A Year: Day to Day Men: 7th of October, Solar Year 2018

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October 7, 1971 was the date of the New York City and Los Angeles premieres of “The French Connection”.

“The French Connection” is a 1971 American crime thriller film directed by William Friedkin, who began his career in documentaries and is closely identified with the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. The screenplay by Ernest Tidyman is based on Robin Moore’s non-fiction book of the same name. It tells the story of New York Police Department detectives in pursuit of a wealthy French heroin smuggler.

William Friedkin noted that the film’s documentary style realism was the result of his having seen the French film “Z’, a political thriller film. He credits his decision to direct “The French Connection” to director Howard Hawks who thought Friedkin’s previous films were bad and recommended that Friedkin make a movie with a better chase scene than any previous films.

The casting of “The French Connection” ultimately was one of the film’s greatest strengths; however Friedkin had problems with casting choices from the start. He was strongly opposed to the choice of Gene Hackman for the lead; he was considering Paul Newman, Jimmy Breslin, and Charles Bronson, among others. For different reasons these choices were not available, so Friedkin chose Hackman for the role of Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle..

The choice of the French heroin smuggler was the result of a mistaken identity. Friedkin was impressed with the performance of Francisco Rabal in the film “Belle de Jour”; but he could not remember the actor’s name, only thatt the actor was Spanish. The casting director contacted another Spanish actor named Fernando Rey for the role. After Francisco Rabal was finally contacted, Friedkin dixcovered that the actor spoke neither French nor English; so Fernando Rey was given the role of Alain Charnier.

“The French Connection” contains one of the greatest car chase sequences in film history. The detective Popeye played by Hackman commandeers a civilian’s car and frantically chases an elevated train, on which a hitman is attempting to escape. Some of the chase scenes were filmed from a bumper mount camera on the car, resulting in a low-angle view of the streets racing by. The speed of the camera was set a 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of the car’s speed. Stunt drivers were supposed to barely miss the speeding chase car, but accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film.

“The French Connection” was the first R-rated movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture since the rating system started. It also won Best Actor for Gene Hackman, Best Diredtor for William Friedkin, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Ernest Tidyman won for his screenplay a Writers Guild of America Award, a Golden Globe nomination, and won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his screenplay.

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