Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The French Connection (1971)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The French Connection (1971)

In director William Friedkin's action-packed, fast-moving, uncompromising, intense, and gritty Best Picture-winning action-crime thriller - it was filmed on location and based on a true story about the efforts of law enforcement involved in one of the largest narcotics seizures of all-time (in 1962 when 120 pounds of pure heroin worth $32 million, were confiscated after being smuggled into the country from France and hidden in a vehicle). It was the first R-rated film to win Best Picture since the institution of the MPAA rating system. The film won a staggering five Academy Awards: (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Film Editing).

The adapted screenplay by Ernest Tidyman was based on Robin Moore's best-selling 1969 book The French Connection, that told about a crackdown on a multi-million dollar international dope smuggling ring by two NYPD narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. The film starred two hard-nosed, vulgar New York City police cops who exposed an international, heroin-smuggling operation based in Marseilles - headed by suave, elusive, mastermind crime boss Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). A sequel four years later, French Connection II (1975), chased Charnier to Marseilles.

  • the film opened with a dialogueless scene set in Marseilles, France in December of 1970; a French crime boss' malevolent hit-man/henchman-sniper Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzufi) callously murdered an undercover, plainsclothes detective (Jean Luisi) by shooting him in the face (and then coldly broke off a piece of a boulangerie's long loaf of bread the man had just purchased) before walking off; the victim had been following the crime boss and his henchman before he was discovered and murdered

Crime Boss' Hit-Man Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzufi)

Murdered Undercover Plainsclothes Detective (Jean Luisi)
  • the next scene shifted to a scene in Brooklyn (NYC), where two NYPD cops were disguised outside the seedy Oasis Bar & Grill in the course of their work - a drug stakeout: passionate, tough, pushy, unorthodox, bigoted and racist Detective Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) was dressed as a Santa Claus and Detective Buddy "Cloudy" Salvatore Russo (Roy Scheider) posed as a hot dog vendor
  • a two-bit black dope-drug Pusher named Willy (Alan Weeks) was confronted and accosted, who reacted by slashing Russo's arm with one swipe of his concealed knife. The two raced after him on foot down the street toward a deserted lot, where the hot-headed Doyle and pissed-off Russo viciously beat him; they then dragged him to a litter-strewn alleyway, where they used the tactic of good cop/bad cop to intimidate him without finding any drugs on him. Typical of his obscene vocabulary, sadistic nature and strong-arm tactics, Doyle used his famous pet non-sequitur on him: ("Hey, s--thead. When's the last time you picked your feet? Huh?...I got a man in Poughkeepsie wants to talk to you. Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie? Huh? Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?... Come on, say it. Let me hear you say it, come on. Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie? You've been in Poughkeepsie, haven't ya? I want to hear it! Come on! ...You've been there, right?...You sat on the edge of the bed, didn't ya? You took off your shoes, put your finger between your toes and picked your feet. Didn't ya? Now say it!...All right, you put a shiv in my partner. You know what that means, god damn it? All winter long, l gotta listen to him gripe about his bowling scores. Now, I'm gonna bust your ass for those three bags and I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie")
  • after visiting the Marseilles docks, debonair French criminal mastermind Alain Charnier (Spanish actor Fernando Rey), an illicit smuggler/heroin importer (and hitman Nicoli's boss), drove to his posh seaside villa to meet up with his beautiful young wife Marie Charnier (Ann Rebbot)
  • back at the police station, Doyle also made a shocking (for-its-time) statement to his injured partner: (Doyle: "You dumb guinea!" Russo: "How the hell did I know he had a knife?" Doyle: "Never trust a n----r")
  • after work, Doyle and Russo (posing as plainclothesmen) shared a drink at an Eastside club, known as the Chez; the two stumbled into a suspicious group of "greasers" and mob figures at a corner table: "That table is definitely wrong," surmised Doyle. They saw large sums of money being flashed by handsomely-dressed playboy ("the last of the big spenders") Salvatore "Sal" Boca (Tony Lo Bianco) and his blonde wife Angie (Arlene Farber) (with a wig). "Just for fun," Doyle suggested tailing "the greaser with the blonde." Taking the long-shot hunch, they trailed the couple driving a 1970 Ford LTD the entire remainder of the early morning hours (first driving through Times Square and spending some time outside a kosher restaurant named Ratner's where the couple ate breakfast) - up until 7 am the next morning; they also witnessed a brief drug "drop" with a briefcase on Broome St., before the couple crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn Heights, and switched into a white 1961 Comet Sedan (registered to Sal's brother Lou Boca (Benny Marino))
  • the Bocas ended up at "Sal & Angie's" - a candy/newspaper store and luncheonette, owned and run as a small-time, working-class business by the couple
  • back in Marseilles, France, Charnier takes a motorboat out to a large, highly-fortified, offshore island fortress known as Château d'If for a secret meeting with his assassin Nicoli, who confirmed the job of killing the undercover detective as an "ugly job." They awaited the late arrival of a TV celebrity named Henri Devereaux (Frédéric de Pasquale), although Nicoli was opposed to Charnier's plan: "It's a mistake to involve him....I don't trust him." Once Henri arrived, he agreed to accept Charnier's unknown proposition (shipping his car for free to the US?) with a hand-shake: "I've decided to accept" [Note: Devereaux didn't suspect that Charnier was engaged in drug smuggling, and was planning to ship drugs in the vehicle.]
  • after a week of surveillance of the Boca couple with a stakeout, it was clear that the couple and Sal's garbage-man brother Lou (Benny Marino), all ex-criminals, couldn't possibly support their lavish lifestyle (their business was only a "front"), and that all of the Bocas had a suspicious history of criminal activities and shady associates (including Jewish mafia boss, drug kingpin and lawyer Joel Weinstock (Harold Gary) living in a luxury Manhattan condo) - a major financial backer of the illegal importation of drugs; Sal also drove to Wards Island for some unknown reason ("maybe it's another drop") [Note: Wards Island was where the Charnier Shipping Company of Marseilles, France was located, along with other businesses.]
  • in another sleazy, black and Puerto Rican junk-house bar in Brooklyn, Russo and Doyle returned - as Doyle announced: "All right, Popeye's here!"; he hassled and shook-down a group of patrons lined up against the wall: ("Get your hands on your heads. Get off the bar and get on the wall. Come on, Move, move!"). He watched pill containers drop to the floor, and grilled another suspect: "Do you pick your feet?" As he cleaned the bottom-side of the bar counter of drugs stashed there by running his hand along the bottom-side of the bar, he quizzically asked: "What is this? A f--kin' hospital here? Huh?" He then threatened: "We told you people we were comin' back. We're gonna keep comin' back here until you clean this bar up"; from one of his informants (Al Fann) in a back room, Doyle learned the reason why everyone's clean and there were no hard drugs on the streets: "Ain't nothin' around...There's been some talk...- a shipment, comin' in this week, the week after. Everybody's gonna get well"

