The French Connection (1971) – ripper car movies

Doyle is bad news - but a good cop


Based on Robin Moore’s factual 1969 book of the same name, The French Connection follows the real-life story of two hardcore New York narcotics detectives who take on a wealthy French heroin smuggler looking to make his mark on American soil.

Abrasive, prejudicial and outspoken Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Hackman) and his level-headed yet streetwise partner Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo (Schneider) use their intuition and cunning to connect a small-time New York criminal couple, Sal and Angie Boca (Lo Bianco and Farber respectively), to a big-dollar heroin shipment.

When the significance of the likely haul becomes apparent, their police captain (Egan) brings in the feds to call the shots, teaming the NY duo with FBI agents Mulderig (played by legendary Bullitt stunt driver, Bill Hickman) and Klein (Grosso – one of the real-life detectives on whom the film is based).

However, French millionaire and drug tycoon Alain Charnier (Rey) is no fool. Charnier’s cunning plan sees his Lincoln sent home to America from France, packed to the sills with $32 million of heroin, under the guise of transport for touring French TV star Henri Devereaux (de Pasquale).

But in the States, both Boca and Charnier are feeling the heat of dogged police surveillance, and buy themselves some breathing room to complete the deal by organising a hit on Popeye using Charnier’s right-hand man, Nicoli (Bozzuffi).

When Nicoli fails to kill Popeye and escapes on an elevated (or ‘L’) train, the scene is set and the famous car chase ensues. Popeye commandeers a Pontiac LeMans and tears through the busy streets, chasing hard from one train station to another, vehemently determined to bring the hitman to justice.

What I love about this chase is that it’s gritty and loose, and the wallowing action of the ‘nothing’ star car really gives off a sense of high speed and intensity. Hackman plays his part as its driver to perfection, too; there is no ‘race face’ or confident calm you often associate with movie car chases. Rather, Popeye is hanging on for dear life with a mix of desperation and fear, coupled with a decent dose of luck and skill as he throws that Pontiac through the wild and twisty structural landscape of the L-train system.

With the hitman sorted and Popeye back in the game, the detective team discover the Lincoln’s hidden bounty in an exhaustive search carried out under the ruse of a garden-variety tow-away, later returning the Lincoln to Devereaux intact to allow Boca and Charnier to seal their deal – or so they think…


I HADN’T seen The French Connection for 20-plus years, and enjoyed it this time just like it was a first viewing. The cast is strong and the story has all the dots mostly connected, but be warned that some of the dialogue and terminology will likely melt the crispest of modern snowflakes. It won five Oscars back in ’71 (including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hackman) and still holds its own today. Films of this era provide one big accidental bonus: streets filled with 1971-and-older cars and trucks in their natural habitats, from sharp and gleaming to battered and bruised.


  • 1971 Pontiac LeMans
  • 1970 Lincoln Continental
  • 1971 Ford LTD
  • 1968 Ford Custom 500
  • 1961 Mercury Comet
  • 1961 Ford Galaxie
  • 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood
  • 1971 Dodge Tradesman
  • 1968 Dodge Charger
  • 1960 Cadillac Convertible


  • Gene Hackman
  • Roy Scheider
  • Bill Hickman
  • Fernando Rey
  • Tony Lo Bianco
  • Marcel Bozzuffi
  • Arlene Farber
  • Frederic de Pasquale
  • Eddie Egan
  • Sonny Grosso

William Friedkin

One of movie history’s most memorable car chases pitches a Pontiac LeMans against a commuter train, set against the smog, steam and random trash of a chilly 1970s New York backdrop

A pair of tough NY detectives battle their hierarchy, the FBI and a cunning criminal enterprise to foil a huge heroin importation from France

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