducted by Don Ellis

Cast:

Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle

Roy Scheider as Det. Buddy Russo

Fernando Rey as Alain Charnier

Tony Lo Bianco as Sal Boca

Marcel Bozzuffi as Pierre Nicoli

Frederic de Pasquale as Devereaux

Bill Hickman as Mulderig

Ann Rebbot as Marie Charnier

Harold Gary as Weinstock

Eddie Egan as Simonson

Arlene Farber as Angie Boca

Sonny Grosso as Klein

Benny Marino as Lou Boca

New York City detectives “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) hope to break a narcotics smuggling ring and ultimately uncover “The French Connection”.  Based on a true story, this action-filled thriller won five 1971 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Directing (William Friedkin), Actor (Gene Hackman), Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.

Known for having one of the best car scenes in a film.  Known for it’s gritty storyline and showcasing a different side of the police.  “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”, the winner of five Academy Awards back in 1971 will be released on Blu-ray disc.  And all I can say is that if you are a big fan of this film, “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” on Blu-ray disc is the definitive version to own.

The film will always be known for its grittiness, a different take of a New York police detective, a car chase scene, the music and its grittiness.  But what the Blu-ray disc also provides is the making and behind-the-scenes of “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” which probably can be a movie in itself because of all that went on behind-the-scenes which was very surprising.

But before I explain why this Blu-ray release is awesome, let me first explain what the film is about.

“THE FRENCH CONNECTION” is a film adaption of the popular non-fiction book by Robin Moore which was based on the investigation by New York City detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso who were looking into narcotics trafficking from overseas from France to the United States and how they began their surveillance on criminals which include Jean Jehan and popular French TV personality Jacques Angelvin.

The film adaption is 90% based on the actual adventures of these two detectives but the names were changed.  Eddie Egan was changed to Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) and Sonny Grosso, name changed to Sonny “Cloudy” Grosso (played by Roy Scheider).

Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle is not your typical police officer.  He follows the beat of his own drum, interrogates thugs and people the way he wants.  A ladies man and a feared by criminals on the streets.  Very outspoken, rash and always looking for trouble.

As for Sonny “Cloudy” Grosso, he is the total opposite.  A dedicated police officer that tolerates Doyle and overall, a true partner.

Upon watching “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”, watching the film these days, the first thing that may come to mind is if these cops are rogue cops.  Doyle and Grosso would frequent bars where a lot of junkies (all of African-American descent) would be and have them all face the wall while he checks for drugs hidden under the tables of the bar and take their drugs and destroy them. And in fact, you would hear Doyle say the “N” word which  is quite racist.

So, to say the least, one thing you can get from “Popeye” Doyle is that he’s not exactly the nicest guy.  He doesn’t necessarily go by the book and it was definitely a sign of the times of how much leeway a police officer had.  Both Doyle and Grosso would go after these criminals and it wasn’t the read them their rights and put them behind the car and take them to jail.  Doyle would beat the crap out of these people, interrogate them and have his fun with them.

But these guys knew how to talk to the criminals, meld into that world and pretty much do what they can to bust them for narcotics.  These guys were the top of the police force in catching the junkies and in the film (and real life) and because of the way they conducted their investigations, they were able to get the word about incoming narcotics.  But in this case, something big was going and a lot of heroin was coming into New York.

As the two frequent a club (where Doyle meets a lady friend), both Doyle and Grosso go into a nightclub where he spots two people.  Doyle has a hunch that Salvatore “Sal” Boca, a person who runs a diner and always driving a different car and his wife are involved with narcotics and thus have him on surveillance.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the business that Alain Charnier, a multi-millionaire and a major kingpin who smuggles heroin from France to the United States.  In the beginning of the film, he has his henchman, Pierre Nicoli murder a policeman stalking him.  But now Charnier has a popular French TV personality named Henri Devereaux bring in a car (hidden with heroin) to the US.  Deveraux doesn’t know what’s in the car but since Charnier is paying him a lot of money to get the job done, he does it.

As for Doyle and Grosso, Doyle convinces his superior Walt Simonson (played by Eddie Egan, the real cop that Doyle is based on) that they need to wiretap the Boca’s.  Because of the enormity of this investigation, a Federal Agent named Mulderig is also doing his own investigation but he despises Dole because of an incident in the past that left a police officer dead.  Telling Doyle, “the last time you were dead certain, we had a dead cop” and the two nearly come to blows.

