The French Connection: Filmmakers Signature Series (Blu-ray)
Directed by William Friedkin
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 104 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, mono English, 5.1 French, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Review Date: October 10, 2012
When Brooklyn narcotics detectives “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) hear that the heroin-dry streets of New York are about to become a receptacle for a huge drug shipment from Marseilles, they quickly zero in on small-timer Sal Boca (Tony LoBianco) who’s been flashing a lot of money around and hobnobbing with upper echelon gangster types. By following him, they also glom on to his supplier, the notorious drug trafficker Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) with his bodyguard/assassin Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) along for the ride. Catching the criminals in the act of possessing or distributing becomes a full-time job for the two cops as the crooks are cagey and know the police are tailing them.
Director William Friedkin and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman (who based the script on Robin Moore’s book) are very cagey themselves by beginning the film rather prosaically (except for one shocking quick kill) showing us the luxurious life Charnier is living in France in counterpoint to the humdrum, dreary beat that Doyle and Russo must pound each day dealing with petty drug dealing on the streets and in dive bars. Friedkin continues the use of counterpoint later on when Charnier and Nicoli lunch in an expensive Parisian restaurant while Doyle and Russo freeze themselves silly outside stalking them while stuffing stale pizza and cold coffee down their gullets. He also emphasizes the decided lack of glamour to the job of detective work with dull stakeouts that stretch through the night and early morning with results coming often when they’re too tired to be at their best. In that regard, Friedkin’s two magnificent set pieces in the film: Doyle’s chase of Charnier through the streets and subway and his later breathless car pursuit of Nicoli who’s in an elevated train in Brooklyn making his getaway happen when Doyle is exhausted but adrenaline-soaked at being so close to catching his prey. Both of those scenes are the most famous and well remembered parts of the film, but the sniper attack that sets up the car pursuit is thrilling itself, and one appreciates on additional visits to the film the wondrous way Friedkin has captured the seedy, tough atmosphere of the streets and bars where these cops wage war against the drug dealers and often come up short. Indeed, as the coda titles remind us, despite making the biggest drug bust in New York City history, most of the major players did very little if any time for it.
The movie made Gene Hackman a bona fide movie star, and his “Popeye” Doyle is instantly magnetic, a driven cop who’s not always right but will battle to the death for the opportunity to prove that he is. He’s complemented by the superb work of Roy Scheider who gives Doyle his complete support and friendship as the perfect partner for a gruff, demanding detective. Fernando Rey is the ultimate in suave coolness as the shady French drug dealer, and Marcel Bozzuffi as the grim assassin doesn’t need to say much to wholly dominate a scene. The real life cops Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso whose lives were the basis of Doyle and Russo in the film also have parts in the movie with Egan particularly standing out as a hard-nosed commander tired of Doyle’s showboating.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This transfer appears a bit brighter than I remember the movie appearing in the theater or on previous home video editions, but this is the film’s original look untinkered with by the director after that disastrous previous Blu-ray release that was rather universally disliked. The grit and grime of the city is very much present, and the transfer reflects this in bold color, accurate flesh tones, and a mostly sharp picture which only occasionally goes soft or indistinct. Black levels are especially impressive. The white English subtitles when French is spoken are large and are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
The transfer offers three English dialogue tracks: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 2.0 surround, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mixes. The mono is most representative of the original release I saw in theaters, but I watched most of the disc with the DTS 5.1 track engaged. It’s an inconsistent but usually effective mix with very aggressive surround pans built into the film’s first ten or fifteen minutes (including great, sweeping use of Don Ellis’ prickly, offbeat score) but later use of the surround channels is more subdued. The famous car pursuit scene has softened the blaring car horn some from my recollection, but the crashes and skids certainly have a kick to them. Dialogue is usually discernible (there is some mumbling from the actors) and has been placed in the center channel.
There are two commentary tracks. Director William Friedkin (who is all over this disc in every bonus feature and hosting most of them) has the first one to himself and has much to say even when he also spends a lot of time describing what we’re seeing on the screen as preludes to his comments. The second track houses separate interviews with Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider that have been placed back-to-back not keyed to the film but simply reminiscences by both men of their work on the movie.
There is a isolated music track which may be chosen from the audio menu.
There is a trivia track which may be chosen for viewing though the overlay takes up about a third of the screen when the items appear.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in 1080p unless otherwise mentioned.
There are seven deleted scenes which may be viewed separately or in one 12 ½ minute group.
“Anatomy of a Chase” finds director William Friedkin and producer Phil D’Antoni in Brooklyn retracing the route of the car for the famous chase sequence under the elevated train commenting on what had changed over thirty-eight years (when the bonus was filmed) and their memories of shooting the sequence. It runs 20 ¼ minutes.
“Hackman on Doyle” is Gene Hackman talking a bit about his memories of Eddie Egan and also reminiscing about making the movie and the importance of it to his career. This runs 10 ¾ minutes.
“Friedkin and Grosso Remember” is a 19 ¾-minute conversation between director Friedkin and Sonny Grosso about his memories of the real case and its adaptation into the film. Also his memories of Eddie Egan are mentioned.
“Scene of the Crime” has Friedkin and former police detective Randy Jergensen talking about the latter’s managing to close the Brooklyn Bridge so Friedkin could steal a shot for the movie in this 5 ¼-minute piece.
“Cop Jazz” has music historian Jon Burlingame analyzing the jazz score by Don Ellis composed for the movie, noting where his basically sixteen minutes of cues were placed in the film (often not in the places they were originally written for). This runs 10 ¼ minutes.
“Rogue Cop” has two film historians analyzing how The French Connection shares some tenets of the film noir genre while veering away from it in many important ways. This interesting featurette runs 13 ¾ minutes.
“Making the Connection” is a 56 ½-minute 30th anniversary look back at the film with Sonny Russo acting as host going from the true story of the drug bust through Robin Moore’s book and the changes wrought in this film version. Many of the personnel from the movie also weigh in with opinions about the making of the picture. It's in 480i.
4.5/5 (not an average)
One of the crime thriller genre films that is always among the most well-remembered of its era, The French Connection finally gets a Blu-ray edition that is worthy of its importance. Highly recommended!