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French Connection II

***
1975

‘…The French Connection’s famously ambiguous ending left room for a satisfying enough sequel, and there’s lots of vigorous cops and robbers action to enjoy here…’

Although it was released as The French Connection Number 2 in the UK, one of the claims to fame of John Frankenheimer’s sequel is that it started the trend of Roman numerals after the title, although Shakespeare arguably got there first with Henry V. Otherwise, French Connection II is not exactly a classic sequel; it doesn’t have the NYC setting, only a couple of returning characters, no car chase, and offers a very different mood to William Friedkin’s scuzzy Oscar-winner.

Friedkin wasn’t interested in making a sequel either, but Hackman presumably liked the idea of retuning to the role of cop Popeye Doyle, arriving in Marseilles without any French and falling foul of hoods and police alike on the trail of Frog One (Fernando Rey).The lack of sub-titles is a plus here; we’re as adrift as Doyle is from whatever the locals are saying, and the sense of alienation is genuine.

Most reviewers focus on a lengthy rehab scene after Doyle is shot full of heroin, and while Hackman’s commitment and performance levels are admirable, it derails the energy of the movie  without upping the stakes and is probably the reason that it’s not as fondly remembered. It’s a different kind of movie from the just-the-facts approach of the first film, transcribing Robin Moore’s book meticulously as a dismantled car strip-searched for contraband.

But The French Connection’s famously ambiguous ending left room for a satisfying enough sequel, and there’s lots of vigorous cops and robbers action to enjoy here, including a big-scale docklands shoot-out, a raid on a drug-packaging and distribution plant, and some great bits of business with the iconic character of Doyle. Whether expressing remorse after blowing a fellow cops cover, forming a wordless bond with a barman, or hitching a ride on a garbage truck to avoid a tail, Hackman inhabits this signature role so well that, even if it’s not quite the visceral rush of the original, Frankenheimer’s thriller has a weather-beaten style of its own.

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  1. Not I notice Frog Une or Frog I so a bit of inconsistency here. You have to bear in mind though that Henry V was not like Rocky V, it wasn’t the fourth sequel, but the first section. Shakespeare had the whole franchise business figured out – Henry IV Part One, Henry IV part Two and so on, as he set up the SSU (Shakespeare Stage Universe). But back to FCII, I really enjoyed it first time round in part because it was the first big cop picture where the hero really went down and dirty and the setting was terrific, plus it felt very French to me. The heroin section is the bit I remember most and what really made it stand out. Hackman, of course, is always terrific and certainly this was long before good guys were turned into junkies by bad guys. I might well go back to it after being reminded of it.

  2. This may be a film that is looked down on a bit because the first one is so revered. I never thought this was a bad film, just didn’t have the advantage of being the first out of the box. Decent-enough follow-up.

    • And it’s a follow-up that, like Rocky II, delivers the thing that you’d previously not seen; nailing Frog One. And that final chase is rousing. It’s not got the lightning in a bottle of the first movie, but as you say, no disgrace to the original.

  3. You don’t say why you chose to review this title. Is it now on a streamer? A few years back I watched a DVD of it for a film introduction I was giving. Frankenheimer gave an interesting commentary on that DVD, especially in terms of his use of long shot and medium long shot because he wanted to showcase Hackman’s great ‘physicality’. I like the film a great deal as it is one of those French-American cultural products which explores the love affair between the two cultures.

    Most importantly, though this is listed as an American film, the cast and the crew are dominated by French actors and craftspeople. In particular the film is shot by one of the greatest French cinematographers, Claude Renoir who began his career in the 1930s shooting many of the masterworks of his uncle Jean Renoir.

    I think this Frankenheimer film ultimately becomes a more Americanised version of a classic French polar (crime film). If only they’d found a role for Alain Delon or Lino Ventura alongside Fernando Rey. Friedkin made two great American films but Frankenheimer was much more productive and overall more successful, including making several other films set in Europe.

    • Yup, it’s on Amazon Prime but as a pay-for. I saw this film multiple times, and even read the book. That’s a great comment about the French influence; it reminds me of films like La Balance, and classic policiers of the past. The first film got the camera out of studios and into the streets, and this one goes a step further by bringing studio film-making over to the continent and so you’re connection to Renoir dynasty is absolutely bang-on. While this film doesn’t quite have the momentum of the first film, I’m very fond of it; Hackman is huge here, and the location work is fantastic. And Frankenheimer just did these things so well….when he was on message!

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