AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The French Connection
Director: William Friedkin (Dir)
Release Date:   Oct 1971
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 7 Oct 1971
Production Date:   late Nov 1970--mid-Mar 1971 in New York City
Duration (in mins):   104
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Gene Hackman (Jimmy ["Popeye"] Doyle)  
    Fernando Rey (Alain Charnier)  
    Roy Scheider (Buddy ["Cloudy"] Russo)  
    Tony Lo Bianco (Sal Boca)  
    Marcel Bozzuffi (Pierre Nicoli)  
    Frederic De Pasquale ([Henri] Devereaux)  
    Bill Hickman ([Bill] Mulderig)  
    Ann Rebbot (Marie Charnier)  
    Harold Gary ([Joel] Weinstock)  
    Arlene Farber (Angie Boca)  
    Eddie Egan ([Walter] Simonson)  
    Andre Ernotte ([Maurice] La Valle)  
    Sonny Grosso (Klein)  
    Benny Marino (Lou Boca)  
    Pat McDermott (Chemist)  
    Alan Weeks (Pusher)  
    Al Fann (Informant)  
    Irving Abrahams (Police mechanic)  
    Randy Jurgensen (Police sergeant)  
    William Coke (Motorman)  
    The Three Degrees (The Three Degrees)  
    Fat Thomas (Mutchie)  
    Lora Mitchell (Woman with baby carriage)  
    Maureen Mooney (Girl on bicycle)  
    Robert Weil (Auctioneer)  

Summary: From his home in Marseilles, millionaire Alain Charnier runs the largest heroin-smuggling syndicate in the world, employing ruthless Pierre Nicoli to assassinate his adversaries. While they refine their plan to smuggle $32 million worth of heroin into the United States by hiding it in the car of their new accomplice, French television personality Henri Devereaux, in New York City two police detectives continue their dogged pursuit of drug dealers. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, use intimidation and psychological tactics to taunt and trap their targets, sometimes skirting the boundaries of ethical behavior. One night after a typically grueling day of chasing down suspects, Popeye convinces Cloudy to go to the local club with him for a drink. There, Popeye, who thinks of little else besides his job, grows suspicious of the patrons at one table who are celebrating boisterously. “Just for fun,” he and Cloudy tail the main carouser, Sal Boca, all night until he returns to the diner he runs with his wife Angie. Days later, they are still watching Sal, who has a record of petty crimes, as does his brother Lou. Cloudy, posing as a patron, is able to observe the steady traffic of local businessmen who hold clandestine meetings in the back room with Sal. One day, the detectives tail Sal to the apartment building of drug financier Joel Weinstock, and exult that they have finally connected him to a known criminal. To obtain insider information, Popeye storms into a gritty bar frequented by drug users and small-time dealers. Shoving the customers against the wall and humiliating them, Popeye picks their pockets for drugs and makes a few arrests. His real aim, however, is to meet in private with one of the dealers, Hector, who is his secret informant, without arousing the others’ suspicions. To that end, Popeye roughs up Hector and pulls him into the back room, and after Hector reveals that a shipment of heroin is due into the New York harbor soon, Popeye punches him to make their “confrontation” appear real. The detectives bring their case to their captain, Walter Simonson, who derides the circumstantial evidence and berates them for failing to break a big case. Together, the partners manage to convince Simonson to allow them two wiretaps, one on Sal’s diner and the other on his house. Days later, at the same time as Charnier and Nicoli, newly arrived in New York, watch Devereaux’s car being transported onto the wharf, federal agents Bill Mulderig and Klein are brought onto the case. Mulderig dislikes Popeye because, on a previous case, the detective’s rough tactics resulted in the death of a policeman. Cloudy, who attempts to defend his partner, later visits Popeye’s apartment and finds him handcuffed to the bed by a young sexual partner. Over the next few days, Popeye and Cloudy follow Sal’s conversations on the wiretap, and one day they rejoice to hear a Frenchman call and make an appointment to meet. In the car on the way to the planned rendezvous, as Mulderig razzes Popeye from the backseat, they are caught in a traffic jam that endangers their ability to follow Sal. Popeye races out onto the street to catch sight of Sal’s car, and soon the police are back on his trail as he enters the Roosevelt hotel. There, they spot Sal with Charnier and Nicoli, then follow them to a restaurant, standing on the freezing street while the Frenchmen enjoy a leisurely gourmet meal. Charnier leads Popeye to his hotel, where the detective is able to learn the Frenchmen’s names from the clerk. Soon after, Sal brings the heroin to Weinstock, whose drug expert tests it and reports that it is high-grade, valuable dope. However, Weinstock, knowing the police are after Sal, insists on taking more time before agreeing to Charnier’s