• French Connection, The (Filmmaker Signature Series)

    Released by: Fox
    Released on: September 18, 2012.

    Director: William Friedkin

    Cast: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Ray, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi

    Year: 1971

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    The Movie:

    William Friedkin's incredibly tense and influential The French Connection tells the story of a pair of New York City cops, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider), who are trying to stop a massive shipment of heroin heading to American shores from a drug operation based in France. The man in charge of the operation, Alain Charnier (Fernando Ray), isn't your typical dope peddler, though, he's a high society gentleman of the highest caliber, making him a little trickier to get to than some street thug would be. His buyer, Salvatore Boca (Tony Lo Bianco), is a little more approachable, however. As the pair set out tailing a few people they suspect to be involved in the operation on the America side, they uncover more about the operation until their lives are in danger from the very suspects they're tailing, who would love nothing more than to see these two cops dead.

    Featuring a fantastic car chase good enough to rival (some would say beat) Bullitt, The French Connection is just as tense and action packed as you'd want a cop thriller to be, but not at the sacrifice of character development or story. The plot is reasonable simple on its own but there are a few welcome twists and turns that keeps things exciting enough, while the fantastic performances flesh out the characters nicely. Doyle and Russo are very human cops, prone to mistakes and slip ups like the rest of us. Hackman's Doyle, in particular, is remarkably human and prone to drinking too much and maybe just a little bit too judgmental of those he doesn't share the same skin color with. At the same time, while he's a bit of a bastard, he's an honest cop and he works hard at his job. This contrasts interestingly with the dapper and slick Charnier, expertly played by Fernando Ray, a man so suave you almost get the impression he's not acting at all. This makes the pair foils not just on a career level but on a socio-political level as well and it adds an interesting layer to the film. Scheider also turns in great work here, but really, this is Hackman's show all the way and as good as the supporting cast is, they all stand in his shadow.

    More than just a movie with a bad ass car chase, The French Connection is also a fantastic time capsule of the New York City of the 1970s. Friedkin's always done a good job of making his locations a big part of the film, you see it in The Exorcist and you really see it in the more recent Bug, and with this film he really puts is in the moment. Plenty of gritty location shots and dingy locations make us believe this is a city that needs tough cops like Doyle, even if they're not exactly good people in the way that we hope the police will always be.

    Friedkin keeps the pace moving very quickly, rarely letting up and bringing everything to a taut and exciting conclusion in an appropriately mucky setting. This isn't really a film about heroes so much as it is a picture that's based in reality, where good and evil aren't always clearly defined and hard decisions have to be made without much time to think about them. At times a bit nihilistic, this isn't a film that offers the mindless escapism that mainstream audiences have come to associate with action movies, but a thinking person's type of crime film, one that demands your full attention and your own individual thoughts and opinions. It's a clever picture that would go on to influence countless pictures, most of which can't even come close to its level atmosphere, tension, sophistication and excitement.


    When The French Connection debuted on Blu-ray in 2009 there was understandably some controversy surrounding the ‘Director Approved’ tinkering with the movie’s color scheme. Friedkin and some technicians quite literally mixed things around and desaturated the color from the original version resulting in an image that didn’t look but, but which definitely looked very different from all previous versions of the movie, be they DVD, VHS or theatrical screenings. Evidently either the uproar was loud enough or the disc sold well enough regardless that we now have a second ‘Director Approved’ version released as part of Fox’s Filmakers Signature Series, and this time around, purists should be happy and though it was initially quietly released as a Best Buy exclusive, it’s now available to the mass market. So how does it hold up?

    The colder color scheme that caused such an uproar on the first disc is gone and back is the film’s original palette, a lighter looking image that is undeniably more natural looking and more in feel with the film’s seventies origins. That issue aside (and that was really the only major complaint about the last transfer) detail is strong on this transfer, texture as well. There’s plenty of grain here, and most of us wouldn’t want the movie any other way, while black levels remain pretty solid throughout the movie. Skin tones look natural and print damage, while present in the form of minor specks here and there, is held in check. This is still an early seventies movie made with a gritty aesthetic in mind and the transfer reflects that – as such we don’t get the eye popping clarity and detail other Blu-ray releases have been able to provide, but it’s The French Connection looking like The French Connection, most fans will be pleased by that fact.

    English audio options are provided in DTS-HD5.1 Master Audio and Dolby Digital Mono with optional Spanish and French language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes included. Subtitles are provided in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese with closed captioning provided for the feature only in English. The DTS 5.1 Master Audio mix sounds, well, rather forced. It definitely opens up the effects and the score but it spreads it around almost too much. Thankfully the Mono track is there, which at least presents the film in a way that most viewers will be accustomed to. In defense of the HD audio track, it sounds nice and clear, but as it is with the video, there's a bit of revisionist history going on here that's bound to irk some folk. Regardless, you can choose which option you want, the fancy new surround mix or the old fashioned mono mix - both sound just fine, and it's nice to have options.

