Throwback Thursday #TBT
Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy.
French Connection II
After the huge success of “The French Connection”, someone figured there must be money to be made by doing a sequel, after all it worked for “The Godfather”. The original story in the French Connection was based on a non-fiction book about a huge drug bust. Obviously it was built up and goosed to make it more dramatic and exciting than watching guys watch cars for three nights in a row. The car chase in The French Connection is an elaboration that was not part of the real story. For French Connection II, they had to invent a whole new plot.
Popeye Doyle was a larger than life character that could be the focus of a new story and Gene Hackman had already won an Academy Award for playing him. The idea of a fish out of water plot, featuring a hard boiled detective from NYC, tring to maneuver the ways of French law enforcement was a good place to start. Probably the most memorable images of the film contain Hackman, wandering around Marseilles in his Hawaiian shirt and suit, with the pork pie hat on his head. The image in itself just screams “ugly American”. In essence, that is what turns his character into a lure for the criminal organization headed by the character referred to as Frog 1 in the original film. When Alain Charnier spots Popeye in his hometown of operations, it triggers a reaction which the French Police and the NYC Brass had hoped for. The problem is that Popete was not in on the ploy and he becomes a pawn in the game, and one that is captured relatively easily.
The main justification from a dramatic point of view for the film to exist, is to give Hackman some tasty scenes to chew on and let us relive the character. The interviews with suspects are of course compounded by the fact that Doyle does not speak French and his threats are not processed by the suspects or the interpreters very well. When he repeats the question from the first film, “if he ever picked his feet in Poughkeepsie”, it does not resonate at all with the others and Doyle starts steaming like a kettle getting ready to boil over. Before that can happen however, the big plot twist comes up. After being taken by the criminals, he is tortured and questioned by being strung out on the heroin he is in pursuit of. This is the sequence that probably encouraged Hackman to reprise his role, because he gets to play high, beaten, frustrated and wrung out through the addiction and Cold Turkey that follows. He is very good in those scenes.
Laying the groundwork for dozens of police procedurals over the next half century, there are several footchases in the film. There is usually a slight twist to them, such as the suspect is really a police informer, or there is a shootout rather than a suspect being tackled at the end. There is no chase as exciting as the one in the original, but there are a couple of solid action bits that help make up for that. Doyle, discovering the location where he was held and tortured, engages in some police sanctioned arson. I don’t know that it was believable, but it was satisfying to see him take some vengeance in this fashion. When the police discover the unloading of the blisters filled with heroin off of the ship in the dry dock. There is a shootout and an exciting sequence with water flowing down on the cops in a very dangerous circumstance. The shootouts are staged adequately, but there are an awful lot of them, which makes the film feel a little more artificial that the original. Director John Frankenheimer was very good at action scenes and you will see that in many of his other films.
The contentious relationship between Dole and his French counterpart Barthélémy, ended up working pretty well although it was oversold in the early part of the film. Ed Lauter is in the movie, as a U.S. General, tied in with Charnier, but outside of a couple of conversations, that plotline goes nowhere. Lauter is the only other American in the film and he feels like a weak red herring for us, which is too bad because I like him as a character actor very much but he gets nothing to do here. There is an interesting interlude during Doyle’s captivity with an Old Woman, which has a different payoff than you might expect, so there are a few good character moments in the film, but it is a much more action driven movie than I remembered.
Speaking of memory, I can’t quite recall the circumstances under which I saw this. When I looked at the release date of May 21, I immediately assumed I saw the movie with my two friends Dan Hasegawa and Art Franz. Art was scheduled to go into the army at the end of June, and we saw several films together before he headed off to bootcamp. Dan and I were both going to U.S.C. in the Fall, and we might have gone together after Art reported for duty. Forty Eight years later I’m afraid I’m fuzzy on the details. The movie was a moderate success and I recall liking it quite well, but not thinking it lived up to it’s predecessor. That’s also the way I feel about it now.