price. Meanwhile, Charnier slips away from the federal agents posted around his hotel and walks along the street, where Popeye is shocked to spot him. Popeye follows him into the subway, but as he attempts to trail him, the wily Charnier manages to evade him, waving as his subway car speeds away from the detective. Klein follows Sal to Washington, D.C, where Sal meets with Charnier to ask for a few more days. Charnier insists on having the money by the end of the week, then tells Nicoli to kill Popeye, as he poses the biggest threat to their deal. At the same time, Simonson informs Popeye that, with no movement on the case, he must close it down. The furious Popeye, unable to convince Simonson to give him more time, fights with Mulderig. Soon after, Popeye is walking near his apartment when Nicoli, hiding on a rooftop, shoots at him. Popeye tries to secure the area, then crawls along the building's side until he can climb to the roof. There, he is able to spot Nicoli and races to follow him into an elevated subway platform. As Nicoli steps onto a car, a transit guard hears Popeye yell a warning, causing him to follow Nicoli suspiciously as he travels from car to car. On the ground, Popeye commandeers a passerby’s car and speeds to the next subway station, hoping to reach it before the train. On the el, Nicoli shoots and kills the policeman, then holds the driver at gunpoint and commands him not to stop at the station. Popeye arrives at the stop and runs to platform, but when the train does not slow down, he jumps back into his car and careens wildly through the city streets, narrowly avoiding other cars and pedestrians, to reach the next station. Nicoli has confronted the conductor and passengers with his gun drawn, and now shoots the conductor as the driver suffers a heart attack. The train, rushing out of control, slams directly into a parked train. Below, Popeye sees the wreck and, stopping his car, walks disoriented to the bottom of the el stairs. Nicoli climbs through a door to the outside of the cars, crawling between them in order to escape the wrecked train, but as he reaches the top of the station stairs, Popeye gets him in his gun sights. Nicoli, now unarmed, turns to run, but Popeye shoots him in the back, killing him. Soon after, Popeye and Cloudy are following Sal when as he picks up Devereaux’s car. They pursue the car to the street where Sal parks it, and watch for days as it sits untouched. When some men approach the car, Popeye arrests them, and although they are soon revealed to be petty car thieves, he orders the car torn apart. The police mechanic rips apart the entire car but finds nothing. Popeye, insisting the heroin is in the car, urges him to try again, and this time, they uncover 120 pounds of dope in the front grille. Hours later, they have replaced the heroin and rebuilt the car, which they return to Devereaux in order to trail him. Devereaux, spooked by the police interest, informs Charnier that he no longer wants to be involved. Charnier and Nicoli then drive the car to meet with Weinstock and his men at an abandoned warehouse, where they swap the drugs for cash. Sal, exulting in his new wealth, drives off with Charnier, only to find the bridge closed off by Popeye and his men. They return to the warehouse, where all of the criminals scatter, followed by the police. Popeye, obsessed with catching Charnier, stalks through the dilapidated building. When he hears footsteps, he turns and shoots, accidentally killing Mulderig. Although Cloudy is horrified, Popeye single-mindedly continues his pursuit, wandering off into the shadows, where a lone shot rings out. 

Production Company: D'Antoni Productions, Inc.  
Production Text: A Philip D'Antoni Production in association with Schine-Moore Productions
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: William Friedkin (Dir)
  William C. Gerrity (Asst dir)
  Terry Donnelly (Asst dir)
Producer: G. David Schine (Exec prod)
  Philip D'Antoni (Prod)
  Kenneth Utt (Assoc prod)
Writer: Ernest Tidyman (Scr)
Photography: Owen Roizman (Dir of photog)
  Billy Ward (Chief elec)
  Robert Ward (Key grip)
  Enrique Bravo (Cam op)
Art Direction: Ben Kazaskow (Art dir)
Film Editor: Jerry Greenberg (Film ed)
  Norman Gay (Assoc ed)
Set Decoration: Ed Garzero (Set dec)
  Tom Wright (Prop master)
Costumes: Joseph W. Dehn (Ward)
  Florence Foy (Ward)
  Joseph Fretwell III (Cost)
Music: Don Ellis (Mus comp and cond)
Sound: Chris Newman (Sd)
  Theodore Soderberg (Sd)
Special Effects: Sass Bedig (Spec eff)
  Pacific Title (Titles)
Make Up: Irving Buchman (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Eddie Egan (Tech consultant)
  Sonny Grosso (Tech consultant)
  Paul Ganapoler (Unit prod mgr)
  Nick Sgarro (Scr supv)
  Fat Thomas (Loc consultant)
  Robert Weiner (Casting)
  James O'Neill (Unit pub)
  Monroe Friedman (Unit pub)
Stand In: Bill Hickman (Stunt coord)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Everybody Gets to Go to the Moon," music and lyrics by Jim Webb.