As Doyle finds that Charnier is in New York, he goes after him alone.  But Charnier manages to lose Doyle and slip through the Subway.  Knowing that Doyle is going to be a problem, Charnier has his henchman, Pierre Nicoli to kill him.

Thus leading to a cat and mouse type of storyline and one of the biggest, dangerous chase scenes ever on a film (note: “BULLIT” starring Steve McQueen was known for its car chase scene and the producer Philip D’Antoni, who also produced “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” had a mandate that this film must have a better chase scene than “BULLIT”).

The film eventually leads to the police versus the drug dealers.   Doyle versus Charnier.  Will the tough as nails police detective catch the drug kingpin?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

The picture quality is quite interesting for “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”.  This is one of the few films similar to a Criterion release in which the film is presented the way the director intended.  20th Century Fox did the same with this film.

Director William Friedkin was very much involved in the way the film looked (in fact, there is a special feature on the color timing of the film).

With that being said, the film is the best looking version of the “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”.  Having owned the first DVD release, the colors are much different.  Friedkin wanted to show the grittiness of the city and thus you get some blues and deep blacks in the color.

But I noticed there was a lot of grain in certain scenes and some scenes looked like a 1971, old film.   Where some viewers may have wanted a cleaned up film, because Friedkin was very much involved in the video process, I would assume he wanted it this way and not so cleaned up.

As for the audio, audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  The film is mainly dialogue-based that comes out clear but if there is one thing that does come clear on your speakers and really stands out is the music by Don Ellis.  “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” is known for its jazzy music, so the brass horns definitely come out clear through your surround sound.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

This is where “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” shines.  This Blu-ray is just filled with special features on two discs.

DISC 1:

  • William Friedkin introduction to “The French Connection” –  The director of “The French Connection” William Friedkin introduces the film but also returns back to the area he filmed the movie and talks about how we will see former cast and crew on the special features.
  • Commentary by William Friedkin – I really enjoyed William Friedkin’s commentary.  No pausing, just pretty much sets up the film of what’s going on and quickly adds certain behind-the-scenes info. on the scenes.  Well done!
  • Commentary by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider – I was so excited for this commentary but it’s not what I was expecting.  Unfortunately, Roy Scheider passed away in 2008 and the two didn’t do a commentary together in the past DVD’s.  But you do get Gene Hackman talking about his experiences on “The French Connection” and then Roy Scheider talking about his experiences.  Gene Hackman on the first 40 or so-minutes and Roy Scheider in the final 40-minutes or so.  They are not commenting on a scenes as it is being played but just offering commentary on the whole experience.
  • Trivia Track – While watching the film, interesting tid-bits of the film are shown at the bottom.
  • Isolated Score Track – For those who love Don Ellis’s music in the film, you can strictly isolate the score if needed.
  • Enhances for D-Box Motion Control Systems – For those who have D-Box Motion Control capability.

DISC 2:

  • Deleted Scenes – With optional commentary, William Friedkin talks about certain scenes he cut out.  Most of the scenes were showing different sides of “Popeye” Doyle.  How the man really didn’t have much friends and sometimes ends up speaking to the informants (like they were buddies), a scene of how Doyle would twist the law to pick up women he fancied,  an S&M scene involving Pierre Nicoli and more.
  • Anatomy of a Chase – The chase scene in “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” is what the film will be remembered.  One of the biggest car chase scenes was from the film “BULLIT” produced by Philip D’Antoni.  Antoni produced this film and his mandate was that the chase scene MUST be better than “BULLIT”.  So, Friedkin felt that having a car chase an L-train bus in New York City with all cars and people was amazing.  For one, it can’t be duplicated in this age but literally both William Friedkin, DOP filmed this scene without the place being blocked out.   Because Egan and Grosso were well known with the NYPD, they informed their officers a car chase scene was being filmed.  But the actual scene was so dangerous because the cars were going 90 MPH and in one scene (that was used), a car being driven by Gene Hackman was hit by a guy who was leaving to go to work.  Hackman was hit and ended up wrapping the car in a pole.  Hackman and the cameraman were lucky to survive without serious injuries but that was how difficult this scene was.  Friedkin wanted a car weaving around cars and eventually, several times, the stunt cars actually hit them.  So, a very interesting and informative featurette!
  • Hackman on Doyle – It is well known that Gene Hackman’s career was born because of this film but what many don’t know is that he wanted to quit at one time.  To play Doyle, Hackman had to learn Eddie Egan’s way of doing things.  His mindset.  That includes beating up people, calling them the “N” word and also he had to go on ride a longs with both Egan and Grosso to see how they worked.  Hackman was so shocked about the police life and he was so distraught that he didn’t know if he could play the part.  He and Egan were like oil and water and in fact, Egan didn’t want Hackman to play him.   But Hackman managed to pull it off and win an Academy Award.
  • Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection – In this scene, director William Friedkin and Sonny Grosso (the detective that Roy Scheider’s character was based on) reunite to talk about the film and how it differs from how things actually happened in reality. Grosso does say that the film captured 90% of what he and Eddie experienced.  If anything is more surprising, which is shown in the last minute of the film but in relation to the film and reality is how all this hardwork from the NYPD, the criminals really never had to do a lot of time.  In fact, many were released and some were never caught.
  • Scene of the Crime – William Friedkin goes back to the area where Pierre Nicoli shoots at Doyle.  He visits the same building and the same area and what he was going for during the filming.
  • Color Timing the French Connection – William Friedkin and his video guy show examples of how Doyle wanted to get the colors he wanted for the final Blu-ray cut and how it was accomplished.   Thus you learn that Friedkin was very much involved with this Blu-ray disc video version.
  • Cop Jazz: The music of Don Ellis – Don Ellis is a jazz musician who was known but not very well-known until he did “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” and thus this featurette is a tribute to him.
  • Rogue Cop: The Noir Connection – Although James “Popeye” Doyle’s way of handling things as a cop was very brash, this featurette goes through many films that precede “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” and other well-known cops on film that were “rogue”.
  • BBC Documentary: The Poighkeepsie Shuffle – A lengthy documentary on “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”  aired on BBC featuring interviews with the cast and crew of “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”.
  • Making the Connection: The Untold Stories of the French Connection – A lengthy documentary hosted by Sonny Grosso featuring interviews with the cast and crew of “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”.

When “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” came out on DVD for the first time, I was anxiously waiting for it.   And now, watching it on Blu-ray and just knowing how much was put into this release is just amazing.

The film was avant-garde back in 1971.  Gritty, raw and it’s a film that can’t be made again.   The film showcases the racial profiling at that time and William Friedkin was able to pull of the unthinkable of stopping traffic in New York City to quickly get a shot, using Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso’s connections to block out several blocks for a car chase scene with many people and cars still in traffic and it was such a guerrilla-style of filmmaking that was pulled off amazingly.

But this Blu-ray showcases how things were not as peachy keen behind-the-scenes.  From getting the best-selling book to film, finding the right actors to play Egan and Grosso, making sure Friedkin, D’Antoni, Hackman and Scheider were involved in actual busts by Egan and Grosso and just making sure everything looked right.  And also the film had its certain mini-controversies between Hackman and Friedkin, Hackman and Egan, Friedkin’s scene with Doyle and Nicoli at the end to problems within the film industry at the time, the film being turned down by so many film companies, turning down so many screenplays, so many actors to play a role and I can see why this film nearly never happened.  So, I found this all intriguing.

The film was great to watch but what surprised me more is how much went into this Blu-ray disc.  Reuniting William Friedkin, Philip D’Antoni, Sonny Grosso and a few others to visit the various areas of where the film was shot, to talk with the crew and movie execs that helped make this film happen.   All of this is included on the Blu-ray.  Ten featurettes which the majority were all quite lengthy, commentary by Friedkin and also to see Gene Hackman, thankful for this film and to see people no longer with us such as Eddie Egan and Roy Scheider also having a part in this Blu-ray disc posthumously.

This Blu-ray disc is everything a fan of “THE FRENCH CONNECTION” can want.

It is the definitive version to own and the way William Friedkin wanted people to watch the film on Blu-ray.

“THE FRENCH CONNECTION” on Blu-ray is fantastic!  Definitely a must own!






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