Cleaning the Underneath Area of Bar During Shakedown

Examining Drugs in Bar Before Creating 'Milkshake' Concoction
  • because Popeye's hunches had "backfired" before, Popeye and Russo were initially denied permission by their boss Lieutenant Walter Simonson (Eddie Egan) to work on their current hunches about Boca and Weinstock: "Big score, my ass. At best, he's sellin' nickel and dime bags." They pleaded with Simonson and were allowed a court order for two wiretaps ("one on the store, one on the house") and were reluctantly given permission to continue their pursuit in a special assignment
  • meanwhile, French TV celebrity/star Henri Devereaux arrived by cruise ship in New York's harbor, traveling to the US to make a film, and also importing his brown Lincoln Continental Mark III that was unloaded from the ship; suave French drug kingpin Alain Charnier and his hitman Nicoli watched as the car was driven away [Note: In Marseilles, the crafty Charnier had presumably stashed heroin into the vehicle of the unsuspecting Devereaux who unwittingly escorted the shipment to New York.]
  • along with two 60-day wiretaps of Boca's home and store, Simonson assigned two other federal drug enforcement agents to assist Popeye and Russo: disgruntled Agent Bill Mulderig (Bill Hickman), Popeye's former nemesis, and Agent Clyde Klein (Sonny Grosso)

Agent Bill Mulderig (Bill Hickman)