Composer: Jim Webb
Source Text: Based on the book The French Connection by Robin Moore (New York, 1969).
Authors: Robin Moore

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 7/10/1971 dd/mm/yyyy LP40443

PCA NO: 23054
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: De Luxe

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
Subjects (Major): Ethics
  New York City
  Police detectives
  Vocational obsession
Subjects (Minor): Arrests
  Automobile chases
  Capitalists and financiers
  Drug dealers
  Marseilles (France)
  Police chiefs
  Surveillance devices
  Television personalities
  United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation

Note: The film ends with written titles superimposed over photographs relating how each criminal either escaped without harm or received a light punishment. The final titles read: “Alain Charnier was never caught. He is believed to be living in France. Detectives Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the Narcotics Bureau and reassigned.”
       Robin Moore's 1969 book The French Connection was based on the real-life 1961 case in which New York narcotics detectives Eddie “Popeye” Egan and Sonny “Cloudy” Grosso confiscated 120 pounds of heroin, worth over $32 million. At that time, French businessman Jean Jehan controlled a massive drug-smuggling operation into the United States, and as shown in the film through the character “Alain Charnier,” although the detectives confiscated one shipment, Jehan escaped. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but the French government refused to extradite him. Director William Friedkin asserted in a modern interview that Jehan’s record as a resistance fighter during World War II earned him the protection of the French government. Unlike in the film, the case took two and a half years to complete, and no one involved was killed during that time.
       In Jan 1969, HR reported that producer Philip D'Antoni had bought the film rights to the novel and made a deal with National General Pictures to co-produce it; however, a Feb 1969 DV news item stated that National General had first purchased the rights, then set D'Antoni as producer. Moore was announced as a special advisor in a Feb 1969 HR news item, but received onscreen credit only as the novel's writer. Although, as noted by HR in Apr 1969, National General hired Robert E. Thompson to write the screenplay, and Friedkin stated in a BBC documentary on the making of the film that was included as added content on the 2001 DVD release that he commissioned a version by Alex Jacobs, by Sep 1969 HR announced that Ernest Tidyman had been set as the screenwriter. Friedkin stated in a modern interview that Tidyman was paid only $5,000.
       After D'Antoni made a statement to the press estimating the proposed budget for The French Connection at $4.5 million, National General vice-president of production Dan Polier issued a retraction, announcing in a Dec 1969 HR news item that the budget had "never been anywhere near" that amount and that "stories announcing inflated picture budgets do a disservice to all concerned." The studio dropped the production from its slate, after which, according to D’Antoni in the BBC documentary, every studio passed on the script. Finally, Richard Zanuck, Jr. and David Brown at Twentieth Century-Fox offered them a $1.5 million budget. In Oct 1970, several contemporary sources noted that Twentieth Century-Fox had officially taken over as the production company.
       At that point, as noted by D’Antoni in the Fox Movie Channel (FMC) documentary on the film included on the DVD, the producer’s option on Moore’s novel had expired, and Moore had signed a cursory rights agreement with producer G. David Schine. When Fox expressed interest in the project, Schine refused to sell the rights, insisting on payment and onscreen credit. According to D’Antoni, Schine was barred from the film set.
       Friedkin stated in the BBC documentary that he had never read Moore’s book and disapproved of the casting of Gene Hackman. Various modern interviews with Friedkin, Hackman and Grosso reveal that the filmmakers considered Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Jackie Gleason, Egan and popular New York columnist Jimmy Breslin to play the role of Popeye. Breslin was hired briefly but, Friedkin said in the FMC documentary, was fired because his acting was below par and he could not drive. Friedkin stated in many sources that he mistakenly cast Fernando Rey as Charnier, thinking instead that casting director Robert Weiner had hired Francisco Rabal.
       In keeping with Friedkin’s “induced documentary” technique, in which the camera would appear to capture action as it occurred, much of the dialogue in the film was improvised. Friedkin claimed in the BBC documentary that Tidyman “wrote none of the final dialogue.” The actors researched their roles extensively, and Egan and Grosso, who acted as advisors on set as well as played roles in the film, provided much of the streetwise slang used by Hackman and Roy Scheider. Friedkin stated in program notes for a 1982 screening for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that “stylistically and thematically The French Connection owes much to the [1969 French] Costa-Gavras film [ Z ].” The two films also share the presence of actor Marcel Bozzuffi.
