Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Forgotten Sequels: The French Connection II

You have to be wondering why I'm doing this, don't you?  I mean, the original film is a classic that even managed to win the Oscar for Best Picture!  On top of that, the movie won Best Director (William Friedkin), Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Screenplay and Best Editing!  Plus, the movie has been preserved in the United States Film Registry since 2005.  Why would I pick on this movie or anything related to it?  Here is the thing: people really forget about this movie.  If you need proof, check out the Wikipedia page for the original film.  Now, look at the page for the sequel.  See a contrast there?  Is there a reason for it?  For starters, there was a four-year gap between the two films, which is never a good thing.  Secondly, they changed directors, going from William Friedkin to John Frankenheimer, not that he was a bad director or anything.  On the plus side, the two lead actors and characters are present, although his partner- played by Academy Award nominee Roy Scheider- is not around.  They also changed the setting to France, which maybe alienated some people.  In spite of all that, let's check out this forgotten piece of cinematic history...
The film begins with some lovely shots of France and its landmarks.  We are quickly introduced to 'Popeye' Doyle, who has arrived on a special mission.  For those of you who are not at least aware of The French Connection, a bunch of drugs went missing and the man behind it- Charnier- got away.  Thus, we have our lead character being sent over there to get him.  It's a simple enough story, but things have to get complicated.  When he arrives, the police are out front following a lead about some missing drugs being hidden in some fish.  After a few minutes, they are informed that it was all a prank call.  Does this go anywhere?  Nope.  One thing you realize right away is that this film is not going to give you subtitles.  You see, as part of the whole experience, you are as much alienated by the language barrier as Doyle is, provided you don't also speak French.  It's a neat idea in theory, but can be a bit jarring in practice.  The film to do this idea completely right- Rescue Dawn.  Anyhow, Doyle is treated as much less than a co-worker here and the Captain makes it clear that he is forced to keep him around.  This means that nobody talks to him and he gets a nice desk next to the bathroom.  We get plenty of establishment of this and his alienation, to the point where he drinks with a bartender just to get some company.
Doyle accompanies the police on a drug bust, but it is made abundantly clear that he is not to do anything.  Nice guys, the French.  When a large suspect flees the scene, Doyle's instincts take over and he chases him down.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the large black man (how did he not stand out in France?) was actually undercover- oops.  Things only got worse as the cop is even more disliked and goes through a 'wandering around' montage.  This is not terrible, mind you, but it is definitely something you could only get away with in the '70s.  The point of all this: we see that Charnier is in town and trying to arrange a deal.  He decides to get Doyle out of the way, since he is still a little bit scared of him after a narrow escape in the last movie.  One night, his thugs catch Doyle, take him to a crappy motel and inject with heroin.  In a long sequence, you can see Doyle's resolve fade, even after learning about Charnier and being vindicated.  After they feel like he is broken, they dump him at the entrance to the police station.  They figure out what happened and must now detox him.  This is a dramatic and well-acted sequence, so let's move on.  I will make note of the scene where, in his rage, Doyle says the immortal line: Mickey Mantle Sucks!
After things are back to normal...for this movie, the Captain and Doyle have a talk.  They both know that Doyle was only there to draw out Charnier, which obviously worked.  Now it is just a matter of catching.  We have some interesting scenes where Doyle has to remember where he was taken, which is not an easy feat.  Eventually, they manage to find out about a shipment that Charnier had set up.  A typical shoot-out ensues as Charnier manages to get away, although most of his men don't.  At this point, you almost wonder if Charnier is turning into Carmen San Diego!  We get more investigation, but it does not go too smoothly.  In desperation, Doyle manages to find out that Charnier is fleeing and a chase ensues.  It is a curiously-choreographed scene as Doyle is running after the yacht, while Charnier is celebrating prematurely.  As the film reaches it's climax, our hero gets ahead of the drifting boat and lines up a shot.  As he comes into view, Doyle calls out Charnier's name and shoots the shocked man in the chest.  Before you can wonder what the implications of this will be, the movie abruptly ends!  Okay then.
This is a good movie and one that does not deserve to be so forgotten.  Fun fact: I only heard about this a few years ago while watching the 'E! True Hollywood Story' about Jaws.  They showed a marquee and one of the films on it was this one.  Only I would be obsessive enough to notice that, huh?  I guess that would be another reason for this film's surprising obscurity, since Jaws is the film credited with creating the 'summer blockbuster.'  There is certainly a disconnect for some fans in regards to this movie, which is a shame.  Maybe it has to do with all of the reasons mentioned in the introduction or maybe they just did not like it.  Regardless, if you have not seen this movie, it is worth a look, especially for all you fans of '70s cop films.  This is a good one, so enjoy it while I cover one.
Up next, the sequel to a film that reset a movie series.  The thing to note about this movie: The Evil Dead Effect.  Stay tuned...

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