Based on the book by Robin Moore, The French Connection was a breakout thriller about international drug trafficking.
Directed by William Friedkin, the film starred Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Roy Scheider as Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, two NYC detectives who realize they’re on the trail of a large drug shipment coming into the city.
Fernando Rey portrayed Alain Charnier, a French drug dealer who is committed to getting his heroin into the US. Meanwhile Poppy and Cloudy are trailing local couple Sal and Angie Boca, suspecting the duo are the key to this heroin shipment entering America.
But the key to the enterprise is a French tv personality, Henri Devereaux, a friend of Charnier, who who has no idea he is involved in bringing high-grade heroin to the US.
Written by Ernest Tidyman, the screenplay was adapted from the 1969 non-fiction book by Moore, The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics and International Conspiracy, detailing the international scheme because of two Frenchmen, a drug dealer and a tv personality.
Hackman was not the first (or second or third) choice for the lead – filmmakers had wanted Paul Newman or Steve McQueen, but their budget constraints and Hackman’s continued lobbying led to finally choose him for the lead role.
Released in October 1971, the film was a gritty view of NYC and the underworld. And the most popular part of the film – the car chase scene with Doyle in a Pontiac LeMans going after an elevated train in Brooklyn.
Filmed throughout NYC and France, the film was made for a small budget of $1.8 million and grossed $51.7 million at the box office.
The French Connection became the first Restricted film to win best picture at the Academy Awards and won best director, actor (Hackman), adapted screenplay and film editing. Scheider was nominated for best supporting actor.
And in film history, its considered one of the best thrillers of all time.