October 5, 1971 [The French Connection]

I took my son to see his first R-rated movie, The French Connection--not the worst pick, the movie its own kind of Boy's Adventure--with heroin as the treasure and villains with accents, plus challenges and tunnels, runaway trains and hair-raising chases--at least one, Popeye Doyle in a real-life Bumper Car near-missing babies and other innocents.

New York looks the part, too: under a dark spell, all shadows and wet trash at your feet, the subway platform grimy--but Popeye and his partner (Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, both of them expecting the worst while bullets and B.S. assail them) sip their cold coffee and wait--and wait and wait, the bad guys like King John in the Robin Hood stories eating and drinking while the heroes huddle in the rain.

But, as a boy's tale for grownups, The French Connection does not share the flippant almost-irony of the Bond movies. No, this one seems more interested in detailing the decline of New York, a city swarming with rats, its overworked exterminators persistent but not too hopeful. The sky lowers, the light feels dirty. My son had a good time, but I think it made him a little queasy, as though he'd eaten one of those curbside hot dogs Popeye jams in his mouth before bolting after vermin.


  1. Along with Kurt Russell's Yosemite Sam hat in "The Thing," Hackman has just about the best hat in post-silent film. Suitable for tearing off the head and flinging to the ground in frustration, like Edgar Kennedy chasing truant Little Rascals.


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