Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Connection" is a Real Thriller

Cleveland Press November 11, 1971

"The French Connection" is a tense, tough, mean, sizzling, raw thriller. For cops-and-robbers chase movies there's been nothing like it since "Bullitt," and in most respects "French Connection" surpasses "Bullitt."

This is a chase movie to end all chase movies. In fact, the picture is one chase after another with the rest of the film serving as connecting bits, setting up matters for the next go-around.

In spite of the action the people are not simply moving figures across the landscape. With deft, economical touches the moviemakers have managed to create dimensional characters.

Protagonist is narcotics detective Jimmy Doyle (Gene Hackman). To Doyle being a cop is all-consuming. His idea of a fun time after he's finished his shift is to tail some likely looking suspects, to stake-out what may be headquarters for a narcotics supplier.

There is nothing noble about Doyle however. He not only works close to the letter of the law, he sometimes bends it a little. If society's protection is on his mind at all it probably is there to only justify his actions -- illegal searches, beating up a suspect, pursuing a man through busy streets at the risk of killing others.

Like many men who eat, sleep and drink their work, his single-mindedness approaches the pathological. If someone gets maimed or killed along the way, so be it.

The title refers to a narcotics shipment from France. Doyle finds the streets relatively clean of hard stuff, but the word is out that new supplies are on the way.

With his partner, Buddy Rosso (Roy Scheider), he tails a suspected supplier, convinces his superiors that this may be the link to the expected shipment. One suspect leads to another and finally to a visitor from France, Fernando Rey, and his murderous bodyguard, Marcel Bozuffi.

The movie was made during the winter months in New York and the cold, bleak, dirty look of it all adds to the documentary flavor of the work. This is a seamy, filthy world, and it is reflected accurately. Dialog is rough, full of the obscenities that are second nature to the speakers, hence the R-rating.

The stakeouts are generally tedious to the men involved, often frustrating. But clearly this is a story of tenacity, of a certain devotion to duty. Though Doyle cannot see beyond the junkies, he sees them exceedingly well.

The big chase scene, the stunner, the way-out hair raiser for which the "French Connection" will be long remembered has Doyle in an auto careening through the busy street below as he tries to keep up with an elevated train above. On the train is a killer. The motorman is dead and the train isn't making any stops.

Director William Friedskin has stuck to essentials and has managed to retain a documentary look while reveling in all the excitement of a good action melodrama. Producer is Philip D'Antoni, who also produced "Bullitt," and who apparently knows how to package ingredients and people.

Hackman is superb, completely losing himself in the tough, wise-guy character he plays. Scheider is a perfect partner and the give and take between the two has the looks of men who have worked together for years.