Agent Clyde Klein (Sonny Grosso)
  • another scene established the link between Charnier and the Bocas; Sal's brother Lou was seen bidding, on behalf of Charnier, for scrap metal at a police auction held at a vehicle junkyard; Charnier's import-export shipping business often dealt in scrap metal
  • one of the wire-tapped phone conversations connected French-accented Charnier to Sal requesting a 12 o'clock Wednesday meeting at his midtown Manhattan hotel
  • the two nattily-dressed, overworked, uneducated New York street cops Russo and Doyle (along with Mulderig and Klein) trailed their "French connection" suspect Sal into Manhattan, in their attempt to bring to justice the French drug smuggling ring; after splitting up, Mulderig tracked Sal, while Doyle and Russo followed Charnier (dubbed "Frog One") and Nicoli ("Frog Two"); the two detectives found themselves eating cold pizza out in the cold as the two smugglers dined in the warmth of a fancy French restaurant
  • the two smugglers sensed that they were being followed to their respective hotels, the Westbury Hotel ("Frog One's" hotel) and the Edison Hotel ("Frog Two's"), while Sal went home
  • in the next scene in a richly-appointed suite in the Westbury while testing the quality of the heroin in front of Boca and Weinstock, the chemist Howard (Pat McDermott) watched the rising thermometer and declared: "Grade A poison. Absolute dynamite. Eighty-nine percent pure junk. Best I've ever seen"; the two Americans discussed a deal with the French drug syndicate for a half-million dollar buy of the shipment of 60 kilos of heroin from the French foreign market - a deal worth $32 million on the street; the experienced Weinstock exercised caution toward the fidgety, impulsive Boca, the Brooklyn contact for Charnier: "This is your first major league game, Sal. One thing I learned. Move calmly, move cautiously. You'll never be sorry"

Chemist Howard (Pat McDermott)

Drug Kingpin Joel Weinstock (Harold Gary)

Nervous and Fidgety Salvatore "Sal" Boca (Tony Lo Bianco)
  • Popeye again played an elusive game of cat-and-mouse as he attempted to discreetly stalk Charnier from the Westbury Hotel through the street and into the underground subway system; Doyle phoned into his colleague Mulderig: "This is Doyle. I'm sittin' on Frog One"; the clever, suave Frenchman with a silver-handled umbrella then outwitted Doyle, and smugly waved goodbye through a departing subway train window at Grand Central Station. Having been identified, Popeye became a prime target for elimination
  • during a short detour, Sal met with Charnier in Washington DC, and asked for a delay in the drug deal, due to his overcautious concerns about being followed by "the heat"; to keep on schedule, Charnier's hired, murderous sniper Pierre Nicoli ("Frog Two") volunteered to eliminate the cop who followed Charnier in the subway: "Let me handle him"
  • at the same time, Doyle was "dead certain" that the drug deal hadn't occurred yet and begged for more time, but Lt. Simonson regretted that two months had been wasted on the case: ("We blew it. We blew our warrants. We blew our cover"). When a fight broke out again between Mulderig and Doyle, Simonson promptly removed Doyle from the case: "You're off special assignment"
  • Charnier's attempt to kill Doyle via sniper Nicoli on a rooftop failed outside his apartment; this led to the film's high-point and centerpiece -- the dazzlingly-edited scene of the frantic car pursuit, that has been endlessly copied in dozens of films - it was a terrifying, staggering series of effectively intercut segments; it rivaled the producer's previous car-chase scene in the film Bullitt - and the reason the film was awarded an Oscar for Best Editing
  • the French smuggler and murderous hired killer-sniper Pierre Nicoli, Charnier's partner, was pursued by the fearless cop on foot to a nearby elevated train station, but after leaping up stairs, Doyle found himself on the wrong side of the tracks; to catch up to Nicoli, Doyle flagged down and hijacked ("borrowed") a motorist's 1966 Pontiac Le Mans ("Police emergency: I need your car") and pursued the drug dealer on board the out-of-control, run-away elevated commuter subway train above him (on the L-tracks in Brooklyn of the BMT West End line)
  • Nicoli had commandeered and hijacked and elevated subway train above him (in Bensonhurst), terrorized passengers, killed the train's transit cop chasing him through the carriages, and ordered the front car's motorman at gunpoint to not stop at any of the stations; the fearful motorman obeyed and plowed through the 25th Street station without stopping
  • to keep pace, Doyle drove 90 mph and barely missed pedestrians and other vehicles on the narrow two-lane road beneath the elevated tracks; he half-collided with another white car at an intersection, was clipped or side-swiped by a delivery van/truck, dodged a mother and her baby carriage, and crashed into garbage, all the while furiously honking the car's horn and frantically switching from his brake to accelerator; he banged his fists on the steering wheel, angered at the delays and frustrations

