The French Connection is a 1971 American crime film directed by William Friedkin. The film was adapted and fictionalized by Ernest Tidyman from the non-fiction book by Robin Moore. It tells the story of New York Police Department detectives named "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy Russo, whose real-life counterparts were Narcotics Detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. Egan and Grosso also appear in the film, as characters other than themselves. It was the first R-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since the introduction of the MPAA film rating system. It also won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gene Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Ernest Tidyman). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Roy Scheider), Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Tidyman also received a Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America Award and an Edgar Award for his screenplay. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The film revolves around the smuggling of narcotics between Marseille, France and New York City, USA. In Marseille a policeman is staking out Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), a French criminal who is smuggling heroin from France to the United States. The policeman is assassinated by Charnier's henchman, Pierre Nicoli. In New York, detectives James Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are conducting an undercover stakeout in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. After seeing a drug transaction take place in a bar, Russo goes in to make an arrest and the suspect makes a break for it. After catching up with their suspect and delivering a severe beating after the suspect cuts Russo on the arm with a knife, the detectives aggressively interrogate the man, forcing him to reveal where his connection is based. After Russo's injury is treated, Doyle convinces him to go out for a drink. At the nightclub, Doyle becomes interested in Salvatore "Sal" Boca and his young wife, Angie, who are entertaining Mob members involved in narcotics. Doyle persuades his partner to tail the couple; although the Bocas run a modest newsstand luncheonette, they have criminal records: Sal is said to have held up Tiffany's and also killed "a guy named DeMarco" while Angie drew a suspended sentence for shoplifting and Sal's brother Lou served jail time for assault and robbery. They make nearly nightly trips to several nightclubs, as well as driving several new cars, which indicates they may be involved in criminal activity. A link is established between the Bocas and lawyer Joel Weinstock, who is rumored to have connections in the narcotics underworld; Doyle and Russo allude to a drug shipment from Mexico bankrolled by Weinstock. Doyle and Russo roust a bar in their precinct where the majority of the patrons are in possession of marijuana and other minor drugs. The rousting is a stunt for Doyle to find an undercover policeman whom he questions about an apparent shortage of hard drugs on the street; Doyle is told that a major shipment of heroin is on its way. The detectives convince their supervisor, Walt Simonson, to pursue wiretapping the Bocas' phones and use several ruses to try to obtain more information. The film centers on three main points: the criminals' efforts to smuggle drugs into the United States which is made easier when Charnier dupes his friend, a French actor named Henri Devereaux, into importing an automobile (unbeknownst to Devereaux, the drugs are concealed within the vehicle) and the sale of the drugs to Weinstock and Sal Boca; the efforts of Doyle and Russo to shadow Boca and Charnier; and the conflicts the detectives have with Simonson and a federal agent named Mulderig, assigned to the case due to the wiretap. Doyle and Mulderig dislike each other; Russo and Doyle feel they can handle the bust without the government's help, and Mulderig criticizes Doyle on items ranging from trivialities like Doyle's appearance to an incident where a policeman was killed and Mulderig holds Doyle responsible. Doyle comes to blows with Mulderig. Weinstock's chemist tests a sample of the heroin and declares it the purest he has ever seen, establishing that the shipment could make as much as $32 million on a half-million dollar investment. Boca is impatient to make the purchase (reflecting Charnier's desire to return to France as soon as possible), while Weinstock, with more experience in smuggling, urges patience, knowing Boca's phone is tapped and that they are being investigated. Charnier soon "makes" Doyle and realizes he has been observed since his arrival in New York. Nicoli offers to kill Doyle; Charnier objects, knowing killing one policeman will not amount to anything, but Nicoli says they will be in France before they can be detained. Nicoli attempts to assassinate Doyle, but botches the job, leading to a car chase scene that culminates with Nicoli hijacking an elevated train. The train crashes into another, and Doyle shoots Nicoli in the back while he attempts to escape. The car containing the drugs is impounded when some thieves try to strip it of its valuables. Doyle and Russo take the car apart searching for drugs. When Russo notes the vehicle is 120 pounds over its listed weight, they realize the drugs must still be in the car. The mechanic tells them he did not remove the car's rocker panels; when he does, the drugs are discovered. The police put the car back together and return it to Devereaux. It seems as though the drug deal has been a major success; Weinstock's chemist tests one of the bags and confirms its quality. Using a car that Sal Boca's brother Lou picked out, the criminals conceal the money. The car is to be imported into France, where Charnier will retrieve the money. Charnier and Sal Boca drive off, but run into a roadblock consisting of a large force of police led by Doyle. The police chase Charnier and Sal Boca to the factory grounds. Sal is killed during a shootout with the police and almost all of the others surrender. Charnier escapes into the warehouse and Doyle hunts for him. Russo joins in the search. Doyle, trigger-happy and high on adrenaline, sees a shadowy figure in the distance and empties his revolver at it a split-second after shouting a warning. The man Doyle kills is not Charnier, but Mulderig. Doyle seems unfazed and vows to capture Charnier, reloading his gun and running into another room. The last sound heard in the film is a single gunshot. Title cards before the closing credits note that Joel Weinstock and Angie Boca got away without prison time while Lou Boca got a reduced sentence and Devereaux served four years. Charnier was never caught. Both Doyle and Russo were transferred out of the narcotics division.