    Fox first released the French Connection as a two-disc set, this new reissue is a single disc release. Carried over from the extras are the commentary tracks, one of which comes from director William Friedkin. This film is one of Friedkin's best and his thoughts are pretty interesting as he talks about influences that shaped the picture, casting the film, shooting the movie in New York City and editing the picture. The second commentary features Gene Hackman and the late, great Roy Scheider. This was pieced together from different interviews so it's more retrospective than scene specific but it's invaluable in that it gives us insight into what it was like working on the film in front of the camera. There's a lot of great information in here about working with the various cast and crew members and what it was like trying to get into and stay in character for the film.

    Complimenting the two commentary tracks is a trivia track (which is actually really interesting and not just a superficial fluff supplement as you might expect) and the film's isolated score (presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound which presents the film in Ellis' originally intended version - noticeably different than the score contained on the feature version of the movie but no less interesting!), courtesy of the great Don Ellis. A brief, but brand new, video introduction from director William Friedkin is also included on this release, and while it won't change your life, it at least allows the man to present the film with his thoughts preceding it.

    Also carried over are a selection of deleted scenes, most of which we've seen before but it's still nice to have them included on this Blu-ray debut. From there, check out Anatomy Of A Chase which is an interesting featurette where Friedkin and producer D'Antoni head to Brooklyn to explore where the iconic chase scene was shot, telling some interesting stories about that famous scene along the way. Hackman On Doyle is, as you could probably ascertain, a featurette where Gene Hackman discusses his Oscar winning performance as Popeye Doyle. Friedkin And Grosso Remember The French Connection lets the pair reminisce about putting the picture together in Grosso's office while Scene Of The Crime is a great segment where Friedkin and Randy Jurgenson hang out underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and talk about the difficulties involved in the film's location shooting.

    Cop Jazz: The Music Of Don Ellis lends some insight into the importance of Ellis' music to the film's success - quite interesting and well worth watching. Rogue Cop: The Noir Connection is a nice supplement that explores film noir's influence on The French Connection and which contains some very nice clips from Fox's noir library. Equally interesting is Making The Connection: The Untold Stories Of The French Connection, which at just a few minutes shy of an hour in length, was created specifically for the first Blu-ray release. Here again we're treated to a ton of interviews that explore the making of the film as well as critical reactions to the picture and some insight into its success and influence. Rounding out the disc is an isolated score track, menus and chapter stops. Inside the packaging is an exclusive twenty-five page full color insert booklet that offers up some interesting reading on Friedkin and his collaborators.

    Missing from this release though included on the first release are the Color Timing The French Connection featurette, the BBC documentary The Poughkeepsie Shuffle and Friedkin’s introduction to the movie.

    The Final Word:

    The omission of the BBC documentary The Poughkeepsie Shuffle is a strike against this disc and a reason to hold on to the original 2-disc release, but the fact that the transfer goes back to what is essentially the original color scheme for the feature is going to be reason enough for a lot of people to double dip. All in all, a pretty nice presentation of a classic crime film, one of Friedkin’s shining moments and a highlight in the respective careers of Hackman and Scheider that is as undeniably entertaining and gripping as it is influential.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      One of the greatest movies....EVER. I'm so glad they went back to how it has always looked. Older versions of the directors messing with their classics has gone on long enough.
    1. george n's Avatar
      george n -
      Quote Originally Posted by Todd Jordan View Post
      One of the greatest movies....EVER. I'm so glad they went back to how it has always looked. Older versions of the directors messing with their classics has gone on long enough.
      Agreed,is it region locked ian? I bet you are getting fed up with me asking all the time lol?
    1. Jimmy Simard's Avatar
      Jimmy Simard -
      Quote Originally Posted by george n View Post
      Agreed,is it region locked ian?
      blu-ray.com say it isn't George.
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      I watched this disc a couple of months ago and was hugely happy with it - it's a very nice release, much better than Fox's first go-round with the film.

      George, I watched the disc on a region A-friendly player, but I'm pretty certain it was region free (my player is usually set to region B by default, and so if the disc was locked my player would have refused to play it).
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -

      So am I out of mind for hating the ending of THE FRENCH CONNECTION? This film is a beloved classic made by a filmmaker that knows a hell of alot more about movie making than I so it must just be me. I thought it was cool that Popeye accidentally killed the Fed and showed no remorse but going from that scene to a text screen that explains everyone's fate felt lazy and anticlimactic. I expect that from a cheap teen comedy not an amazingly tense crime film. I was on the edge of my seat during the second half of the film. I feel like I was left hanging.

      As much run as the car chase gets (deserving so) I really dug the on foot surveillance stuff.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I don't think you're out of your mind....it could've been done better. But I love it anyway