Doyle at Wheel of 'Borrowed' Car

Driver's POV

Colliding With Another Car

Dodging A Mother and Baby Carriage

Crashing Into Garbage
  • at the end of the chase after Nicoli killed the train conductor and the train's motorman suffered a heart-attack, a climactic train crash occurred when the runaway train smashed into another stationary train on the tracks [photographed with the train moving away from the camera - and then reversed]
  • hijacker Nicoli escaped from the wreckage, believing that he was freed of Doyle; as he fled down the 62nd Street subway train station's stairs, he saw Doyle and immediately turned and reversed himself, but Doyle gunned him down on the landing of the stairs - the image became the famous iconic promotional still used to advertise the film on posters; Doyle and Russo were reassigned to the case
  • the impounded brown Lincoln Continental Mark III (with foreign plates), owned by leading French TV personality-celebrity Henri Devereaux was the subject of a thorough police garage search that turned up nothing; however, Russo deduced that the car's shipping weight was 120 pounds heavier than its normal weight; 60 kilos of the heroin (white powder in bags) were ultimately found cleverly hidden in the rocker panels of the vehicle; the reassembled vehicle, or a duplicate car (with the heroin stash inside) was released, and the deal was allowed to continue; Devereaux met up with Charnier in his hotel and is implicated: "The police know you brought the car into the country. This makes you an accomplice" - the unsuspecting Devereaux was very confused and disavowed any more involvement with Charnier
  • Charnier drove the vehicle to an old abandoned factory on Wards Island to meet Lou and Weinstock - to deliver the drugs for the payoff; after the heroin was tested for authenticity, the drug shipment was hidden in the building, while the cash payment was rehidden in the auctioned junker car that Lou had purchased (to be smuggled back to France); after Sal drove off with Charnier in the Lincoln to return to the city, they faced a roadblock and Sal was forced to return to Wards Island

Drugs Tested

Cash Exchanged
Roadblock Outside Wards Island Led by Popeye Doyle
  • in the downbeat ending, there was a massive ambush and shoot-out at the surrounded and tear-gassed main warehouse on Wards Island, resulting in Boca's killing (by Russo) and Weinstock's arrest; as Doyle (joined by Russo) and federal narcotics agent Mulderig pursued Charnier in a second subterranean warehouse building on Wards Island, Mulderig was mistakenly shot dead by Doyle; the perturbed and frustrated cop, without any hesitation or regrets, continued his relentless and obsessive search for the elusive culprit Charnier: "The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm gonna get him"

Popeye in Pursuit of Charnier in a Second Building with Russo

Mulderig Mistakenly Shot Dead by Doyle

Doyle to Russo: "The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I'm gonna get him"
  • the film deliberately concluded on a mysterious note and a failed denouement - what actually happened remained ambiguous and open to varying interpretations. Doyle ran off through the warehouse to further pursue his prey; a single shot was heard - off-screen - before the film abruptly ended with a black screen. Apparently, Charnier slipped away and was never caught.
  • subtitles, super-imposed above a still photo of each main criminal or character, explained the failed denouement:

    JOEL WEINSTOCK was indicted by a Grand Jury. Case dismissed for "lack of proper evidence."
    ANGIE BOCA, guilty of a misdemeanor. Sentence suspended.
    LOU BOCA, guilty of conspiracy and possession of narcotics. Sentence reduced.
    HENRI DEVEREAUX, guilty of conspiracy. Served four years in a Federal Penitentiary.
    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.

'Popeye' Disguised as Santa Claus with Partner Russo With Pusher

Criminal Mastermind and Drug Smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) in Marseilles

Suspicious Couple (the Bocas) Spotted in Ritzy Chez Nightclub/Restaurant by Popeye

Popeye and Russo Watching the Bocas In Restaurant

At the End of a Long Night, Tailing the Suspected Drug Smugglers

Sal & Angie's Neighborhood Newspaper/Candy Store and Luncheonette

The Bocas as Working-Class Couple

French TV Celebrity Henri Devereaux (Frédéric de Pasquale)

Lieutenant Walter Simonson (Eddie Egan)

TV star Devereaux' Imported Lincoln Continental Mark III Into NYC

Charnier's Scrap Metal Buyer at Auction - Sal's Brother Lou Boca

Charnier and Nicoli Dining In Fancy French Restaurant in Manhattan

Doyle Freezing Cold During Stakeout

Next Day Cat-and-Mouse Pursuit by Doyle After Charnier in Subway System

Charnier - Waving Goodbye to Doyle from Subway Window

Charnier and Sal Discussing Delay in Deal in Washington, DC

Nicoli Threatening the Elevated Subway Train's Fearful Motorman at Gunpoint

Crazed Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle Driving a Hijacked Civilian Car

Train Conductor Shot and Killed

Just Before the Train Crashed into the Back of Another Stationary Train

After Subway Chase, the Gunning Down of Nicoli by Doyle on Subway Stairs Landing

Searching the Undercarriage of Devereaux' Car for Heroin

The Lincoln Driven to Wards Island - For Exchange of Heroin and Money

Sal's Death (Shot by Russo)


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