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The French Connection

1971 was a good year to be a bad ass cop. That was the year that gave us Dirty Harry and Shaft, and Oscar got the memo by giving the best picture statue to The French Connection.

Gene Hackman plays Detective Jimmy Doyle and Roy Scheider as Detective Buddy Russo, two officers in the NYPD Narcotics unit. During a bust at a nightclub they notice that there isnít a whole lot there, and Doyle takes an informant in a back room where he finds out nobody is holding, but they expect a big shipment soon. The big shipment is coming from a French pusher named Alain Charnier who has loaded up every nook and cranny of a Cadillac with heroin.

The detectives enter into a cat and mouse game with the French smugglers and the local pushers looking to buy the drugs. The cat and mouse game results in several tense scenes where the cops follow the criminals, with varying degrees of success.

Along with the overall gritty feel of the movie, the one very noticeable thing is that there are several long stretches with only very quiet music and little or no dialogue. This in no way dilutes the tension. Often times we have a chase, in which the only sound is what you would be hearing if you actually were sprinting through an alley in Brooklyn.

And then about halfway through the movie we get the greatest chase scene ever put on film. As he is walking home with some groceries, Doyle is shot at by a sniper. He chases the sniper on foot to an El station, where the sniper gets on a train. Doyle then commandeers a car and chases the train. Meanwhile, as the sniper was boarding the train, Doyle had yelled "stop that man" and a security guard onboard heard him and once the train got moving, began to chase the sniper through the train. There are many things to like with this intense 10 minute pursuit. First of all, it isnít clean. Doyle gets into a few fender-benders, as one might expect to happen when driving 90 MPH through a city street. Also remember, this is before cell phones and Doyle commandeered a civilian car while off duty, so there isnít a whole army of cop cars showing up as back-up to join in the pursuit, as many other chase scenes in many movies since have involved. Itís Doyle and the scurity guard on the train, who doesnít know whatís going on, against this one sniper. And itís only a sniper. This isnít the big boss. This isnít the climactic scene, where the hero has dispatched with all the henchman and is going after the main villain. This is a relatively minor character sent my Charnier to kill Doyle, and once this scene is over, there is still plenty of action left. They didnít save the best for last here.

There were many movies released in 1971 that were very good, including THX 1138, the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Last Picture Show, and everybodyís favorite West German horror/ soft-core porn Vampiros lesbos. But two movies stand out above all the others, A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection. As innovative and imaginative as A Clockwork Orange is, I think the Academy got this one right. Perhaps they voted for The French Connection because they thought A Clockwork Orange was "too weird" for them, but I feel it really is a superior movie. The acting is excellent all around and the pacing is always tense. Add to that the greatest chase scene ever filmed and you have, by a slim margin, the best picture of 1971.


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