       As noted in the press materials, The French Connection was filmed on location in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Marseilles, France. The New York locations included Central Park, Park Avenue, the Lower East Side and portions of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The picture marked the feature film debut of actress Anne Rebbot and of documentary cinematographer Owen Roizman. Modern sources add Don Hall as sound designer, Carey Loftin and Jerry Summers as stuntmen, Gary Muller as second assistant camera, Maurice Schell as assistant editor, and the following actors to the cast: Joe Lo Grippo ( Tollbooth collector ), Melonie Haller ( Schoolgirl ), Eric Jones ( Little Boy ), Charles McGregor ( Bar patron in drug raid ), Silvano Nolemi ( Dock worker ) and Darby Lloyd Rains ( Stripper ).
       The chase scene in The French Connection has been widely celebrated as one of the best in cinema history. Friedkin asserted in a modern interview that D’Antoni challenged him to make the chase better than the famed sequence in Bullitt (1968, see above), D’Antoni’s previous film. Although in some interviews, Friedkin stated that he shot the sequence with painstaking preparation, other sources, including Roizman in a modern interview, stated that the footage was often obtained by using shockingly dangerous and unrehearsed methods. On the BBC documentary, Friedkin reported that stunt driver Bill Hickman drove the car up to speeds of 90 miles per hour through city streets, and Hackman stated that the crash shown at the beginning of the sequence was genuine and occurred when a local resident drove his car into the scene. The final scene of the film also generated much praise and discussion for its ambiguity. In the BBC documentary, Friedkin stated that the ending gunshot “doesn’t mean anything—although it might.”
       The picture garnered critical raves and won numerous awards, including Academy Awards for Best Actor (Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay; Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Scheider), Best Cinematography and Best Sound; BAFTAs for Best Actor (Hackman) and Best Film Editing; the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement; the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium; and Golden Globe Awards for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Actor (Hackman). The French Connection was the first R-rated film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. The critical recognition contributed to the film’s grosses, which, as of an Apr 1972 Var article, were estimated at nearly $80 million. In 2007 The French Connection was ranked 93rd on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 70th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       Zanuck and Brown were fired by Fox just before the release of The French Connection . They went on to form the Zanuck-Brown Company, producing such hits as Jaws (1974) and The Verdict (1982). In Dec 1971, NYT reported that Egan had been fired from the police force, without his pension, on the day he was scheduled to retire. According to the article, the department accused Egan of having failed to make the court appearances or attorney appointments in conjunction with his cases, or to turn in contraband weapons and narcotics. After an investigation, it was revealed that the contraband charges were unfounded. Egan stated in the NYT article that “I knew as soon as [ The French Connection ] came out that I better get out of this job,” as it highlighted his unorthodox policing tactics, thus leading to his dismissal. Egan, who continued to act in small film and television roles, died in Nov 1995.
       A Jun 1972 Var article announced that former narcotics agent Francis E. Waters was suing the film’s producers and the book’s publishers for $1 million, claiming that he, rather than Egan, broke the real-life case. The suit was dismissed. D’Antoni sued Fox, CBS and Schine for $4.3 million in May 1975, according to a DV article, stating that they still owed him for his share of the film’s profits to that point in addition to punitive damages. He also accused Fox and CBS of “warehousing,” or conspiring to delay showing the film on television until 1978. The disposition of that suit has not been confirmed.
       In 1975, Fox released The French Connection II , a sequel again starring Hackman and Rey, directed by John Frankenheimer. D'Antonio directed Scheider, who recreated the character of "Buddy Russo," in the 1973 film The Seven-Ups . That film's theme and spectacular car chase bore similarities to The French Connection . As of 2005, NBC was preparing a television series entitled NY-70 based on Egan and Grosso, to star Donnie Wahlberg and Bobby Cannavale. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   5 Feb 1969.   
Daily Variety   7 Oct 1970.   
Daily Variety   8 Dec 1971   p. 1, 13.
Daily Variety   3 May 1975.   
Filmfacts   1971   pp. 329-33.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jan 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   13 Feb 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   8 Apr 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   22 Apr 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   19 Sep 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   2 Dec 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   27 Nov 1970   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 1971   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Mar 1971   p. 28.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Oct 1971   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Mar 1972   p. 12, 27.
Life   19 Nov 1971   p. 13.
Los Angeles Times   3 Nov 1971.   
New York Times   8 Oct 1971   p. 35.
New York Times   21 Nov 1971   Section II, p. 15.
New York Times   4 Dec 1971   Section II, p. 1.
New Yorker   30 Oct 1971   p. 114.
Newsweek   1 Nov 1971.   
Saturday Review   6 Nov 1971   p. 70.
Time   1 Nov 1971   p. 16.
Variety   6 Oct 1971   p. 16.
Variety   26 Apr 1972.   
Variety   7 Jun 1972.   
Village Voice   21 Oct 1971   p. 77.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.