FRENCH CONNECTION II takes the real-life hardcase cop ‘Jimmy “Popeye’ Doyle’ (Gene Hackman) and puts him in an ugly and depressing fictional situation chasing down drug kingpin ‘Alain Charnier’ (Fernando Rey), his elusive prey from the 1971 hit. Sent to France, Doyle raises his particular brand of profanity-stoked hell in Marseille, taking 119 f-bomb slinging minutes to do so, leaving us wishing we could have them back for something more uplifting, like famine footage. I remember dragging my parents to see this 1975 bummer: there were about five other people in the audience. What a dismal event this must have been for my folks.
POPEYE: “You know, I had a tryout with the Yankees. You know what the Yankees are?” INSPECTOR HENRI: “Yes. As in “Yankee go home.”
Directed by John Frankenheimer, with a screenplay done by Alexander Jacobs, Robert Dillon and Laurie Dillon. Right before filming commenced the script was then given an uncredited rewrite from Pete Hamill. More swearing?
The low-light is an extended sequence of Doyle, who’s been captured and shot up with heroin over several weeks, undergoing agonizing withdrawal. Hackman’s good, of course, but it’s endless, and about as entertaining to watch as the real thing would be.
Well-reviewed at the time—who remembers it today? Produced for $4,300,000, it made that back with ease, grossing $17,000,000, still just a patch off the previous Popeye exploit, and with none of that bruiser’s award grabs. It pulled into 40th place for the year, which sat well enough for Frankenheimer, who, after the big hit Grand Prix in 1966, had logged seven flops in a row. He followed this with his last big score, Black Sunday. *
With Bernard Fresson, Ed Lauter and Cathleen Nesbitt.
* For whatever reasons, John Frankenheimer couldn’t find a groove after Grand Prix (spectacular but BORING) and his early top-grade successes The Train, Seven Days In May, Birdman Of Alcatraz and The Manchurian Candidate (Seconds, from ’66, was superb but it was trashed at the time and few went). After the racing epic came The Fixer, The Extraordinary Seaman, The Gypsy Moths, I Walk The Line, The Horsemen, Story Of A Love, The Iceman Cometh and 99 and 44/100% Dead! (who would go see that?). After Black Sunday, mediocre material returned, with results to match—Prophecy, The Challenge, The Holcroft Covenant, 52 Pick-Up, Dead Bang, The Fourth War, Year Of The Gun, Silo 3-Jane, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, Ronin and Reindeer Games.